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Tuesday, July 22, 2008

EVERYONE HAS THEIR VICES, ONE OF MINE IS ONLINE RACING


Yes, I “online race” and while I don’t think I could ever see myself piloting some 3000 lb ‘weapon’ (and if I was to do it, ‘weapon’ would be the correct term for me) for real, I have learned to appreciate just what CUP drivers do with their skill week in and week out vicariously through online computer sim racing.

A little history;

It was sometime in the early 1990’s when I casually picked up a copy of a Papyrus game called “Indianapolis 500, The Simulation” that probably sparked my ‘racing career’. This 16-bit technology was pretty neat, but even then I came to realize that ‘racing’ against the computer AI was very predictable. A few years later, ‘NASCAR 1’ was born and shortly after the release, more importantly, ‘online racing’ came to fruition with the creation of ‘Hawaii’. Hawaii was a ‘dial-up’ host in which racers could log in and race using a long distance phone connection. Needless to say, for many, racking up triple digit phone bills was not uncommon.

But around 1996, something very unique happened in the on-line racing community that had never been seen before. The ‘Total Entertainment Network’ (TEN) was created and we saw an explosion of growth for sim racers. For 15 or so dollars a month, one could race online against others ultimately up to 43 car fields. Friendships, racing teams and on-line leagues were formed and this greatness continued till late 1999 with the emergence of ‘NASCAR 3’ which featured ‘online racing hosting’ capabilities. This ‘hosting’ capability was the end of TEN and also the end of the ‘sim racing community’ as we knew it. Leagues, race teams, and racers were now segregated into much smaller groups and this hurt online racing as a whole.

Yes there still were the very established leagues and race teams that continued on and even more sophisticated race simulations developed, but something seemed to be missing for many of us we enjoyed TEN. There was something to be said for ‘pay to play’ race networks that brought out ‘better’ racing for some reason. (If anyone experienced the chaos of a free Papy pickup race server, you probably understand where I am going with this)

So for many, sim racing online became something of a weekly ‘mundane’ event consisting of logging in to a league server, and spending a few hours racing in their league, then logging out. It sometimes became a blur and the numbers seemed to drop every year, even with better sims being offered.

Around 2004 rumors spawned of a ‘new’ development team pulling their resources to create a new and innovative online racing concept. With the backing of John Henry (yes, the same John Henry as in Roush/Fenway Racing) IRACING.COM was established. 4 years of ‘development’ and beta testing later, IRACING went ‘live’ with a limited release last month. I was given the opportunity and given an invitation for this limited release and while I had my doubts about the concept originally, I can safely say that I am hooked once again.

The IRACING concept is pretty simple. Start our as a ‘rookie’ in a ‘Legends’ car, and work your way through the ranks by obtaining higher licenses which enable you to drive in a more sophisticated race series. Something else that IRACING does is when joining a race; the software pairs you up with other drivers based on skill level, and ‘IRating’. Thus helping eliminating the ‘sand bagging’ that can go on in pick up racing.

Back in the ‘TEN’ days, I would occasional get in a race with Dale JR or T.J. Majors but those days have been long gone, or so I thought. In a recent race night, I raced against the likes of A.J. Allmendinger and Brad Keseloski, as there are a handful of NASCAR drivers who also enjoy passing some time on IRACING. While I see his stats a lot, my racing times are not nocturnal enough to see JR on the track yet.

Also, after less than a month of racing, many of the old ‘TEN’ names and friends have come out of the woodwork. It is truly amazing catching a name in one of the pre-race chat rooms and getting their on-line racing pedigree and where/what they have been up to since those TEN days. One common theme that has come up is the ever-growing ‘cheating’ theories that always seem to along with most online gamers. However, IRACING seems to have had this in mind with their presentation of the gaming platform. There was little downloading of software and all your gaming information and software drivers are hosted on their servers. Now I am not 100% sure this format is ‘cheat proof’, it is something that has not been seen in online racing ever.

This passed week, I ‘purchased’ a late model car in preparation for moving up from a ‘rookie’ license to a ‘class D’. So practicing with much more power under the hood, and a larger and heavier car to control is a must. While the Rookie Legends aren't so much of a handful to drive, they do require a bit of smoothness and tenacity to get the best from them. Be it ‘nerfing’ off the apron at South Boston, or feeling the tire spin or roughness of the NASCAR pit box at the Lowes ‘legends infield track’, these little cars are a blast to drive around the short ovals. In fact when I ramp up my Logitek G25 force feedback and 40 laps will have you feeling quite exhausted both physically and mentally as you lap 4 turns in 18 seconds or so with 11 other racers. The rookie models are rev limited but still pretty tail happy. The advanced rookie models really scream and feel quite wild. I have had to go back to my old set-up notes from the old days and that just adds more to the fun (Where is my race team's engineer when I need him? Maybe I can solicit the help of Josh Browne, wonder if he has some spare time for a sim racer? Probably not though, the 83 and 84 cars are running pretty good these days)

The heavily controlled race environment IRACING offers was something that I was skeptical about. Especially with the ‘pay to play’ and ‘World of Witchcraft gaining level after level’ theory, but I must say that the concept is very enjoyable and so far worth the 20 bucks a month (although I’ll probably soon change my subscription to an ‘annual’ membership that comes out to around $13 a month).

So after a little over a month of racing, I can safely say I am hooked on the IRACING concept.

My name is Phil, and I am an IRACER.

3 comments:

Forrest Gump said...

This is a great post, very informative lots of insight online racing. I will check out iracing and see whats up.
Thanks
www.motodanica.com

Charlie Turner said...

I have never tried online sim racing. I am not very good at vid games, but I think, with the right wheel, I might have some fun with it. I will probably try the ARCA Sim racing game first though, since they are a sponsor, sort of, of our show. But that was a great explanation of what to look for. I'll let you know how it goes.

okla21fan said...

Charlie,
The ARCA Sim Racing game that was just released in March or so of this year is another step up when it comes to sim racing. The physics model in the ARCA sim is 2nd to none as well. Also the ARCA sim has some really innovative online features making for a more enjoyable experience. I still race ARCA when I need to get a 'big car' fix!