RACER.COM - Rediscovering fun in 'unprecedented times'

June 01, 2020

Yeah, I’m tired of that phrase, too. Everything is ‘unprecedented’. The world is simply changing too quickly, and we don’t like it. And in response, we’re trying everything to entertain people, risks be damned. If you’re not trying, you’re not in this with the rest of us. Keep up.

I could go on about the winners and losers of the marketing and entertainment world at large, but I’ll focus on what is closest to me – racing.

Kudos to all the race series, racers, sponsors, promoters, fans, and more, for truly trying everything possible to 1) push on with hope and positivity, and 2) entertain in new and unique ways. We’ve seen it flourish and we’ve seen it fail. Some failures have had serious consequences, but above all else, they tried. They took a risk, tried something they weren’t good at, and did it anyway – for the fans.

Not to be Captain Obvious, here, but racers hate failure. It is what makes them different and great at what they do. It is a component of their success. So when so many were asked to take up sim racing – many (most) balked, whined, and dragged their feet to basement sim racing set-ups because they didn’t want to disappoint fans or sponsors. They put themselves into a world where they had little experience, and went for it. Unrealistic expectations weighed heavy, as sim racing in these environments does not truly simulate reality. Racers had to learn a new race craft in a matter of days. Some racers had to be serious about something that they didn’t really want to be serious about.

Some succeeded. Some didn’t. And most ended up mid-pack.

“The mood started jovial and fun but quickly became somber and depressing, when I realized I was bringing a water pistol to a tank fight,” says James Hinchcliffe.

“After week one, there was a huge discrepancy between the people who were logging dozens of hours with a team of engineers and the people who were, well, me. I thought it was meant to be something fun to entertain fans, but it very quickly became way more than that, and without a sim at home and a team of engineers to join in, it took a bit of the fun out of it.”

 Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, concurs. “Some drivers will put upwards of 50-80 hours a week into perfecting their sim racing craft and others – namely those in the LCQ league – don’t have the time and/or desire to do that.”

Mid-pack? For racers like Travis Pastrana, Chad Reed, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe, that seems like unfamiliar territory. But that’s where they found themselves, often in iRacing versions of vehicles they wouldn’t normally be found in, like Off-Road Short Course trucks and Rallycross.  But let’s be honest: in “normal” times, you wouldn’t find these guys in a sim. Much to the chagrin of their wives and girlfriends, they were spending their stay-at-home days with endless practice hours and races, partly for fans and sponsors, but also, because, well, everyone was doing it.

And because of that “serious factor” mentioned above, they started to notice that some of their races were more fun than others.

Despite their mid-pack mediocrity, a magical thing happened. Discord happened. To be specific, Conor Daly’s Discord channel, happened. (Discord is an audio platform widely used in gaming and Esports) He had his buddies, Alex and James, and his IndyCar boss Ed Carpenter, and then added motocross legends Pastrana and Reed as they all ventured into iRacing Rallycross events. The Discord dynamic was truly an organic and authentic thing, as these guys have much in common, from their sense of humor, long riffs of self-deprecation, to their sub-optimal iRacing skills. And after a few weeks of racing, they consistently found themselves racked up together in the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier).

Instead of hiding from their “unprecedented” mediocrity, they embraced it. They looked forward to the nights where they’d be racing together. They found a way to make something that...

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