iRacing -- The Next Step for NASCAR Gaming?

For a while there, the future of NASCAR gaming looked grim. Earlier this year, EA Sports made the announcement that they would not be releasing a traditional console NASCAR game in 2009. EA Sports' president Peter Moore even went so far as to openly speculate about the future of organized racing...

For a while there, the future of NASCAR gaming looked grim. Earlier this year, EA Sports made the announcement that they would not be releasing a traditional console NASCAR game in 2009. EA Sports' president Peter Moore even went so far as to openly speculate about the future of organized racing games coming out of the company. And while it can be argued that EA's NASCAR games have lounged in varying degrees of mediocrity for years, the thought of a major American sport without an accompanying annual game release felt like a sign not just of a waning economy but the beginnings of NASCAR's slide in popularity as the country's most popular form of motorsport.

Enter iRacing, the subscription-based PC racing simulation co-founded by Dave Kaemmer who just happens to be responsible for one of my all-time favorite PC racing games, Grand Prix Legends. iRacing has been around for nearly a year now in public release and, yesterday, the company announced a partnership with NASCAR to create an online racing series set to begin in early 2010. While that still means that NASCAR fans will be bereft of console oval racing for 2009, the promise of driving on iRacing's meticulously laser-scanned recreations of real-life should keep racing fans--at least those with a powerful PC--looking ahead to next year when the series launches.

While the formal partnership between NASCAR and iRacing began in earnest last summer, according to Kaemmer, the two groups have had a connection for many years. "On a personal level, the acquaintance with the folks at NASCAR goes back to the Papyrus days." Papyrus, of course, is the game development studio responsible for the critically acclaimed NASCAR Racing series as well as the legendary Grand Prix Legends. In fact, the NASCAR Racing series was one of the early pioneers of online PC racing games; a seed of sorts from which iRacing's online feature set has grown.

"NASCAR has been interested in sanctioned on-line competition as a form of motorsport for a long time, as have we," said Kaemmer. "The technology in most peoples' homes is now to the point where it is possible, and NASCAR was impressed with what we had produced at iRacing."

While stock cars and oval tracks have been in iRacing for a while, the NASCAR online series will let stock car fans to race wheel-to-wheel against one another in officially sanctioned online events on nearly every track found on the Sprint Cup schedule. Since its opening in August 2008, iRacing has seen more than 12,000 people sign up for the service and the company counts a handful of real NASCAR drivers such as Dale Earnhardt Jr., A.J. Allmendinger, and Marcos Ambrose as members. According to Kaemmer, you might even run into a pro or two during your next race session. "They aren't 'guest stars'--they are your competition," he said. "And because everyone races under his or her real name, if it says you are racing against Dale Earnhardt Jr., you are racing against him in real time."

Among its current roster of road and kart courses, iRacing currently includes 25 oval racing circuits, including superspeedways like Talladega and short tracks like Bristol. The developers are currently working on rounding out the Sprint Cup Series track list, said Kaemmer. "We currently have built or are in the process of building all of the International Speedway Corp (ISC) and Speedway Motorsports, Inc. (SMI) tracks. Pocono, Indy and Dover are the only three independent tracks on the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series circuit. We're in the process of building Pocono and we're in discussions with the other two."

Creating those courses involves a painstaking process of laser scanning that Kaemmer says requires the developers to only process only about a half-mile of track per day. As a result, it can take months to build a completed track. The result, Kaemmer says, are "millimeter-accurate virtual tracks", and it's that feature--along with realistic car handling and physics--that the game hangs its racing helmet on.

Ironically, it seems that iRacing's challenging realism might pose a problem for casual NASCAR fans looking to take a spin. With no new NASCAR videogame on the horizon in 2009, fans' only near-term option (beyond dipping in the back catalog) will be iRacing, a game whose reputation of demanding accuracy might turn off the casual drivers. How do Kaemmer & company plan on addressing the needs of the laid-back racers as well as the hardcore crowd? In a word: licenses.

"We assume that everyone who joins iRacing is a novice racer, at least in the virtual world, so the game is designed to be welcoming to new players while remaining committed to serious racing," said Kaemmer. "Our realism means that if you're in it for big crashes and fooling around, this probably isn't the game for you. And that's OK.

"While any member can drive any car in the iRacing garage, including the cars for NASCAR's top three divisions--NASCAR Sprint Cup, NASCAR Nationwide Series and NASCAR Camping World Series--on any track in our inventory, you can only compete in officially-sanctioned multi-car events if you hold the appropriate license. All of our members begin on the oval-racing side of the service as rookies in a Legends Car and then, as their skills improve, they move up through the Late Model, etc. As they become more proficient in races and demonstrate their ability to drive safely with others, they will gain higher grade licenses, enabling them to race in faster and more demanding cars."

When asked if EA's decision not to release a NASCAR game this year affected (or accelerated) the relationship between NASCAR and iRacing, Kaemmer is adamant: "Not at all. We've always been oriented to the PC, and addressing an audience that is looking for fun--but serious fun. We're looking for members who find it fun to learn new skills and who are willing to make a longer-term commitment to the activity. It's more like taking up skiing or tennis, rather than going through the traditional console game lifecycle of a few weeks."



Of course, just like that skiing or tennis hobby, playing iRacing will cost you. Unlike most racing games, iRacing is based on a subscription model, which grants the user basic access to the game and a handful of cars and tracks. Members pay extra for access to additional cars and the lion's share of the extra tracks in the game but, as Kaemmer explains, access to the NASCAR online series won't cost anything extra: "We won't raise prices. There will be no additional fees to participate in any of the NASCAR-sanctioned series on iRacing beyond the regular membership charges. It's just another level of competition available to our members."

And unlike tennis or skiing, you can't injure yourself playing iRacing.

[UPDATE] I contacted NASCAR officials for a comment on the iRacing partnership and here's what Blake Davidson, NASCAR Managing Director, Licensed Products, had to say:

"We have known Dave Kaemmer, the co-founder of iRacing for nearly 15 years, dating back to when he was at Papyrus and created one of the first NASCAR-sim games for the PC. Our late former chairman, Bill France Jr., had the original vision more than 10 years ago to develop a NASCAR-sanctioned online series that people from all over the world could experience from their own homes. We made an initial attempt in 1998, but the technology was not advanced enough to provide for a positive user experience. We have been in contact with iRacing for the last several years and followed their progress closely. We are very excited that the their technology, coupled with the expansion of broadband connectivity has now given us the opportunity to form this partnership."

I also asked Blake about how EA Sports' decision not to release a console NASCAR game this year affected the iRacing partnership. His response:

"EA did release NASCAR Kart Racing on the Wii earlier this year, at title that we continue to be very excited about. However with regard to the other console platforms, we view what iRacing does as being very different from the console gaming offerings. Therefore, EA NASCAR's products played did not play a role in our decision to partner with iRacing."

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What do you think of iRacing's partnership with NASCAR? Do you think NASCAR games have a future on consoles? Let me know what you think in the comments below…

Got a news tip or want to contact us directly? Email news@gamespot.com

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70 comments
vader3234
vader3234

Terrible service, So much money, I spent over $120 buying cars and tracks only to get so frustrated by the rampant intentional wrecking I intentionally wrecked someone myself.  One of the wrecked must have been a higher up so it got me banned for a week.  It's do hard to turn the other cheek when their servers are filled with unapologetic aggressive drivers.  Also you have to use your real first and last name so if you have an ethnic name forget it, you will notice what you see on NASCAR on tv, a mostly caucasian community that does not play well with others.  As I said earlier, I spent $120 and that got me two cars and maybe five nascar tracks, keep in mind NASCAR races about 19 tracks so take your wallet with you.  I'm going back to leagues that run NASCAR Season 2003, the best sim hands down.

negolien
negolien

It has the best potential for a game but lack of proper oversight makes it a fail. Cost is hundreds of dollars for subscription, cars, tracks only to have constant intentional crashing, cursing out of other drivers constantly even people doing donuts on pit road as you try to exit. The supposed potest system is rife with nepotism and pure lack of fair and even implementation. The Service is A FAIL!!!!

sopny
sopny

NASCAR is bad!!!!!!!!! :@ [dev]

JayXIII
JayXIII

I just subscribed to the game, looking forward to some realistic racing for the first time since Papyrus's Nascar Racing 2003 Season.

racedwg
racedwg

Iam glad ea no longer a nascar fan,Thier games didnt work right and we got no surport for pc users as for game machines u cant even run 43 guys online as for irace grate ideal, except the money part its going to cost to dam much money!! make it more like papy games were or more like rfactor.People like the ideal of painting cars and having your own leage so i see no use for irace as its controlled and cost to much for racers. i like the rank system but u know how that stuff works.

DKHardee
DKHardee

Yeah many of my friends hated EA for dropping Split screen

jz12b
jz12b

What ever happened to racing against one of your friends on a split screen in the same room? Some of you may have heard of a novel idea called social interaction. This is where EA dropped the ball. I stopped buying the game when they eliminated split screen 2 player.

Nc7
Nc7

I love racing sims but i'm not gonna pay for it just because i'd spend too much time playing it! I'm not a professional videogamer. No, i've got to work, my girl wants to go out etc. But i loved Papyrus and i'm sure i'll love iRacing. Hope i'll hold out...

mooch35
mooch35

To Colton48: Does anyone ever really want to pay money? No Stupid question? Yes

Colton48
Colton48

Will the game be great? Yes Do you really want to pay 20 dollars a month to play? No.

nyranasaurus
nyranasaurus

PC racing is by far the best racing. Not just iracing. Theres heaps of awesome racing on pc. I use to be a console person, never again after playing games on the pc.

Fastcrap
Fastcrap

Well I'm glad, and at the same time depressed at the idea that ppl on consoles have no real options. But glad to see that www.iRacing.com is offering a very good racing sim. I just think that EA has brought this onto them selfs, by making some truly pathetic products in the past and now ppl are tired of it and paying so much money for poor products. It's sad though that the costumer is getting the bad deal out of it, it's the same to some degree with the F1 racing licences, maybe the group now making F1 games under licence will live up to the F1 brand. In the end these bad decisions have only hurt the enthosiasts, and the market for good racing games and sims. In the end iRacing is doing a GREAT job at supplying us all with a great sim and despite the price I think it's the best by far, and they are very active from what I can see and that gives me hope that it will continue for a long time. I'm personnaly a subscriber to www.iRacing.com I realy enjoy it and I hope many more serious racers will join and rub tires with us. Heres a not so smooth plug :) Use my name as a referal if you like: Nicolas Parcigneau Oh yeah what he said... LOL Where is www.gamespot.com's review of iRacing? Surely it is worth a review ;)

blackbeard269
blackbeard269

What really gets me is that the Console based nascar fan is pushed to the side because of Ea Sports lack of making great games. When they come out with a new year its always a bunch of tweaks from the last year version and they slap a price tag on it and done. Well the Console based fan just would not shell out the money like they do with the Madden series that is the same a tweak a year and boom $60 out of your pocket for nothing really new. The only thing that is new is your out $60 bucks. I hope iracing makes an awesome real life like Nascar Game for the Pc then port it over to the console. Thats what is going to happen and thats great. I just hope that Nascar never brings back EA Sports because the base will just drop out again if they do. Way to go iracing. Now we just need some other Company to make a football game and we can say goodbye to Ea sports on the console.

TheCableGuy5
TheCableGuy5

marco45 is right this isn't a game. Its loads more fun. I've been a member for 9 months. It cost me less than netflix a year LOL. Go over to there web site it worth checking out.

kneebon5
kneebon5

Yeah the price is the biggest thing, but if you can do it then it is worth it. Right now they have some codes for a 3 month or 1 month at a cheaper price. 1 month for $5, or 3 months for $25. If you go with a year you pay $156 but they give you $60 of that to spend on cars and tracks that dont come with the starting package. (which is everything you need for your rookie seasons)

marco245
marco245

This can't be called a game, and the iRacing guys don't like it being called a game, they prefer it as a service or "Motor racing training tool". I know, a bit much for something that has alternatives just as good. Also, the price that must be spent on iRacing is outrageous! $15/$20 for a track or racing series, and the monthly chareg on top of that sees you paying near $200 a year. Still, it is a fine racer, and with a lot of companies signing onto it, we might see prices go down...

spyder_pk
spyder_pk

It blew when EA stopped releasing NASCAR games for PC.. really looking forward to this.. have voice commands please.. have voice commands.. just like HAWX..

XCyberForceX
XCyberForceX

Don't really care. I live in New Jersey and everyday is like NASCAR to me!

MosleyIsEvil
MosleyIsEvil

Hey Gamespot 2 questions: - The sim has been public for a year - wheres your review? (I know it takes times to work your way through the licenses properly and evaluate it - but you've had time now - or are there not serious race simmers on the review team) - Can you at least mention on the road course cars and tracks (Skip Barber, Formula Mazda, Daytona Prototype, Spec racer, Solstice, VW Jetta , Radical plus upcoming Corvettes, Mustangs, Ford GT-R, and a Lotus 79 F1) You could put them in the preview that you haven't done yet either :)

willmac_33
willmac_33

I think this is a great thing. I had one of the old Papyrus games yrs ago and I loved it but the technology wasn't that great and very few ppl had anything but dial-up. This is something that I would really be interested in if the price isn't overwhelming.

nguyenlananh
nguyenlananh

i can not download this game.pls help me.thanks

HappyPeaceGuy
HappyPeaceGuy

@ kneebon5: Great to know - thanks. I'd love a crack at NASCAR but if they're looking at collecting the V8 Supercars too, then that's where I'll be. Haha, I've got this huge silly grin going on right now. Sweet news. Q) What do you think of iRacing's partnership with NASCAR? A) I think it'll serve to further promote both iRacing and NASCAR. I'm also hopeful that it'll encourage a proportion of the 'casual' racing crowd to take their time spent behind the wheel a little more seriously. Q) Do you think NASCAR games have a future on consoles? A) I own a Sega MegaDrive which is somewhere in the basement (cellar) so I'm not giving the opinion of a console gamer when I say that, yes, I think that there's still room for NASCAR on a console. It's the degree of the simulation that I'd question - is there or has there ever been a decent sim on a console? I don't see any reason why there couldn't be a place (and an eager audience) for an accurate sim on a console. I'm sure that the technology exists in the Xbox 360 and the PS3 for an input device that provided the user with controls to match those on offer to a PC user - roll centers and brake bias etc.

kneebon5
kneebon5

iRacing will be setting up an Australian server in a few months. Alot of rumors and hints that we will be getting V8 Supercars sometime soon. One of the members contacted the series and they sent him an email back saying that they are in talks with iRacing right now.

HappyPeaceGuy
HappyPeaceGuy

This is fantastic news! They've clearly spent a lot of time ironing this out in order to make it work right and that in itself is worthy of high praise. My only concern is related to my location in New Zealand; I wonder if there will be a server within a relatively short range. My latency to the USA is far too high to make this game a possible option if that's where I'd be connecting to, so I'll cross my fingers in the hope that there may be connection opportunities further South. Austrailia would be nice. Racing against Marcos Ambrose, now that would be something. I've always been disappointed that he exited the V8 Supercar series as he demonstrated huge talent there, yet he hasn't fared as well in NASCAR. I might even beat him to the checkers one day. :D EDIT/ Reading several comments below, I see that this game service (iracing) is already up and running...how I did not know about this prior to today is something that I can only pass off on all of my free hours spent playing v8factor. I should retract my head from the clouds more often.

kneebon5
kneebon5

Trust me it isn't all NASCAR. Just did a Daytona Prototype (The Class A road car) race at Sebring. 30 Laps (111 miles) 25 cars started. Everyone made it through the first 8 laps, the first crash involved 2 people through turn 14, after that only a few single car crashes due to tire wear and under braking. 20 cars finished. I started 24th finished 19th which i was happy about, i was the #20 car in the race (numbers are given each race based on where your iRating predicts you to finish.). Had an awesome time trying to catch 18th after an early spin. Almost got up to him, but ran out of laps. The top 4 were from Australia, 5th was from the Netherlands.

Snake0406
Snake0406

The iracing.com site looks cool. As long as its not ALL based around being nascar ill probaly get it. Anyone know the best race simulator out on pc? ive currently been playing GTR2 but thats an old game now.

brilhasti
brilhasti

I'm not a fan of NASCAR but ultra-realistic online racing sounds great to me. Sign me up!

grosmontreuil
grosmontreuil

JD1680a you got it bud nothing more to say about it

Jd1680a
Jd1680a

Papyrus made a very good NASCAR racing games. Giving the license to EA was a mistake, as Peter Moore admitted that the games have become mediocrity.

widden
widden

It's one of the best sims out there. Shame that the review concentrates on the nascar aspect so much, because there's a huge crowd out there who'd rather race normal racetracks instead of going in circles ;) And this sim delivers beautifully on road racing as well, the oval racing is only one part of the picture.

juztrax
juztrax

Will definately go and check this out. Looks really promising

gurpreet_minhas
gurpreet_minhas

wow...................................................its rock

jaumzz
jaumzz

duanermc, they have online series for the major NASCAR cars (CWTS, Nationwide, Sprint Cup) already running non-stop. Another, NASCAR-sanctioned series starts next year, but it won't really be different from what they already have other than in officially using the name NASCAR (and probably having better prizes for winning the championship :))

duanermc
duanermc

@jaumzz ummm... the online racing series starts when??? That's why I said will be.

mechberg
mechberg

@Onlineracer40 -- Good catch. Fixed!

Onlineracer40
Onlineracer40

There is one small mistake. It is AJ Allmendinger and Marcus Ambrose. The article has them both with the same last name.

kneebon5
kneebon5

@skywarp001 -- It is out right now, with the trucks, nationwide, and COT, along with alot of other cars for road and oval. The list is at iracing.com. 2010 will be when the official series starts. We have been racing the "Sprint Cup" cars for the last 15 weeks now, the nationwide was just added this season, and the trucks have been around for about 9 months.

mechberg
mechberg

@skywarp001 -- EA still has the license near as I can tell, they just aren't making a game this year. That said, NASCAR has supposedly considered shopping the license around so who knows what will happen in the future. I like the Sprint Cup!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

skywarp001
skywarp001

thanks BrianEk. im realy looking foward to this release but just wish it didnt cost so much!!!! im glad ea dont have the licence anymore as ive played every nascar title since 06 total control and they all have terrible AI and online playablity. This should be the next step in online racing, unless EA can pull it off with NFS shift or Codemasters with there dirt2,grid 2 or Fuel..hmmmm guess we will just have to play them all eh? eitrher way i still stick to watching the sprint cup live every race via stream and onehd and never miss a race! go jeff gordon!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

tntgrunge5
tntgrunge5

glad bout this new i think its a possitive change for nascar games

mechberg
mechberg

@skywarp001 -- FIXED!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!