Sunday, March 22, 2020 brought the return of NASCAR to televisions across the country, with a new twist.
The engines fired with professional drivers dueling on the track, but the entire event was virtual.
Viewers on FOX Sports 1 tuned into the first eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series event, the Dixie Vodka 150 at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
FOX provided the NASCAR on FOX announce team of Mike Joy and Jeff Gordon while behind the scenes, Ball State Sports Link alumnus Drew Adamson produced the broadcast of the race.
Adamson, a 2015 graduate of Sports Link, was a multi award-winning producer as a student in Ball State’s Sports Link program. Now, he serves as the broadcast director and media producer for iRacing, and oversees broadcasts of all races the company produces internally.
“iRacing is the leader in racing simulation, used by professional drivers and amateurs aspiring to become racers,” Adamson said. “iRacing is the definitive motorsports simulator. Unlike console platforms like Forza or Gran Turismo, we work exclusively with real-world tracks and race teams to utilize laser scanning and telemetry.
“The cars you see on track use real-world data that manufacturers and teams provide us. When real drivers get into the simulator, it’s as real as it can be.”
iRacing features more than 100+ laser scanned tracks and configurations to include every bump and crack in the racing surface and more than 120 cars from all disciplines of motorsport.
Since beginning as a sim racer in 2014, Adamson transitioned from working in college athletics at Radford University and Bryant University, into iRacing.
He began as a media producer at the company, creating promotional videos highlighting new track and car announcements. Now, he heads up the broadcasting team along with two other coworkers.
His role expanded even more with the buildout of a control room, which Adamson led, for iRacing to produce more events.
“The control room was completed in January after a year-long process,” Adamson said. “When we moved into our current building in November, we assembled everything in about two months. I got to design how I thought it should be done, while making sure to get what our President and Vice President wanted.”
The dedication Adamson and his iRacing team has was on full display on a national stage March 22 amid the sports industry shutdown with COVID-19.
“We have two camera people who remote operate from either Canada, the West Coast or sometimes Texas,” Adamson said. “Our on-air talent aren’t here in studio. We have to MacGyver things to pull it off sometimes with our broadcasters spread across the country in Las Vegas, San Diego and Canada.
“We are now doing multiple broadcasts in house. I oversee production of iRacing’s two top-tier world championships: Porsche TAG Heuer Esports Supercup and eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.”
With the cancellation of major sports across the world, many fans are looking for escape from daily life more than ever. Adamson and his iRacing team were perfectly prepared to fill the live sports void.
“Through our partnership with NASCAR and our experience producing the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, there was a unique opportunity to work with NASCAR to fill the void for not only the drivers, but race fans as a whole, due to what’s going on in the world today, ” Adamson said. “NASCAR spoke to FOX and FOX partnered with iRacing to put on a virtual Homestead race.”
Opportunities collided when several NASCAR drivers organized a race on March 15, the Replacements 100. Excitement built after that event for iRacing to formally organize a Pro Invitational Series for the sport, culminating in FOX Sports signing on to broadcast the inaugural event live on TV.
“90% of the broadcast was produced by iRacing, 10% by FOX. All the flag-to-flag racing action was produced by iRacing in Boston. FOX producers would call for things, and we would create that for them. They [FOX] were steering the ship, and we [iRacing] were powering the ship.”
35 drivers competed in the race, including many Cup Series regulars including:
- Kurt Busch
- Kyle Busch
- Brad Keselowski
- Dale Earnhardt Jr.
- Chase Elliott
- Denny Hamlin
- Clint Bowyer
- Bobby Labonte
- Joey Logano
- Kyle Larson
- Bubba Wallace
- Jimmie Johnson
- Alex Bowman
“For all the fans, I hope it was what they needed during this time: a distraction,” Adamson said. “All the drivers had fun. FOX enjoyed it. NASCAR loved it and we loved it at iRacing. All around, it was what the world needed at that time.”
The event featured an exciting photo finish between Hamlin and Earnhardt Jr. and became the top trend on Twitter across the United States.
The broadcast had over 900,000 viewers, rating as the most watched telecast on FS1 since the Pandemic began. The broadcast also ranks as the most-watched esports program in TV history. The race topped the previous record of 770,000 viewers for a Mortal Kombat event on the CW Network in 2016
“The best part of the experience was showing off to not only sim racing fans and NASCAR, but to people in general that sim racing is a valid form of motorsport, ” Adamson said. “This was the first time people really understood the gravity of what sim racing can offer to people whether it’s an outlet, a distraction or fun.
“This was the first time the validity and power sim racing holds was publicly known. It’s not the same in other games. You are having a full body and psychological experience. For Denny Hamlin, the race-winning driver, it felt real. He was into it. It’s as close to the real thing as you are going to get.”
After the race, Hamlin agreed.
“First thing I did, I got out of the rig and I came up and watched the last six laps to kind of see what was going on,” Hamlin admitted after the race on iRacing.com. “I can’t see everything when I’m sitting in the car, but certainly I was intrigued to see the last six laps and see what it looked like on TV. I thought it looked great. My first reaction 10 seconds in to watching it was like, I asked the people around me, I was like, ‘Do you believe this is not real.’ Like it looks so real. That part was really cool.”
NASCAR isn’t the only motorsports series to engage fans on iRacing.
IMSA hosted a SuperSaturday race at the virtual Sebring Raceway for a 90-minute showcase of 40+ of the series’ drivers. Next weekend, March 28, IndyCar will begin a six-week IndyCar iRacing Challenge featuring many of the drivers from the series.
“For years we’ve wanted to work with broadcast partners and now they are seeing the viability of showcasing racing on iRacing,” Adamson said.
Fox has committed to cover the rest of the season, starting with a race at a simulated Texas Motor Speedway on March 29th at 1PM Eastern. It’ll air on both the FOX broadcast network as well as FS1 and the FOX Sports app.
“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way,” Brad Zager, FOX Sports executive producer said in a statement. “We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR esports series to an even wider audience.”
For more info, follow iRacing across social media or visit iracing.com.