As a kid growing up, I loved video games. Sports games were my favorite. Within the sports genre, racing games were my ultimate favorite.
No big surprise there!
Nintendo titles like Al Unser Jr.’s Turbo Racing and Bill Elliott’s NASCAR Challenge occupied many a sleepless night throughout my childhood. As I got older, the computer-gaming world really took off. My college years found me spending countless hours honing my skills on titles like NASCAR Racing 3.
I was in true heaven in the early-2000’s when dirt track games finally hitting the market. Getting to play video games featuring Sprint Cars, Late Models, and Street Stocks was pretty freaking sweet. Until this day, the 2002 release of World of Outlaws Sprint Cars on the PlayStation 2 still gets me fired up the most. When it was released, it seemed unbelievable for dirt track racing to finally have a game with real cars, real tracks, and real drivers in it.
Almost 20 years later, and I still have to get it out a few times a year to see if I can beat the best of the World of Outlaws.
As often happens in life, when you get older you have less time to enjoy your childhood hobbies. I’m blessed to get to work daily in the racing world, so the hobby still sticks with me. However, my busy work and travel schedule don’t allow much time to play video games anymore.
While I might not get many chances to partake in the gaming world, I do still pay attention to what’s hot on the market. If you are an online racing gamer, you would have to reside under a rock to not know about iRacing.
Founded in 2004, the company is regarded as the preeminent force in bringing big-time simulation racing to computers around the world. In April 2016, iRacing finally stepped foot into the dirt track world.
Since then, the online dirt track racing world has grown by leaps and bounds. Countless races are hosted by individuals and leagues each-and-every night. Long gone are the days of bragging rights being the sole prize on the line. Sure, drivers still compete for the glory, but there’s real money up for grabs these days.
Whether your favorite flavor is Sprint Cars, Late Models, Midgets, Modifieds or Street Stocks, there’s something out there to fulfill your need for speed.
In 2018, I was approached by Howard Weaver with Team Victory Lane Racing (VLR). He told me his league was sponsoring an unprecedented iRacing Dirt Late Model event which was going to pay $1,000 to the winner with a $3,800 total purse. The race was to be called the Spring Fling. He wanted me to bring my real-world commentating to the game, which was to be broadcast live on Facebook and YouTube.
Right now, it just seems like dirt gaming in iRacing is exponentially expanding almost on a daily basis. – Howard Weaver
I’d be lying if I said I wasn’t initially hesitant. However, ultimately I thought to myself, “Hey, why the hell not. Give it a chance. If it’s a bomb, then it’s no big deal.”
Well, it wasn’t a bomb. It was massive. Not only were the graphics and realism top notch, but these guys could really wheel their race cars. Tyler Hudson came from the tail of the field in the 100-lapper at Iowa’s Knoxville Raceway to pocket the $1,000 winner’s check.
I was instantly hooked on what this product had to offer.
Fast forward to 2019, and Weaver again reached out to me. He told me they’d really like to have me back on the mic for the event. After the great time I had the year before, I immediately accepted the invite. He went on to reveal some details which thoroughly peaked my interest.
“The race is going to be a lot bigger this year,” Weaver revealed. “In fact, it’s going to pay $3,000-to-win and is going to have a total purse of over $12,000. This is going to be the biggest payout-to-date for a single event in iRacing dirt competition.”
I’m not going to say I thought he was lying, but it did cross my mind he might be embellishing a bit. As it turned out, everything he said was true. In fact, there was even more to the story. Not only was the purse tripled, but Schaeffer Oil agreed to come on board as the title sponsor.
The entry list was capped at 120 competitors. The entry free was a mere $50 for a shot at winning $3,000. The finale paid $100 just to start. Weaver described how his staff staggered the release of the registration to make sure as many people as possible had a chance to be aware of the event before it was completely booked.
“We split the registration into three segments of 40 entries. We then spaced out the segments so a racer couldn’t say they didn’t know about the event and missed their shot at registration,” Weaver said. “I think if we had released all 120 spots the first day, we would’ve been completely booked in a matter of hours.”
In total, the 2019 field represented more than 15 states and spanned two countries. An eclectic variance of ages and backgrounds were represented in the field. Some racers were strictly online gaming pros. Others were actual motorsport figures, including Chase Cabre from the NASCAR K&N Series and Zach Leonhardi from Dirt Late Model racing. Then there were also some occasional gamers, who registered for the event to be part of the big show.
Managing the massive event was a staff of six people from Team VLR.
“Blake Durflinger, KT King, Tyler Burrow, Trevor Brownlee, Stephen Kalivoda, Rocky Battenfield, and I all worked diligently to do our best to make sure every aspect of the event was as efficient as possible,” Weaver said. “Every member of our team brings something different to the table. This allows us to work together to do the best job we possibly can with such a massive event.”
With the expanded purse, the event spanned two nights on April 9-10. The first night found the field split into two separate servers of 60 racers each. The fields were split based upon iRacing ratings to make the competition split as even as possible. Each field contested a complete show, which culminated with a 35-lap, preliminary feature. The Top-12 finishers from each feature locked into the 100-lap finale.
Prelim wins were snared by Missouri’s Shad Prescott and Wisconsin’s Dylonn Fox.
Finishing positions 13-24 in each prelim feature were sent into the Farmer City Raceway Last Chance Qualifier. The 40-lap event posted a $200 winner’s check or the option to forgo the money and start on the tail of the feature.
Quebec’s Alex Bergeron won the last chance race from the 13th-starting spot. He then chose to take the feature provisional to start 25th on the grid. He proceeded to race his way to as high as the fourth position before settling into a fifth-place finish.
The feature action was fast and furious. As an announcer, I had a great time calling the event. I also got the chance to work alongside iRacing announcer Tommy Rowe Jr.
For me personally, the two-night program was a true education in broadcasting an online game.
The 100-lap finale, held atop the tricky Knoxville Raceway surface, saw multiple leaders and plenty of drama. Trevor Fitz charged to the lead early and led several laps before contact near the race’s midway point, while battling for the lead with Zach Leonhardi, ended the California racer’s night.
From there, North Carolina’s Kendal Tucker assumed control of the lead. His time in the top spot was ended roughly a dozen laps later, when Dylonn Fox stormed to the lead. The Wisconsin racer dominated the remainder of the program to take the $3,000 win.
For Fox, returning to get the win in 2019 was huge after suffering total disappointment in 2018.
“Last year, we set fast time in our prelim group, but then got crashed in the heat race,” Fox recounted. “I had to start on the tail of the D-Main and worked my way all the way up to last non-transfer spot in the B-Main. To miss the feature by one spot was painful last year. However, this year we came back and got the job done. To win $3,000 for an online game just blows my mind. This is purely awesome.”
For Weaver and his staff, the event was deemed a total success.
“Sure, there were a few upset people about different things throughout the event, but that’s to be expected with a race of this magnitude with so much money on the line,” Weaver said. “Overall, we couldn’t be happier with how the event went. We had 120 competitors take part, thousands of spectators watching online, and great racing for two nights. When Rocky Battenfield created the first Spring Fling back in 2008 [on a different online gaming platform], I don’t think any of us could’ve ever dreamed it would grow to this point.”
Weaver thinks seeing Schaeffer Oil step up to sponsor the event is a trend which will continue to grow.
I honestly believe the sky is the limit for the future of what dirt track racing on iRacing can become. – Howard Weaver
“When I approached the guys at Schaeffer Oil about sponsoring the race, I honestly didn’t know what to expect,” Weaver noted. “Thankfully, they were really interested in what we had going on and became involved. With iRacing continuing to grow by leaps and bounds, I think you’ll see a lot of companies starting to sponsor more and more events for years to come.
“Right now, it just seems like dirt gaming in iRacing is exponentially expanding almost on a daily basis. For guys who can’t afford to race real cars, it gives you a chance to experience the thrill of driving a Sprint Car or a Dirt Late Model. For real world drivers, it gives them a chance to hone their skills, when they aren’t at the track. I honestly believe the sky is the limit for the future of what dirt track racing on iRacing can become.”