MOORESVILLE, N.C. -- With just a few days left until Christmas, shoppers are scurrying through the snow and ice to find the perfect gift for the holidays. Race fans need not worry; iRacing has the answer: a subscription to iRacing Motorsports Simulations, which allows members the chance to race against NASCAR's Dale Earnhardt Jr. and A.J. Allmendinger as well as IndyCar Series drivers Justin Wilson and Danica Patrick.
iRacing Motorsports Simulations isn't a game -- it's a totally unique interactive racing simulation that is available for a subscription price of $99 per year, which works out to less than $8 per month. The computer simulation of each track is so realistic that the users often think they are watching a NASCAR or IndyCar Series race in high-definition.
IRacing.com was founded by Dave Kaemmer, the Godfather of real racing games, and John Henry, the owner of the Boston Red Sox and a partner in the Roush-Fenway Racing NASCAR team.
Kaemmer made the software for the Indy 500 game 21 years ago and has also created Grand Prix Legends, NASCAR 2000 and NASCAR 2003 for Papyrus. Henry, meanwhile, had been interested in SIM Racing for a long time and, when he realized Kaemmer was based in Boston, the two met. A year later, the owners of Papyrus shut down the company and Henry contacted Kaemmer about iRacing.com.
The result of their efforts is an incredibly realistic racing experience of organized sanctioned racing events. iRacing has agreements with IZOD IndyCar Series, NASCAR Camping World Truck Series, Nationwide, Sprint Cup Series and other racing organizations.
"It is the closest a person can ever get to driving a real race car, whether it's an IndyCar, a NASCAR Cup car, a Daytona Prototype or an American Le Mans Series GT-1 Corvette," says Steve Potter, Director of Communications at iRacing.com. "The level of accuracy is phenomenal. You can race 24/7 for less than $8 a month. You get seven tracks and three cars at the rookie level." The service offers 60 tracks in all.
Henry created iRacing to duplicate the real world of auto racing in a virtual world and to allow people who didn't have lots of money to have a racing career and to build their skills over time. The other purpose of the game is to allow people who do race in the physical world to become better drivers by learning a new track, or to understand how a car performs at a specific track. iRacing is so realistic that the bumps on the track are even in the right areas.
"For the race tracks, we use this survey quality laser scanner so the track is accurate to within a millimeter or two-tenths of an inch," Potter explained. "All the bumps are there, all the changes in camber, all the things that affect a race car. As opposed to a video game, where the suspension and weight distribution is arbitrary, we literally know where all the weight in the car is so the dynamics are correct and the suspension moves exactly as it would in a real car. We've had NASCAR drivers tell us the Cup car is just like the real car -- it pushes going into the corner and is loose coming out. Most of our members would never know, but we go to great lengths to make sure the virtual car is a mirror image of the real car in the real world."
As a result of the simulation's accuracy, IndyCar driver Danica Patrick has ordered a subscription to facilitate her transition to NASCAR Nationwide Series tracks.
"With this rain situation, we were in [last Friday at the Daytona ARCA test], I went on iRacing.com for the first time and I'm ready to get booted up," Patrick said in an interview with SpeedTV's Robin Miller. "They're going to send me a kit with steering wheel and pedals and everything, so it's cool. If anything fast forwards a learning curve, that's good."
Justin Wilson is also an iRacing advocate and has been able to hone his racing skills on the simulation before taking what he has learned into practical use on the track. "I'm more nervous on the online version than I am in real life," he admitted. "I'm on there with my real name, so I don't want to go out there and run into the back of a guy at the start and look like an idiot, so there is a lot of pressure. I come across A.J. Allmendinger a lot and it is good fun and great racing."
iRacing has currently 15,000 users, all of whom must use their real names -- no aliases are allowed.
"The problem with a lot of online games is people hide behind an identity that doesn't belong to them and they do things they wouldn't do," said Potter. "Everybody knows what a rude place the virtual world can be. In the real world you use your real name and we do that on iRacing. Also, on racing games people thinks it's fun to crash. That's not iRacing. The way the service is structured, you get rewarded for driving fast and safely. If you crash all the time, you don't get to race wheel-to-wheel in faster more sophisticated cars.
"I got an e-mail from a journalist in Vancouver who said, 'Was that Dale Earnhardt Jr. I was racing against last night?'"
The answer was yes.