GRM Was There: SCCA Racing in a Virtual, Pants-Optional Environment

Lemons, lemonade. 

I suppose I was one of the last people to attend a national level SCCA event in real space for a while. Two weeks ago, I attended the Tire Rack Dixie Solo National Tour, and even during the four-hour drive from my house to the event site, the talk all over the news was about parts of the world shutting down. 

There had been talk of canceling the event, but the window of opportunity closed, and instead tons of additional safety measures were put into place, and while it was kind of sad not giving or getting any handshakes or high-fives that weekend, y’all, I got so may free pens.

By the time the event was over, the word had come down that SCCA and most other sport car club activity was suspended for the near future. 

But within days, talk turned to how we would face this uncertain new world, and for many racers, that meant firing up the PC. Lots of racers I know are already hardcore sim enthusiasts, but the shutdown seemed to suddenly change everyone’s mindset. All of a sudden, faced with this being our only competitive outlet, everyone started to take it real seriously.

And, to be clear, I mean that in a good way. Not the overly serious, occasionally argumentative vibe that our scene can sometimes produce. But lots of folks suddenly stepped up to help friends put rigs together, organize series, answer questions, and generally move the amateur motorsports community indoors for a while.

By now you’ve probably read the story about SCCA going digital this past weekend, and I participated as well, and David sent me the same questions he sent everyone else, so here are my responses. I guess I should qualify all this by saying that I’m a fairly casual sim racer. Until this past week, my iRacing subscription hadn’t been active since last fall, and when I did hop on to do some sim racing, it was usually Project CARS 2, which has much more casual physics and a generally “game”-ier approach. (It’s still awesome, though.) 

I do have a complete driving rig that was built using plans from Ricmotech (scroll down to the bottom of the page to see a live show about it) and a VR headset from Oculus, so it’s not like I’m steering with the keyboard and paying on my phone. It’s something I take seriously, but usually as a tool to learn a new track or knock off some rust, not as a competition outlet. So, here we go:

How was the experience?

Utterly fabulous. I guess one of my big gripes with iRacing in general is that I’m competing against a bunch of people I don’t know. Just seeing names on the screen that I recognized brought a really different vibe to the whole event. 

It felt more like… well, an event. Being able to compete with friends and knowing we all shared common interests and frames of reference made the whole thing very special. It’s actually made me want to spend a little time getting more of the communication features set up so I can engage in voice chat and other communication protocols while being in the sim. 

How was the racing?

Also amazing. I started and finished mid-pack in both of the races I ran–Spec Racer Ford and Global MX-5 Cup–and improved my positions in both, mostly by keeping my nose clear and driving to stay out of trouble. 

At this point, I don’t feel like I’ve been back on the iRacing platform long enough to really skew the risk/reward ratio any further than it already is. I’d rather just turn laps and stay out of trouble than ruin someone else’s day. 

Still, I had some great dices during both races that were clean and respectful. One of the best things about competing in an SCCA environment is you were pretty confident that no one was there just to be the a-hole. You kind of knew if you started dicing with someone, everyone pretty much knew the rules of engagement and how common track courtesy worked.

There were a few fairly insane moments during the 90-minute, multi-car open practice session, but that was just people in practice mode and folks blowing off some steam. No one got too bent out of shape. I did crash bad enough in practice that I flew so far off track I think I actually ended up on a World of Warcraft server, though.

What would I like to see going forward?

More structure. One of the great things about the competition season is that you look forward to that structure. You get excited about the race events coming up and get into that mindset that associated with that structured schedule. 

I’d love to see some of that same structure applied here. If I had a Sunday event (or Tuesday night, or whatever) to look forward to, knowing what class and car I’d be running so I could practice, and knowing that my friends would be there competing against me, that would fill a lot of the emotional gap that I think will be lost this spring, and probably summer.

PS: I already spent my forthcoming Corona Fun Bux® upgrading my sim rig to some more prosumer grade hardware. If I’m gonna be locked inside all summer, I may as well make the most of it.

 

 

 

 

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DirtyBird222
DirtyBird222 UberDork
3/31/20 11:31 a.m.

Chris DeShong in something other than a BMW or Honda? What has this world come to? 

David S. Wallens
David S. Wallens Editorial Director
3/31/20 7:06 p.m.

In reply to DirtyBird222 :

And, like JG said, that's what made this fun: Seeing people we knew on track.

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