Team Penske staged an Esports competition featuring all 14 of its full-season drivers on Tuesday night, helping Verizon raise more than $7 million to help small business affected by the COVID-19 pandemic. The #PayItForwardLIVE Invitational iRacing competition featured races on a virtual Michigan International Speedway, Charlotte Roval and Irwindale Speedway on three different tracks in three different style vehicles and produced three separate race winners across each discipline. (Watch the full replay at the bottom of this article.)
The #PayItForwardLIVE Invitational included Team Penske NASCAR drivers Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Matt DiBenedetto and Austin Cindric; IndyCar racers Will Power, Simon Pagenaud and Josef Newgarden; IMSA competitors Helio Castroneves, Juan Pablo Montoya, Ricky Taylor and Dane Cameron and Australian Supercar racers Fabian Coulthard and Scott McLaughlin. Each driver represented a small business that is special to them and they put on a show for the thousands of fans that tuned in to watch the entertaining iRacing competition. Motorsports reporter Jamie Little hosted the online broadcast along with Team Penske and NASCAR Hall of Famer Rusty Wallace.
The three winners from the evening’s races included Taylor, who drove a street stock car to a photo finish at the virtual MIS oval; DiBenedetto, who claimed an easy victory in off-road trucks on the Charlotte Motor Speedway roval; and Pagenaud, who staged a late rally to win in a Legends car during a figure eight race at Irwindale Speedway.
The real winners Tuesday evening were small businesses, however. The simulated racing stage allowed Verizon and Team Penske to urge everyone to visit Verizon.com/PayItForwardLive and contribute however they could to support local businesses by shopping online, buying a gift card or ordering a meal. Verizon has been hosting the Pay It Forward LIVE series on Tuesday and Thursday nights during the pandemic with some of the biggest names in entertainment performing live from their living rooms to support local businesses. For every use of the hashtag #PayItForwardLIVE, Verizon is donating $10, up to $2.5 million, to support small businesses. Verizon also announced an additional $2.5 million donation recently to support small businesses, bringing the total commitment to up to $7.5 million.
In the opening race of the night at MIS, the track once owned by Roger Penske, the Team Penske NASCAR drivers set the pace early in the street stock machines. DiBenedetto, Blaney and Keselowski ran up front for the majority of the 20-lap race before late-race incidents took them all out of contention. Taylor battled Coulthard hard over the final two laps, winning in a tight battle to the finish, while McLaughlin came in third.
“What a blast that was! Thanks so much to Verizon for hosting this event,” said Taylor, who was racing for Bushnell Motorsports Park – a go kart track in Bushnell, Florida – as his preferred small business. “I was just learning from the NASCAR guys at the beginning, holding the low line and trying not to crash. It was a lot of fun racing Fabian to the finish.”
The second race of the evening featured a lot of contact and some spectacular action on the 2.28-mile roval in durable and powerful four-wheel drive trucks. DiBenedetto got off to an early lead and pulled away from the field as the 10-lap race wore on. He won by more than five seconds over Power and McLaughlin, who earned his second third-place finish of the night.
“Road racing is one of my favorite things to do. The first few laps we were all just figuring out how drive these things,” said DiBenedetto, whose favorite small business is CrossFit Catawba Valley in Hickory, NC. “Shoutout to Verizon and everyone who is paying it forward to support their local businesses.”
In the nightcap, the action was intense on the figure eight track as the Team Penske drivers did their best to avoid each other on the crossover. Newgarden and Montoya battled for the lead early on in the 30-lap race but Blaney charged hard and led Cindric and Pagenaud over the final few laps. Pagenaud and Blaney got together on the final lap and Pagenaud emerged victorious. Cindric finished second and Power came home third.
“I really want to thank Verizon for putting this together and all they do to support our team. We never really have the chance to race with all of us together,” said Pagenaud, who raced in honor of his top local business – Sangam Indian Cuisine in Cornelius, NC. “Paying it forward really does make a difference.”
Watch the full replay below: