INSIGHT: Rediscovering fun in 'unprecedented times'

INSIGHT: Rediscovering fun in 'unprecedented times'

Insights & Analysis

INSIGHT: Rediscovering fun in 'unprecedented times'

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Yeah, I’m tired of that phrase, too. Everything is ‘unprecedented’. The world is simply changing too quickly, and we don’t like it. And in response, we’re trying everything to entertain people, risks be damned. If you’re not trying, you’re not in this with the rest of us. Keep up.

I could go on about the winners and losers of the marketing and entertainment world at large, but I’ll focus on what is closest to me – racing.

Kudos to all the race series, racers, sponsors, promoters, fans, and more, for truly trying everything possible to 1) push on with hope and positivity, and 2) entertain in new and unique ways. We’ve seen it flourish and we’ve seen it fail. Some failures have had serious consequences, but above all else, they tried. They took a risk, tried something they weren’t good at, and did it anyway – for the fans.

Not to be Captain Obvious, here, but racers hate failure. It is what makes them different and great at what they do. It is a component of their success. So when so many were asked to take up sim racing – many (most) balked, whined, and dragged their feet to basement sim racing set-ups because they didn’t want to disappoint fans or sponsors. They put themselves into a world where they had little experience, and went for it. Unrealistic expectations weighed heavy, as sim racing in these environments does not truly simulate reality. Racers had to learn a new race craft in a matter of days. Some racers had to be serious about something that they didn’t really want to be serious about.

Some succeeded. Some didn’t. And most ended up mid-pack.

“The mood started jovial and fun but quickly became somber and depressing, when I realized I was bringing a water pistol to a tank fight,” says James Hinchcliffe.

“After week one, there was a huge discrepancy between the people who were logging dozens of hours with a team of engineers and the people who were, well, me. I thought it was meant to be something fun to entertain fans, but it very quickly became way more than that, and without a sim at home and a team of engineers to join in, it took a bit of the fun out of it.”

 Indy 500 winner, Alexander Rossi, concurs. “Some drivers will put upwards of 50-80 hours a week into perfecting their sim racing craft and others – namely those in the LCQ league – don’t have the time and/or desire to do that.”

Mid-pack? For racers like Travis Pastrana, Chad Reed, Alexander Rossi, and James Hinchcliffe, that seems like unfamiliar territory. But that’s where they found themselves, often in iRacing versions of vehicles they wouldn’t normally be found in, like Off-Road Short Course trucks and Rallycross.  But let’s be honest: in “normal” times, you wouldn’t find these guys in a sim. Much to the chagrin of their wives and girlfriends, they were spending their stay-at-home days with endless practice hours and races, partly for fans and sponsors, but also, because, well, everyone was doing it.

And because of that “serious factor” mentioned above, they started to notice that some of their races were more fun than others.

Despite their mid-pack mediocrity, a magical thing happened. Discord happened. To be specific, Conor Daly’s Discord channel, happened. (Discord is an audio platform widely used in gaming and Esports) He had his buddies, Alex and James, and his IndyCar boss Ed Carpenter, and then added motocross legends Pastrana and Reed as they all ventured into iRacing Rallycross events. The Discord dynamic was truly an organic and authentic thing, as these guys have much in common, from their sense of humor, long riffs of self-deprecation, to their sub-optimal iRacing skills. And after a few weeks of racing, they consistently found themselves racked up together in the LCQ (Last Chance Qualifier).

Instead of hiding from their “unprecedented” mediocrity, they embraced it. They looked forward to the nights where they’d be racing together. They found a way to make something that is often times deflating, into something fun.

“It all really started at the beginning of the world shut down in March right after the St Pete weekend that never was,” says Daly.

“Hinch, Alex and I needed a place to chat about the upcoming iRacing IndyCar Challenge we were all about to embark on, and then we all continued to sign up for more internet races so it became a regular hangout on the internet for us. Once we got into the Rallycross league we started having quite a bit of fun with it on my Twitch stream, then Chad Reed texted me about jumping in with us, and then Travis hit up Alex about it – and sure enough we all ended up together in the Discord for the next rallycross event. The rest is history, as they say!”

Quietly, and with a little help from a couple of event-organizing types and an iRacing insider, they started the #LCQLeage. Pro sim racers or racers that win in sims are not invited. These guys have nothing to prove, except they want to have some fun at what has previously been a frustrating endeavor.

Format:

  • Monday nights at 7:30pm ET (until further notice)
  • Eight-ish entries – all guys mentioned above, plus Brandon Semenuk (ARA Rally) and Blake “Bilko Williams (FMX), and special guests (like Ricky Carmichael) seem to keep showing up
  • Three disciplines: three different cars on three different tracks
  • The shtick? They don’t know what’s what until they log in
  • 15 minute practices + 10 minute races
  • Gentlemen’s Racing Rules – basically, they discuss before they shunt someone
  • Prizes – still unclear, but some $2 bills and booze delivery have been discussed
  • Broadcast on Conor Daly and Nitro Circus Twitch Channels

The format (or lack thereof) was developed as the antithesis to the edict laid down by various series trying to replace the real-world action. LCQ League shows the world the advantages of sim racing. What’s impossible in real-world racing is now possible. Besides the unique mix of cars and tracks and the inevitable end-of-race crash/flip-fest, the biggest take-away is the access to the racers’ personalities. You’ve likely seen bits and pieces of their personas over the years, but always interrupted by the business of racing. Here, you get about an hour and a half of uncanned, off-the-cuff, who-knew-they-were-this-funny entertainment. You get them with their helmets off.

@Hinchtown: “Is Wild Horse Pass another Gentlemen’s Club?”

@ConorDaly22: “Yes, but there are not ACTUAL horses there.”

@AlexanderRossi: “On Tuesdays there are.”

“The fact that the stream became so popular really means a lot to me, and I appreciate all those who tune in,” says Daly.

“I do try quite hard to make sure we put on a good show for the people watching.  I want to be able to give people something to laugh at, something to bring them a little bit closer to how we all are away from the real track, because that’s what it is in reality.  We are all in our own homes, saying things that we would normally say to each other if we were all hanging out, but probably stuff we wouldn’t say to a TV camera in our face.  We, of course, have some already well-known electric personalities but then we also have a guy, like my boss, Ed, who I already know has a hilarious personality but it isn’t necessarily seen that often on the internet. I think Ed has been one of the biggest low-key stars of the month of April and May!”

And that’s what is truly special about LCQ League: the laughter, hilarity, jokes, and trash-talking of these racers’ personalities carries the audience through the races. The fans hear it all, and get to participate. Those in Daly’s Twitch chat get to decide on things like “Gentlemen’s Cautions” and driver bonus points.  As we say on the other side of the Discord, “What the chat wants, the chat gets.” And the boys don’t disappoint.

Now don’t be mistaken. Competition is real. Rivalries are strong. They still like to win. Even if it doesn’t always look like it, they’re probably trying.

“When the racing world came to a halt, it became quickly apparent to my mother-in-law, wife and two young girls that I needed a competitive outlet,” says Pastrana.

“ I guess my idea of “friendly competition” was a little much for the family UNO game. So when sim racing started up, I couldn’t have been more excited… many of my motorsport heroes, legends from all forms of racing, coming together to have some fun.

“That sounded great on the surface, but it was immediately obvious that I will never be competitive in the sim racing world. Similar to my NASCAR “career,” I found that taking a bigger risk doesn’t directly relate to time gained (or in sim racing, where no one is afraid to take a risk at all) my competitive advantage goes out the window. It’s difficult to talk **** when you’re sitting on the sidelines watching the main event because you didn’t qualify.

“Luckily we developed an inner race series rivalry between the super-fast, but volatile in a sim, racer Alex Rossi, Conor – who showed up to the gun fight with a water pistol of a sim rig – and Chad, who I take so much joy in beating in anything possible, because I never beat him at my day job of riding dirt bikes.”

Above all else, they are professionals and are always looking for new ways to deliver to the fans and sponsors. They understand the importance of being real and authentic. They know they need to stay on the radar. And they’re not going to do that through “quarantine workout” videos.

“Whether as an owner or driver, I think it is important to show our personalities and connect with our fan base in a unique way,” says Carpenter. “This league allows us to have fun, do something that we love, and have a different level of interaction with our fans. It has been a nice release from the stresses of COVID-19, not only for us, but those who have been following it.”

Rossi continues: “The formation of this group happened very organically, as we are just a bunch of like-minded buddies who got involved in this “experiment” for the sole purpose of providing entertainment to our fans and some exposure to our sponsors. I think our weekly shenanigans allowed us to showcase who we are as people outside of a race car, and hopefully give people a glimpse into the competitive nature of racing drivers despite not being able to take part in our day jobs at the racetrack – at least for now.”

LCQ League is a platform for the passion that runs deep in these guys and needs to be more visible – all the time.  It reminds us that racing is fun, and no matter how hard the world pushes back, we’ll find a way to make it shine.

The newly-rescheduled Supercross calendar has Reed moving to Salt Lake City for multiple rounds of racing action. He’s gone as far as taking his sim rig with him so he doesn’t miss  #LCQLeague on Monday nights.

“For me the one thing I’ve taken from virtual racing is the light-hearted chats and the constant laughs with some of the most competitive individuals in their chosen sports,” he says. “As someone who is in my 20th year as a professional, this has been a breath of fresh air and a wake-up call to getting back to the core of why I fell in love with competing against friends and rivals. It’s the perfect one night a week where I can forget about everything and enjoy a good laugh over some fun hard racing with some mates.”

Check out the last few weeks of racing and watch for future Monday night iRacing mediocrity here: twitch.tv/conordaly22 or twitch.tv/nitrocircus

And bring your Lunchables, Oreos, and drink of choice…

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