Last year’s lockdown gave sim racing and eSports a watershed moment, where the eyes of the sport turned their gaze toward virtual tracks in numbers they had never done before. In 2020, NASCAR launched its Pro Invitational Series, IMSA created its iRacing Pro Series, and IndyCar established its iRacing Challenge. In 2021, all three of the series have announced – and in IndyCar’s case, have completed – second renditions of their virtual championships.
According to Parker Kligerman – NASCAR Truck Series driver and long-time sim racing supporter – keeping the momentum that sim racing found in 2020 going comes down to access, and lowering the bar for entry.
“I have so many friends and people who don’t even watch racing, they’re barely interested in watching races that I’m in,” he told RACER. “But the fact that they can drive a race car on a computer, they just light up… they just become consumed by it. I was like ‘wow this is an amazing thing’, and if we can continually make it easier for that person to discover that they want to do this and be set up in the quickest amount of time possible, we’re going to win as an industry.”
That was the driving force behind his decision to start the eRacr.gg marketplace with Landon Cassill – a kind of eBay dedicated to sim-racing equipment. In the oftentimes messy world of computer and sim-racing equipment, Kligerman and Cassill hope to provide a venue for newcomers to get racing as quickly and easily as possible.
“What we’re doing with the eRacr marketplace is providing an area to have secondhand sales as you upgrade, and move forward and have an ability for people to get some of the entry-level stuff at far better prices and to understand exactly what they need,” he explained. “[A place] to help people that are getting into this for the first time and have the simplest way to access the things they want and the ability to upgrade.”
Kligerman also operates his own sim-racing team, Kligerman Sport, which fields drivers in the eNASCAR iRacing Coca-Cola Series, the premier NASCAR series on iRacing. Kligerman spent much of his own childhood sim racing. If he wasn’t in school or trying to race a go-kart, Kligerman was racing on a virtual track. When he sat on the pole in his first race in the NASCAR Xfinity Series, he had competed in less than 50 real-world races. Despite that, he bested the likes of Kyle Busch.
“I realized that in that year, he had done 60-plus races and I had done less than 50 races my whole career, but I had done thousands of races online,” Kligerman said.
“It would be absolutely asinine to not encourage, embrace, and put all the effort behind sim racing. We have truly something special here, that no other sport has. No other sport has a virtual counterpart that connects so seamlessly between the real [and the sim]. How could we not embrace it and try to promote it? It’s just a no-brainer.”
2020 placed motorsports on the radar of many other sports’ leagues looking to harness the same success that racing had found in the virtual world.
“I think for other sports, it put motorsports on the radar with baseball and football and other sports,” Kligerman said. “I spoke to many from those industries during the Pro Invitational Series in 2020, and they were so jealous. They realized, ‘wait a second, none of us can do what is going on here.’ Now they’re looking for it, and I think a lot of them are trying.”
Regardless of the success that sim racing finds, it will never overtake real-world racing. It’s a compliment to the real thing, not a substitute.
“It’s simulating what’s happening in real life. If there’s nothing to simulate, guess what? We don’t have any sim-racing or racing games,” Kligerman said. “It’s a ridiculous notion to say [sim-racing] could replace [real-world racing], [sim-racing] is a complete value-add.”
Virtual racing can create added avenue for those looking to get involved in motorsports, Kligerman explained.
“Because [racing] is so expensive, because it takes such a time-intensive amount to do anything, even to go race a go-kart it takes a lot of time and money,” he said. “But in sim racing we can allow thousands, if not millions, of people to experience motorsports and race at any one time, which is something that motorsports has never had.”
Understanding the full ramifications of what 2020 did for sim racing will likely take years, Kligerman believes, but nevertheless, it left the rest of the sporting world wondering how a relatively niche industry had outfoxed them.
“We can do so much more and allow so many more people to access all this stuff if we just find a way to harness it in a better way and present it,” Kligerman said.