Landon Cassill went to Parker Kligerman last summer with an idea for what he hoped would become the biggest privately held event in iRacing. Cassill had a formula: the 1987 Cup Cars on a hot, slick, old, worn out, Daytona International Speedway. “I think we can bring back the Firecracker 400,” Cassill told Kligerman. “You had me at hello,” Kligerman responded.
Kligerman and Cassill’s Firecracker 400 is managed by eRacr, the sim-racing community that the two formed as a way to promote the hobby and to manage large-scale events like the Firecracker 400.
“What the ethos we’ve always had with eRacr was, we wanted to do what real racing can’t or won’t,” Kligerman explained to RACER.
“We view the possibilities of tournaments as these things that can grow to having 1,000 competitors starting at the beginning and whittling its way all the way down to the top 43… something like that that would never be possible in real life.”
The response and support for the second year of the event blew the first year out of the water. Within the first six days of opening signups for this year’s event, the race had already bested the social media engagement numbers from the entirety of last year’s event. Over 425 people signed up to race in this year’s rendition of the Firecracker 400, nearly 100 more than the first year.
Just signing up, however, is not enough to make it into the Firecracker 400 and have a chance at a piece of the $10,000 prize pool. Drivers need to make it through three weeks of preliminary races, heat races, a preliminary main and/or a consolation race and make it through a two-day qualifying format that mimics the real-world Firecracker 400’s qualifying system.
“I don’t know that my heart’s ever beat any harder, even in a real race car, I’ve never been more nervous than when I’m trying to qualify for the Firecracker 400 on iRacing,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said in a video promoting the event.
Earnhardt Jr. was given a provisional entry into the Firecracker 400 after even he failed to qualify for the race.
We sat down with some absolute Legends of the sport to find out what the #Firecracker400 was really like.
— eRacr.gg (@eRacr_gg) June 29, 2021
Planning and executing such a large event takes time and financial resources, Kligerman said. Securing sponsorship, both for the prize pool and for the cost of servers needed to host the event, is critical.
“First and foremost, sponsorship is the biggest, most important thing because it allows these [events] to be run, they’re not cheap by any means,” he said.
“I think people will be astonished to know what these cost to run and by no means are they a money-making venture – they’re exciting when they break even,” Kligerman said.
From there, the conversation moves to how they can make the event bigger and better than it was the time before. This year, Kligerman and Cassill have focused on trying to get sponsorships not just for the event itself, but for the competitors in the race.
“This year our big trend has been sponsors,” Kligerman said. “Competitors are getting all the sponsors to come on board, so how can we help promote those sponsors that have come on board to support our competitors and support the event, and how can we help them show that value and continue to feel like these events are special to be a part of, let alone succeeding in.”
In addition to securing the sponsorship for the event, putting in place the assets needed to host broadcasts of the event and drive community engagement was an obstacle that the team at eRacr needed to get over.
All of the graphics, which match their 1987 counterparts, were built from the ground up by the team. eRacr also created the ‘eRacr Predictor’ which is a custom-built Twitch plugin that allows viewers to predict the outcome of the race, where a driver might qualify, or whatever else one’s imagination can dream up.
“Just because it’s virtual does not make it any easier,” Kligerman said. “Each of these events we have well over 16 people that work on them, especially during the three weeks of the event. There’s a huge amount of logistics in terms of competitor signups, information flow, letting them know where they have to be and when, what their timings are, what the rules are, there’s all that stuff.
“We also facilitate the entirety of the production ourselves, in-house. So everything you see on the live stream, we have created with our team. We run the entirety of the production through the cloud. We have a very modern setup for all of that, it’s been really cool. We’re able to run the equivalent of eight to 10 computers and do it entirely through the cloud and Amazon web servers, so it’s really cool.”
The broadcast team uses Amazon’s web services and cloud computing power to run multiple instances of iRacing in order to supply the broadcast feed with multiple camera angles. The broadcast itself is also run through Amazon’s systems, eliminating the chance of the broadcast failing due to an internet or hardware failure on the director or producer’s computer at home.
While $2,000 will go to the winner, one competitor will be chasing an even bigger pot. Nick Ottinger, the 2020 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series champion, has accepted the last to first challenge. After qualifying on pole for the race, Ottinger will be sent to the rear of the field. If he can make his way back to the front and claim the victory, he’ll be in for a payday of $22,000.
Nick has taken the @radiusbob Last 2 First Challenge for $20,000.
He will start LAST for the Blue Emu Firecracker 400 on June 30th to have a chance at an additional $20,000 if he wins the race! pic.twitter.com/2CTisFITI7
— eRacr.gg (@eRacr_gg) June 25, 2021
Three weeks of qualifying, over 400 drivers, a couple of Amazon cloud servers and no shortage of crashes will culminate in tonight’s Firecracker 400. Pre-race coverage begins at 7 p.m. ET with the green flag set for 8 p.m.
Once the race is over planning for the third annual Firecracker 400 will begin. “So, on July 1 we’ll start planning for the third annual,” Kligerman said with a chuckle.