When Vicente Salas was collected in a crash on lap seven of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, he seemed far from surprised — as if crashing during eNASCAR’s first dirt race was a guarantee. When he was asked if the damage would slow him down, Salas provided the quote of the night: “I think all the cars here will probably be wrecked by the end, so we’re all good.”
Salas’ prediction was correct as a vast majority of the 40 drivers entered in Tuesday night’s race incurred some form of damage. Only three drivers finished the race without collecting any incident points — iRacing’s penalty point system for incidents. There was a total of eight cautions over the 120-lap race.
Stewart-Haas eSport’s driver Steven Wilson, who also holds a professional dirt license on iRacing, explained that the lack of dirt experience was a factor in many of the wrecks.
“With the field that we have, most of them don’t really have the dirt experience,” Wilson said. “When we are testing all week, these guys aren’t testing around as many cars, at most you would probably see around 10-15 cars in a session. They just don’t have the experience of how much room to give and they’re trying to all get positions and it causes stack-ups.”
Preparing for a race on dirt presented unique challenges for the drivers. Recreating the evolution of a track was nearly impossible with just a handful of cars running laps and single-car practice runs, while important for qualifying speed, were largely useless. Even the largest setup alliances, which often support up to 15 drivers couldn’t recreate the changing dynamics of a dirt track.
In search of larger fields, many drivers entered public races.
“It was hard to recreate it in a session without a lot of cars,” Blake Reynolds, who finished fourth, said. “What we were trying to do is just run all the (public races) we could. Getting all the man-hours, all the laps that we can get on the setup just to find the right setup to work in race conditions. The dirt tracks, it’s really hard to replicate that in solo-testing so you have to run a public race.”
Even for Nick Ottinger, the race winner on Tuesday night, racing on dirt required the 2020 series champion to head back to school. Ottinger worked with a number of iRacing dirt professionals during the offseason, anticipating that the Coca-Cola Series would likely have a dirt race.
When he rolled out onto the track for the first time, Ottinger couldn’t help but ask himself what he was doing there, the William Byron eSports driver explained. Learning the dirt discipline ended up being a rewarding experience for Ottinger, but not just because his work translated into a win.
“I always pride myself on trying to learn something new. You’re never going to be perfect as a race car driver and anyone who tells you they are a perfect race car driver is just lying to themselves, to be frank.
“It was fun learning the discipline. I’d say it’s a lot more fun in a different car, but it was still fun learning in this type of discipline for what this car was,” Ottinger said.
With his win on Tuesday night, Ottinger moved into the lead of the championship. Graham Bowlin, who finished third is the highest driver without a win and is third in the standings. Charlotte Phoenix, a new team to the series this year, led the team’s championship with Bowlin and Kollin Keister both in the top 10 in points.