The world of eSports has boomed into a global industry in the last decade, thanks to the ever-growing popularity of video games. Racing is one of the top eSports categories with its fast, intense and action-packed gameplay. In fact, this category has been so successful that leagues such as eNASCAR can operate independently.
eNASCAR league is still in its infancy but has already made a huge splash in the racing and gaming communities. Here’s everything you need to know about NASCAR’s eSports scene and how it’s changing the stock car racing landscape.
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The eNASCAR series was officially established in 2010 when NASCAR partnered with the popular PC game iRacing. NASCAR noticed the growing popularity of eSports as a whole and wanted to jump on the bandwagon. iRacing co-founders John Henry and David Kaemmer jumped at the opportunity to work with one of the world’s top racing leagues.
The league debuted on February 9, 2010, when real-life race car driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the inaugural race on a simulated track of the Daytona International Speedway. A total of 65 racers participated in the first season, with Richard Towler winning the championship and $10,000 in prize money.
eNASCAR slowly developed its regular season format and scoring system from 2010 to 2015. The biggest adjustment was shrinking the participation pool to just 40 drivers and 20 racing teams. The series gained its first major ambassador in 2014 when PEAK Antifreeze bought the naming rights and increased the winnings to $100,000.
The league reached another milestone in 2016 with the introduction of a new video game called NASCAR Heat Evolution. This game was the first major release from NASCAR that gained national attention. Although it had a mixed reception, it led to the creation of the NASCAR Heat Pro League, which takes place on video game consoles instead of PCs.
The next big leap for eNASCAR took place in 2020, just before the global COVID-19 outbreak. Coca-Cola became the series’ primary sponsor, increased the prize money to $300,000 and locked up some sweet TV deals. FOX Sports televised a full season of races in 2020, with the opening broadcast getting more than one million views.
2020 was the only completely televised eNASCAR season, as FOX Sports moved back to in-person racing broadcasts when COVID-19 restrictions lifted in 2021. However, the increased exposure during 2020 brought the sport to new heights. NASCAR and iRacing did not hesitate to renew their partnership in 2021 following their best season yet.
eNASCAR has already seen its fair share of charismatic figures and inspiring storylines. John Gorlinsky was one of the first racers and is now NASCAR’s Director of eSports competitions. Bobby Zalenski was the runner-up three times before finally winning the championship in 2019. Young sensation Keegan Leahy won his first title in 2021.
The trio of Brandyn Gritton, Kyle Arnold and Daniel Buttafuoco have made names for themselves in the NASCAR Heat Pro League. Content creators like Jimmy Broadbent and numerous Twitch and YouTube streamers get millions of views from playing iRacing games.
While all these people have been great ambassadors for eNASCAR, the sport’s most prominent individual is Ray Alfalla — a four-time series champion. In 2022, he got behind the wheel of a real NASCAR vehicle for the first time, reporting that he needed to improve his physical fitness in order to become a full-time driver.
Although the physical demands of eNASCAR clearly aren’t the same, the drivers undergo advanced training and simulations similar to real NASCAR drivers. In this way, eNASCAR serves as a legitimate gateway for aspiring drivers to earn a spot in real-world racing circuits. Success on a virtual race track has proven to translate to real-world racing.
Plus, virtual racing is more dangerous than you might think. eNASCAR drivers have to deal with a unique obstacle that real NASCAR drivers don’t — eyesight damage. The blue light emitted from screens can cause dryness, irritation and even permanent retinal damage. These symptoms can in turn negatively affect visual processing speeds and reaction times.
Many eSports professionals take antioxidants or nootropics that absorb blue light and protect the body from external stressors. They might also wear special glasses or blue light-blocking screen filters to keep their eyes healthy. eNASCAR might not involve much physical exertion, but like anything that requires dedication, it certainly has its risks.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series follows a similar format to the Sprint Cup Chase in real life. The regular season has 16 rounds that run from mid-February to early October. Forty racers and 20 teams compete for eight spots in the playoffs.
Racers earn points based on their placing, with 40th place earning one point, 39th place earning two points and so on. First place wins 43 points — 40 based on their placing and three bonus points.
Racers can also earn bonus points for leading a certain number of laps. Only the best 12 out of 16 results count toward the playoff standings, which allows racers to have a few bad weeks without ruining their championship hopes. eNASCAR has plenty of high-speed crashes like real stock car racing, so this system ensures drivers aren’t punished for crashing early.
The regular season winnings are much smaller than the postseason winnings. First place receives $500 for a win, second place gets $300 and third place gets $200. The only exception to this rule is the Daytona 500, which has slightly higher earnings depending on the year.
Points are reset to 2,000 in Week 17 after the playoff field is set. After three races, the top four drivers qualify for the Championship Series and their points are reset to 3,000. The driver with the most points at the end of the series is crowned the champion and wins the $300,000 prize.
Here are the individual and team winners since 2010:
- 2010: Richard Towler, Drill Aisle
- 2011: Ray Alfalla, JR Motorsports
- 2012: Ray Alfalla, JR Motorsports
- 2013: Tyler Hudson, One Up Motorsport
- 2014: Michael Conti, Drill Aisle
- 2015: Kenny Humpe, The TEAM
- 2016: Ray Alfalla, Slip Angle Motorsports
- 2017: Ryan Luza, Slimworx Racing
- 2018: Ray Alfalla, Slip Angle Motorsports
- 2019: Bobby Zalenski, Joe Gibbs Racing
- 2020: Nick Ottinger, William Byron eSports
- 2021: Keegan Leahy, 23XI Racing
- 2022: Casey Kirwan, XSET
It’s also worth noting that eNASCAR uses all the same tracks as real NASCAR events. The season always begins at the Daytona International Speedway, followed by fan favorites such as the Las Vegas Motor Speedway, Talladega Superspeedway and Pocono Raceway. The virtual versions of these tracks look almost identical to the real thing, which significantly improves the viewing experience when the events are live streamed on the eNASCAR website.
eNASCAR has developed a unique type of farm system that allows aspiring racers to rise through the ranks and reach the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. The Pro License is for the best of the best, while Classes A, B, C and D are for amateurs of various skill levels. Everyone starts with an unclassified rookie license and must prove themselves before advancing to Class D.
Each racer also has a safety rating, which starts at 2.5. This rating system incentivizes participants to stay on the tracks and avoid bumping into other vehicles. Rookies must participate in at least two races or four time trials, and earn a 3.0 safety rating to graduate to Class D. The rankings automatically update at the end of each season.
eNASCAR — and most other eSports — is purely a performance-based league that doesn’t involve any nepotism. If you have a computer, an internet connection and a passion for racing games, you can slowly advance through the classes and find yourself in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series competing for the $300,000 prize. Sign up for your rookie license today and create your eNASCAR legacy!
The eNASCAR series was created in 2010 when NASCAR partnered with the online racing game iRacing on an official racing eSports league. The first race took place on February 9 of that same year.
The best eNASCAR racer is Ray Alfalla, who has won the championship four times. Other notable names include Casey Kirwan, Keegan Leahy and Bobby Zalenski.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing season runs almost parallel to the real NASCAR season from February to October. However, racers in the lower classes can participate in events year-round to boost their safety ratings.
Anyone can sign up for a rookie license and start participating in online events. It takes at least four eNASCAR seasons to rise through Class D, C, B and A, earn a Pro license, and get one of the 40 spots in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
You can watch all eNASCAR events on the website’s live stream, which has professional announcers, graphics and a group chat for members.
With an extensive background in automotive journalism, Jack Shaw brings a wealth of knowledge and enthusiasm to the table. As a contributing writer for Offroad Xtreme, Ford Muscle, Engine Labs and other leading publications, his articles provide readers with expert insights and captivating stories from the world of racing.