We’re going racing tonight!
While NASCAR and all other forms of sports in the U.S. are shut down due to the COVID-19 virus, iRacing.com is the place to be tonight for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series event at 9 p.m. ET from a virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
One individual who is in his second season as an iRacing team owner is NASCAR on NBC analyst Parker Kligerman, who co-owns Burton/Kligerman eSports with fellow NBC Sports NASCAR analyst and former Cup driver Jeff Burton.
Their drivers are Ashton Crowder (drives the No. 77 Valvoline car) and Logan Clampitt (drives the No. 99 Valvoline car, an homage to Burton, who primarily drove that car number during his Cup career at Roush Fenway Racing). Crowder currently leads the series’ points, coming off a recent win at the virtual Auto Club Speedway.
— Ashton Crowder (@AshtonCrowder) January 28, 2020
— Parker Kligerman (@pkligerman) March 15, 2020
Next up on @iRacing:
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 15, 2020
Kligerman joined Nate Ryan on this week’s NASCAR on NBC podcast and spoke about his involvement in online sports, as well as being a iRacing team co-owner.
“Obviously, eSports is a big topic these days,” Kligerman told Ryan. “I’ve always been a big fan of Valvoline cars growing up, how good they looked, the paint schemes and everything and I thought how cool it would be to have them as those cars.”
Crowder and Clampitt are among the 20 drivers in the Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Among other team owners in the series are NBC NASCAR analyst Steve Letarte, as well as NASCAR Cup drivers Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron.
Byron is particularly notable as he literally began his racing career on the iRacing platform just nine years ago.
The eSports and iRacing platforms have become quite popular – and likely will gain even greater notoriety and attention during the current conditions.
Of note, Kligerman gave Ryan some key statistics: Across the Twitch, YouTube, eNASCAR.com and Facebook platforms, iRacing has averaged 180,000 viewers live, with an average retention time a person watches a race of between 19 and 30 minutes per person.
Another key point: the annual championship purse has jumped from over $100,000 last year to $300,000 this season.
“I don’t like the term ‘eSports’ anymore because I think of traditional eSports as doing something different,” Kligerman told Ryan. “We’re ‘eMotorsports’, we’re trying to help a sport that already exists build a base and gain a new audience and be exposed to people that can never be exposed to it on a competitive level.”
That fellow drivers like Hamlin, Larson and Byron have joined the series as team owners also speaks to the increasing popularity of eSports, particularly on the iRacing platform.
“It’s big,” Kligerman said. “When you get people like Denny Hamlin, Kyle Larson and William Byron, that sort of continually validates that.”
Owning an eSports/iRacing team also gives individuals a chance to do something they probably wouldn’t be able to do in real life.
“There’s 13 owners of the 20 that don’t own a real car in NASCAR and maybe never will,” Kligerman said. “And I think there’s six or seven that don’t own a real race car at all, maybe eight.
“So, we’re expanding outside the motorsports ecosystem to people that would never be involved in motorsports at the level of being an owner, and yet this allows them to do it, it’s fun and something they can promote and be excited about and promote motorsports and NASCAR to a base that never would have touched it before.”
Even NBA Hall of Famer Michael Jordan is tied to iRacing via a partial sponsorship of Hamlin’s e-team, including Jordan’s famous “Jump Man” logo on the side of the virtual race car of Hamlin’s team.
“One of the pitches to the driver pitching that was that he could meet Michael Jordan,” Kligerman said with a laugh. “I was like, ‘I can’t compete with that.’
“Jeff (Burton) and I are really cool, but we’re not Michael Jordan. That was a tough one. I just can’t get over how cool that is. You just brought someone in because it’s not the massive undertaking of having a real race team, and frankly a real race team right now as a business decision is not a very viable business decision as we all now.”
But obviously having an eSports race team is proving to be a very viable and inexpensive business decision and option for many.