At the age of 40, Clint Bowyer feels like kid again.
Or something close to it.
That’s the power of the eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series, which launched last weekend and continues Sunday on a digital Texas Motor Speedway (1 p.m. ET on Fox and FS1).
“It reminds me of a rookie coming into the Cup Series,” Bowyer said Thursday on a media teleconference. “You’re up against guys who have been doing (iRacing) for years, decades, and you’re expected to jump right into the deep end and compete with them and run door-to-door with them and beat them. The pressure is on for all of us to gain that almighty seat time as much as we can.”
Last Sunday’s race on a digital Homestead-Miami Speedway featured a handful of full-time Cup drivers who had little to no experience on iRacing or experience with iRacing’s version of a Cup car. They went up against drivers like Dale Earnhardt Jr., Denny Hamlin and Timmy Hill who have years of experience on the platform.
There’ll be more newbies this weekend, including Ryan Blaney.
All of this is happening due to the COVID-19 pandemic which shut down the physical sporting world.
“Man, the timing couldn’t have been any more right for a perfect storm situation,” Bowyer said. “Here we all are, just longing for some sports action, some competitive action that we can broadcast and show a fan and, boom, here it is in our lap. It was a great race last week at Homestead. I mean, you want to talk about a perfect storm, Dale Jr. taking the lead and Denny Hamlin passing him literally in the last corner of the race was just incredibly awesome.”
Bowyer praised iRacing for being “extremely realistic” compared to the real racing production that will be absent until at least May.
“The difference between all of this is with iRacing you’re using the same mechanics, the same forces, the same movements as you use in real life to make your car go fast and that is your hand-eye coordination, your feet,” Bowyer said. “You drive these things so much with the pedals, with the gas, the brake, the steering input. All of those inputs in your mind are the exact same thing and the same tools we use to put your car to the front of the field on any given Sunday.”
“That being said, the only sense that you don’t have in a simulator is the feel from the seat of your pants,” Bowyer observed. “We kind of call it the ‘butt dyno.’ You balance a race car kind of like if you put a plate on the end of an ink pen. That’s how you balance a race car. That thing wants to go on all four different axis’, whether it’s the right-front, left-front, right-rear, left-rear, you can feel all those things and that’s how you balance a car is through the seat of your pants. In iRacing, you don’t have that.
“All you have is your visuals, so once you have the hang of that and your mind finally catches on it’s kind of like riding a bike. It’s a struggle for a little while, but once you catch on to that and realize what’s going on with the movements of your car and the movements of the track and things like that – when to pick up the gas, your timing – once you get all that set it’s exactly like what we do in real life.”
After a messy start to the series’ premiere last Sunday, Bowyer expects to competition level to be up “across the board” this weekend with his fellow competitors getting more “seat time” to practice in their respective iRacing rigs.
“I think the best thing you can possibly do for any given sport is to do it,” Bowyer said. “There’s nothing that replaces seat time when you’re racing cars against your peers and the competition that we see at the Cup level. It was the same way when I raced dirt modifieds in the Midwest. The more you did it, the better you were. Trust me, these iRacing guys it’s no different.”