Friday 5: Behind-the-scenes view shows more than expected

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Twitch video streams bring fans closer to drivers by showing them as they compete in iRacing events, but those streams have revealed more in the past two weeks, costing one driver a sponsor and another his job.

Twitch.tv is the popular site to watch people play video games and racers compete in iRacing events, such as Sunday’s eNASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series event from a virtual Richmond Raceway.

Twitch allows race fans to see facial reactions, comments drivers make to themselves and those they make to competitors during races. This unfiltered access is more than fans would experience with a real race. There they would only hear what a driver says when the driver pressed the radio button. With Twitch, the radio button, in essence, is on all the time.

It was on Twitch that fans saw Bubba Wallace quit the April 5 Pro Invitational Series race at a virtual Bristol after he was involved in multiple incidents. A sponsor responded that it would cut all ties with Wallace.

Last weekend, another competitor’s twitch stream caught Kyle Larson using a racial slur, costing Larson his job at Chip Ganassi Racing and leading to questions of if he’ll race in NASCAR again.

Without Twitch, those situations likely wouldn’t have been seen.

But they were and the fallout was real.

“People are going to say, ‘Oh, it’s getting too serious, it’s taking all the fun out of it,” Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on this week’s Dale Jr. Download of the recent controversies. “I’m sorry. That’s the way you’ve got to approach it. You can still enjoy what you’re doing. You can still sit down there and have fun with it.”

Some drivers do, continuing to remain on Twitch. 

“Now, I’ve got to practice what I preach,” Earnhardt said on the Dale Jr. Download. “I’m going to be put in situations where you’re going to bite your tongue and not lash out at someone that might have done you wrong. Like Smithley. Garrett Smithley runs over me at Bristol, cleaned me out. We take care of each other, I always race hard, but I like to take care of the people around me. I don’t go into the corner and if I door this guy and he finishes 20th, I don’t care. That’s not my mentality. I race like I’d love this position but I’m not going to cost this guy 20 spots trying to get it, especially in a sim race.

“I think Garrett went in there and didn’t take care of me and it cost me a top 10 and in that moment I was as angry as I would have been in a real race car. I told him to eat (expletive). I did it over a private (channel to Smithley). I even went to his name and hit private message, but I knew as soon as I was sending that, while I was sending that I knew that that could be on Twitter in two minutes, less than that and it was, but you got to be aware (of) everything you say and do.

“It was tongue-in-cheek and we had a little fun with it. He’s a good guy and has done a good job of being a good ambassador of the sim racing life we’re all living now. You’ve just got to know that everything you type, say (and) do is going to be up for criticism or debate while you’re out there racing.”

2. A new following

After Kyle Larson uttered a racial slur last weekend, Sam Young had a talk with 11-year-old son James, who is a Larson fan.

“We always try to be open and try and make sure he knows if something is not right that he needs to know that, ‘Hey, this isn’t right and this is why it isn’t right,’ ” said Young, who lives in Sturgeon Bay, Wisconsin. “He already knew what Kyle had said was wrong before we even talked about it.

“That afternoon, he was like I guess I need a new driver.”

MORE: Bubba Wallace addresses Kyle Larson’s racial slur 

MORE: Ryan: These might have been Kyle Larson’s last words in NASCAR

That night Young tweeted that her son was looking for a new driver and she wrote: “Any driver out there want to help a mom out?”

She received several replies from fans and some drivers. She showed James the responses and he made his decision.

He chose Spencer Boyd, who was among the drivers who responded to Young’s tweet, which James said swayed him. He also chose Ross Chastain, who was promoted by multiple people.

James later decided to continue to support Larson.

Young also discussed with James what he could learn from Larson’s situation.

“People make mistakes and it’s something that you need to learn from,” she said. “There will be consequences. You have to face the consequences of your action.”

3. Time to read a book

Call him a performance coach or human optimizer or some other title, Josh Wise doesn’t have a particular title. The former racer just works with drivers on how to be better.

Among the drivers he works with are Tyler Reddick, Alex Bowman, Kurt Busch, Ross Chastain, Noah Gragson and those with GMS Racing’s Truck program.

With racing suspended because of the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s still work for drivers to do. Wise makes sure of it. But it’s not all physical.

“You can be as physically fit as you want, but you get to a point where being more fit isn’t going to make you drive a race car better,” Wise said. “It becomes cognitive and psychological and how you react and respond.”

iRacing helps — and Wise has set up private sessions for his drivers to work on skills while racing on a virtual track with them.

But there is something else that Wise preaches to his students.

Read a book.

“My goal over the last few weeks has really shifted to focus in this area because I see the opportunity that comes through causal conversations and book assignments and other literature that I’ve gone through with guys,” Wise said. “I think it’s a great time for that mindset growth and development.”

Wise has used book assignments even before this break.

He said one driver was given “Mind to Matter” by Dawson Church. The book shows how intentions can create things. Gragson said in September that he was reading John Maxwell’s book “25 Ways to Win with People” to be a better team leader.

“That’s what I need to be for this race team,” Gragson said at the time. “It’s really easy to be happy and smiling when things are going good, but I feel like your character comes out when maybe things aren’t going as well as you would want. I’m trying to lean on people who I call my mentors … reading that book and just trying to be better and more positive.”

Wise said the book assignments are good for many reasons, especially the younger drivers.

“Most of them are kids and they’re just bombarded with this stream of information that isn’t always the best for developing the way you think,” Wise said. “Books became a big part of what I do with everyone because it gives them something positive and productive to talk about. I’ve obviously read most of the books, and if I haven’t read it, I read it with them, and we’re talking about something that is pushing us to grown and change the way we think.”

4. Advice for those at home

With so many in the country under stay-at-home orders, what advice can Josh Wise give to the public to optimize their time?

“I had this kind of thought … I’m really talking to myself, if you’re not coming out of this with a new skill or self-betterment in some way — whether that is I’ve always wanted to run or I wanted to be more flexible and I want to do yoga —  we still have access to the tools to better ourselves,” Wise said. “Just focusing on what you can control and that’s those things. That’s you. This is the time. This is an opportunity I feel like.”

5. Somber day

Thursday, Indianapolis Motor Speedway was the site of a funeral for Indianapolis Metropolitan Police officer Breann Leath, who died after being shot on duty while responding to a domestic disturbance call April 9. She was 24.

With social distancing, officers could not pay their respects in the customary ways following a line-of-duty death.

Indianapolis Motor Speedway, which had never before hosted a funeral, was utilized. Cars lined the inside lane and outside lane around the 2.5-mile track and the funeral procession drove a lap in the middle lane, allowing those to pay their respects while maintaining social distancing.

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