Last Sunday, NASCAR and its drivers struck pandemic television gold when the first race of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series became the highest-rated eSports broadcast in television history. And with no real-life racing until at least early May, NASCAR and its television partner in FOX are banking on virtual racing to fill the void the COVID-19 outbreak has left in many people’s sports calendars.
After the success of the series’ first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway, NASCAR announced Tuesday that FOX Sports has committed to broadcasting the rest of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series beginning this Sunday at a virtual version of Texas Motor Speedway. The programs, entitled “FOX NASCAR iRacing”, will be broadcast on the FOX television network (where available), FS1, and the FOX Sports app. The series features a cross-section of drivers from the NASCAR Cup Series, Xfinity Series, and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series, as well as a group of NASCAR dignitaries – Such as two retired drivers in two-time Daytona 500 Champion Dale Earnhardt Jr. and NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Labonte.
“We’re overwhelmed by the positive feedback and encouragement sent by industry stakeholders, drivers, partners, media and most importantly, our fans. We all can’t wait to get back to racing and our partners at iRacing and FOX have worked with us to do just that – race,” said Tim Clark, Senior Vice President and Chief Digital Officer for NASCAR. “We are committed to running these eNASCAR iRacing events in place of the NASCAR Cup Series for as long as necessary. Providing a platform for our fans to watch and engage with their favorite drivers is our number one priority.”
This takes computers crashing to a whole new level.
— NASCAR (@NASCAR) March 24, 2020
The first race of the Pro Invitational Series, won by three-time Daytona 500 Champion Denny Hamlin, gave FOX due cause to commit to the rest of the series. According to Nielsen Media Research, FS1’s broadcast of the event drew 903,000 viewers, making it the most-watched telecast on the network since the COVID-19 pandemic forced virtually the entire sports industry to suspend their seasons. In addition, it was also the highest-rated broadcast of an eSports event in television history.
“This rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television viewers across the country in a very positive way,” said Brad Zager, FOX Sports Executive Producer, EVP/Head of Production & Operations. “We have learned so much in a relatively short period of time, and we are excited to expand coverage of this brand-new NASCAR eSports series to an even wider audience.”
The broadcast crew for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series will remain just as it was for last week’s Homestead-Miami broadcast, with Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds calling the race from the FOX NASCAR studios in Charlotte, North Carolina. NASCAR Cup Series driver Clint Bowyer, a participant in the races, will provide “in-car” commentary.
The eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series uses the iRacing software, a subscription-based racing simulator first released in 2008. Online racing is the crux of the iRacing platform, with its most-notable series being NASCAR’s official eSports league, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.