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Nascar and F1 drivers are holding eSports competitions in lieu of Sunday races

(Image credit: iRacing)

In lieu of Sunday races, which Nascar and F1 called off recently, some pro drivers are turning to virtual races using different video games and racing sims.

After hearing about the cancellation of Sunday races including Nascar's annual event at Atlanta Motor Speedway, Nascar spotter TJ Majors seized an opportunity to involve some of his colleagues in a virtual alternative.

“When I got home Friday there was just a really weird feeling,” Majors told The Verge via email exchange. “I was hanging out with my daughters, and when we got confirmation of everything being shut down for two weeks, I started thinking of all the people in the Nascar industry that would probably be free to do something Sunday.”

Then, what started as a fun way to stay connected and occupied at home turned into a concerted effort by several of Majors' Nascar colleagues to broadcast virtual races with and for fans. Soon enough, Podium eSports was on board to broadcast a replacement race at iRacing's virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway, and drivers including Dale Earnhardt Jr. and up-and-comer William Byron were ready to race.

Apparently, it's quite normal for Nascar drivers and crew to have iRacing setups at home, complete with dedicated PCs and peripherals, so it was easy for Majors and fellow spotter Kevin Hamlin to assemble a crew of Nascar professionals, PR and social media experts, and a couple of other drivers to put on the show.

The first race drew in a sizable crowd on Twitch, reaching a high of 23,000 concurrent viewers and over 70,000 unique viewers in total. And that initial event was soon joined by two separate virtual races, attracting F1 stars Max Verstappen and Lando Norris, IndyCar drivers Simon Pagenaud and Felix Rosenqvist, as well as other drivers and YouTube personalities.

The first was The Race's All-Star Esports Battle, which was inspired by the cancellation of the Australian Grand Prix, but didn't aim to directly replace it. The second, called 'Not the AUS GP,' was broadcast by Veloce Esports and served as a more direct replacement for the canceled F1 Grand Prix, using the game F1 2019 to replicate the famous track. The two events together drew in hundreds of thousands of views.

Some of that success can be credited to popular Twitch streamers like Lando Norris, a popular F1 and PUBG streamer, joining in on the fun.

"It was tricky not to get too positive about something given the current circumstances," said Veloce co-founder Jamie MacLaurin. "But our philosophy was we wanted to give fans something they were going to miss. And esports can be done from the comfort of your own home."

Today, Hamlin's original vision has blossomed into an eight-series race that runs every Tuesday, and The Race and Torque Esports have each held additional races. Even Nascar themselves are partnering with Fox Sports and iRacing to broadcast sim races on TV and online.

For another look at how people are using games to shed some light onto a dark time, check out the video game you can play to help scientists develop coronavirus medication.