iRacing

Did you watch the race on Sunday? It was won by a Ridgeway native.

On track action at the real Atlanta Motor Speedway was cancelled on Thursday due to coronavirus concerns, but there was still a star-studded event at the virtual Atlanta Motor Speedway Sunday afternoon.

A group of more than 30 current and former NASCAR drivers, spotters, and commentators raced on an iRacing livestream Sunday in a race they called “The Replacements 100.”

iRacing is a popular simulated race system setup, said to be as close as you can get to actually being in the race car. The race was shown on the video streaming service Twitch, which calls itself “the world's leading live streaming platform for gamers and the things we love.”

NASCAR Cup Series regulars William Byron, Alex Bowman, and Bubba Wallace were all involved, as were Xfinity Series drivers Harrison Burton, Myatt Snider, and Noah Gragson. Dale Earnhardt Jr. also raced and finished 8th.

It wasn’t just a race for NASCAR drivers either. Former Chicago Bears offensive lineman Kyle Long ran. Long has ventured his way into eSports since retiring from the NFL at the end of the season, and now owns MODE Motorsports, an iRacing team.

It was Magna Vista graduated Josh Williams who came away with the win. Williams is the spotter for the No. 12 car of Ryan Blaney in the NASCAR Cup Series, and he pretty much dominated Sunday’s race.

If you’re not convinced Sunday’s was a real race, you’d be surprised by how detailed the broadcast really was (Yes, broadcast. The simulated online race had a 3-man broadcast team!). Track temperatures were said to be about 120 degrees before the start of the race, meaning even in virtual racecars grip was tough. Williams said afterwards his car was set up for long runs and mentioned his need for taking care of his tires, something many wouldn’t think would be a thought for a racecar set up in someone’s living room.

Sunday’s Replacements 100 was one of many ways athletes are trying to continue bringing sports to fans in a time when no sports are actually happening. Fans were able to learn much more about sim-racing, and also learn about how it compares to driving on a real race track.

“It’s awesome. A lot of us sim race all the time so it’s fun to put that on here,” Williams said on the broadcast following Sunday’s win. “To get everyone to see what we do during the week… It was good to give people some racing to watch… It was fun for me.”

The broadcast crew said that more than 23,000 people watched the end of Sunday’s race on the Twitch stream, proving that people are itching for any sort of competition to watch, even if it’s simulated competition.

It wasn’t just racers who brought their sports to the people this weekend. On Saturday night, Cincinnati Reds pitcher Trevor Bauer and his media company Momentum put on a Wiffle ball game in Arizona between several Major League Baseball players. The game was called a Sandlot Game, meant to be a re-creation of kids playing baseball in their backyards. It was streamed live on all of Momentum’s social media platforms.

And it was a blast to watch.

One player in particular was asked about his hitting strategy and looked straight into the camera and said simply, “We’re not bunting, I know that.” An anti-bunt hero we all need in these tough times.

There were also many, many references to trash cans and making fun of the Houston Astros following the team’s cheating scandal earlier this offseason.

Was it the same as watching an actual MLB game? No. But parts of it were actually somewhat better. Where else can you see players show their true personalities like that and have fun on the baseball field like they did when they were kids.

Just like Sunday wasn’t a real race, but there were so many ways you could tell the drivers and people putting on the event wanted to make it something the fans would enjoy. On what other Sunday can you see Alex Bowman tweet before the race his goal was to wreck someone?

We have a long time before sports return, and an even longer time until things begin to feel normal again. But it’s nice to see professional athletes doing what they can to bring entertainment to fans in any way they can. The broadcast team during Sunday’s race said to expect more races in the coming days.

We should also expect other athletes in other sports to join in and bring their sports to the masses in any way they can. In times like these, it’s really appreciated.

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