“This deal legitimizes the virtual arena – NASCAR realizes this. It’s what’s going to grab the attention of young viewers who are into computers.” -Ray Alfalla Tweet
A lot of youth in today’s professional motorsport seemingly get there quite easy.
Maybe through a dad who raced at the highest level, ties behind the scenes, access to board rooms of the largest gate keepers in the sport. But, for this year’s #1 draft pick in NASCAR’s officially sanctioned sim racing series, he’s out delivering mail.
“Living in Florida, the racing off-season is pretty busy for me delivering mail to the ‘snowbirds’ (phrase for mainly old people who migrate there for winter), so I keep pretty busy with work during the off-season, and it slows down in hotter months when things pick up with racing, so it works out pretty well.” Ray Alfalla explained to me over the phone this past week from his home outside Fort Meyers.
Alfalla has big plans this year. He is, after all, coming off his 4th championship run in the eNASCAR Peak Antifreeze Series. A pioneer of pro auto racing in eSports, at least for those of us from the United States. Alfalla cut his teeth as a teenager, racing the likes of Dale Earnhardt, Jr. and Denny Hamlin online. (To learn more on this, you should check out my podcast with him from last year.)
At 29, Alfalla is now the ambassador, and tried and true veteran of this computer sport. To no one’s surprise he was drafted first in its inaugural draft of drivers for the 2019 season featuring for the first time, real NASCAR teams involved, each vying for the $100,000 to win championship, and really beyond that, for much more.
“This is the just the beginning,” Alfalla stated, “it’s a big jump in attention, but as many people have alluded to… it’s the future, the way to get the youth involved in racing. Racing isn’t a sport you can just do in your back yard, like football or baseball. Racing in the real world requires time on a race track, expensive equipment, logistics that can be a lot more difficult [to attain]. iRacing, and eSports in general give a much wider audience an opportunity to experience and appreciate racing in real life. It creates a much bigger connection. I’ve been sim racing for over 15 years and I feel I understand a lot of what’s going in the real world compared to the casual fan.”
And many ‘real world’ racers can attest to Alfalla’s claims. In the past year, we’ve heard of practicing set-ups and running laps to get a feel for the track, like Christopher Bell has claimed to do so before racing at certain tracks for the first time. Announcers, media, and drivers alike discuss simulations and their value on a near daily basis on broadcasts. It is here, and it is now in racing. But the real question is… could Alfalla become the first sim racer to become a real world racer? The short answer should be ‘yes’; that appears to be the only reasonable outcome from all of this.
The question for this season however, is will Alfalla tests tracks in the digital world for this legendary and iconic NASCAR team’s run in ‘real world’ 2019?
“It’s absolutely a possibility to help the team with sim” Alfalla responded. “I foresee that as a possibility. Many of these teams have simulators, and both teams [Wood Brothers and Alfalla’s Slip Angle Motorsports] are [now] intertwined.”
“We’re all learning as we go,” Alfalla concluded on his new partnership and the new eNASCAR model. Sim racing will certainly receive much more promotion and more respect due to this. Look out 2019.
Wood Brothers Racing is the oldest running NASCAR team. It has held the decal of names like A.J. Foyt, Dale and Ned Jarrett, Ricky Rudd, Mark Martin, Bill Elliott, and way back names, like Cale Yarborough, David Pearson, and Ralph Earnhardt. I find it ironic that NASCAR’s oldest team just drafted the first legendary driver in a world all its own.
Can this new venture into truly alternative reality racing make an important note in their legacy?
The first race of the 2019 eNASCAR PEAK iRacing Series starts tomorrow night, Tuesday 2/12 at 9PM EST. You can watch it live here on YouTube.