NASCAR: The virtual world is not something to take lightly

(Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Bristol Motor Speedway, iRacing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)
(Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Bristol Motor Speedway, iRacing, NASCAR (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images) /

The ramifications of poor sportsmanship and poor behavior in the virtual world of NASCAR are nothing to take lightly, and that has sadly been on full display in recent weeks.

As kids, those of us who grew up as the Internet surged in popularity were always told to be careful what we say on it, (a) because you never know who is watching and (b) because no matter how quickly you “delete” something, it never truly goes away.

Skip ahead to 2020, and these same kids are now NASCAR drivers. These same kids haven’t recently been able to work on weekends due to the fact that the coronavirus pandemic has brought the 2020 season to an unexpected stoppage, with no set return date having been established.

These same kids are now feeling the ramifications of parts (a) and (b) when it comes to the virtual world of iRacing, and because of their status as superstars, they are feeling it in full-force.

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In response to the stoppage caused by this pandemic, NASCAR and iRacing introduced the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, so that the drivers are still able to compete against one another in an organized virtual series on weekends.

But this has not been all fun and games, and for a much more significant reason than the whole argument about whether sim racing is really like real-life racing or if it is more of a video game.

Blue-Emu, which recently became an official partner of NASCAR, have sponsored Bubba Wallace’s #43 Chevrolet for Richard Petty Motorsports. For the virtual race at Bristol Motor Speedway, they also decided to sponsor his #43 Chevrolet.

Shortly after the race began, Wallace rage-quit over an incident with Clint Bowyer, and he proceeded to poke fun at his fans on Twitter for being so offended that he would quit a video game.

Then Blue-Emu decided to “quit” him, dropping their sponsorship of him and his team.

Virtual world, huh? Interesting.

Virtual is defined as “the quality of being almost or nearly as described, but not completely or according to strict definition”.

“Almost or nearly” losing a sponsor? Laughable.

It may be “virtual”, but this is still the real world with real drivers, real sponsors and real financial implications.

Then there is the whole iRacing incident with Kyle Larson and the N-word, which didn’t actually happen in an eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series, but it happened in a race nonetheless. We won’t get into at length because it simply isn’t appropriate to discuss or speculate the potential ramifications of it at this time when nothing official has been said about it.

Regardless of what does or doesn’t happen from here on out, people heard what he said. Everybody heard it. It’s out there. It can’t go away. So the sentiment is exactly the same, and this situation reiterates it.

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We all say things we don’t mean or that we regret. But some of the instances of this from NASCAR drivers during the month-plus we’ve been quarantined without any real racing to watch have been borderline unbelievable. The virtual world may be called a “virtual world”, whether that be in iRacing or in a MMORPG. But it will always be as real as the people in it, and it’s about time everybody realizes that, especially the professional athletes.