Sunday’s inaugural eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race proved to be a smashing success (literally, in some cases); over 900,000 viewers tuned into FS1 as they watched Denny Hamlin hold off Dale Earnhardt Jr. in a dramatic finish to the Dixie Vodka 150. On Tuesday, Fox Sports capitalised on the excitement for the substitute sim racing series by announcing it will broadcast the entire season on FS1 and national TV starting next Sunday at Texas Motor Speedway.
According to Nielsen Media Research, FS1’s broadcast of the Dixie Vodka 150 attracted 903,000 total viewers. In addition to being the highest-watched sports program of the weekend, it smashed the American television record for a live eSports event, previously held by a Mortal Kombat tournament in 2016. Fans also took to social media to discuss the race, leading to the 150 being the most-discussed TV show over the weekend.
The broadcast, which saw commentary from regular announcers Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon, and Larry McReynolds in addition to in-car analyst Clint Bowyer, was primarily lighthearted and saw widespread praise from fans. Nevertheless, real-life elements such as pre-race ceremonies (conducted by those from their garages due to quarantine) and even the famed “Crank It Up” segment (racing action sounds in lieu of commentary) helped give fans a semblance of normalcy during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Journalists and industry members alike contributed to the relaxed atmosphere on social media, with many covering the race as if it were an ordinary event. NASCAR Executive Vice President Steve O’Donnell also joined the fun by regularly joking about in-race events.
“The rapid-fire collaboration between FOX Sports, NASCAR and iRacing obviously has resonated with race fans, gamers and television views across the country in a very positive way,” Fox Sports executive producer Brad Zager stated. “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 response on social media to last Sunday’s race has been incredible,” Gordon added. “We were able to broadcast a virtual race that was exciting and entertaining. It brought a little bit of normalcy back to the weekend and I can’t wait to call the action Sunday at Texas.”
With real-life motorsports halted due to the pandemic, many leagues have formed sim racing alternatives for fans and drivers, with NASCAR partnering with iRacing.com to form the Pro Invitational Series. The NASCAR season is currently in limbo until early May. Much of the Cup Series grid participated alongside those from the Xfinity and Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series.