When the NASCAR season was postponed after only four races, many of the drivers headed to the simulation "iRacing" video game to take part in the Pro Invitational Series. This was a natural leap for some drivers that had previous experience with the platform, but others have been learning on the fly. Driver Garrett Smithley is one of the Cup Series competitors that has spent considerable time with "iRacing," and he knows what factors don't exactly translate between real life and simulation.
Speaking with PopCulture.com in an exclusive interview, Smithley explained the biggest difference between "iRacing" and the real experience behind the wheel. He has considerable experience with both considering that he has been using the popular simulation platform since 2009 and has been in NASCAR since 2015. "iRacing" does an admirable job recreating the races, but there is one factor that can't truly be recreated outside of an actual car. The "seat of your pants" feel just isn't present.
"The biggest thing is just the seat of your pants feel and it's why it took me so long to get us to do iRacing. It's all visual on iRacing, you don't have any feel other than the force feedback in the wheel," says Smithley. "I run a Logitech G27 and there's gears and there's motors inside the wheel that simulate the bumps on the track."
While many video games recreate the tracks to provide a sense of realism, "iRacing" goes an extra step. The simulation recreates Talladega Superspeedway and the other tracks down to minute details, which only helps better prepare Smithley and his peers. This is achieved through technology that was not available decades ago.
"All these tracks are laser scanned. iRacing does a really good job of making it as real as possible so it is the closest thing to the real thing other than the big simulators that all the OEMs, Chevy, Ford, Toyota have in their arsenal," Smithley continues. "Of course, those things move and they have big screens and all the big software. But iRacing is the closest you can get as far as a consumer standpoint. The hardest thing to translate is the seat of your pants feel, we just don't have that feel. It's all visual, so that's where you have to have that skill set."
While the tactile feel is not as readily available in the simulation racing game, Smithley still believes it's an invaluable tool for keeping the skill fresh during this period of self-quarantine. He says that it's the best option when the cars and tracks are not available. Additionally, Smithley says that it's a great way for drivers to keep their minds right.
When he isn't taking part in the Pro Invitational Series or streaming nightly on Twitch, Smithley is spending his time at home in a multitude of ways. He's been rewatching old races in preparation for the eventual return of the NASCAR season. Smithley has also been playing the piano and listening to a lot of music.
The NASCAR season should return at some point, and there are rumblings about a potential race in May. This has not been guaranteed, but Texas Gov. Greg Abbott and the racing organization are examining various options. Until that happens, however, Smithley will continue streaming on Twitch and taking part in the Pro Invitational Series.