Concord, NC: After Santa delivers all the videogame consoles and personal computers that he's been asked for this Christmas, millions of Americans will sit down and test their driving skills playing racing videogames during the holiday season.
While these amateur Andrettis and Earnhardts are making virtual laps around their favorite racetracks, they might be surprised to learn that some professional racecar drivers will be doing the same thing.
Unlike sports such as baseball or football, racers don't getthe luxury of a preseason to sharpen their skills. Drivers must find a way to keep themselves sharp during their short off-season, and for an increasing number of young drivers, practicing with racing videogames can be the next best thing to being behind the wheel of their race machines.
Dale Jarrett's son, Jason Jarrett, a third-generation racer, and Justin Labonte, son of Terry Labonte, are just two of a new breed of racers who are as comfortable with a videogame controller as they are with a steering wheel in their hands.
They, along with drivers like Jeff Gordon, Dale Earnhardt, Jr., Hank Parker, Jr. and Lyndon Amick have all said that the hand-eye coordination they gain from playing videogames really pays off when they take to the track.
Those who make videogames and controllers are capitalizing on the drivers' interest in their products. U.K.-based videogame developer, Codemasters, hired the young Jarrett and Labonte to be the spokesmen for their new racing title for the Sony Playstation, Jarrett and Labonte Stock CarRacing.
Dale Earnhardt, Jr. recently inked a deal with InterAct, acompany that produces steering wheels and foot pedals for personal computers and consoles like the Playstation.
"I know of several drivers who work on their skills by playing videogames, " said Hank Parker Jr., who often participates in online racing videogame leagues against Earnhardt Jr. and Amick. "As the games get more and more realistic, I think you'll see a lot more drivers taking advantage of the new technology. It's the next best thing to being there."