The green flag has dropped on NASCAR's first esports venture
By all accounts, NASCAR’s first venture into esports is off to a successful start.
In December, fans across the nation owning NASCAR Heat 3 game began to qualify for the first eNASCAR Heat Pro League Draft, with the opportunity to become one of two esport drivers for 14 different NASCAR teams.
Sunday at ISM Raceway near Phoenix, each race team selected two esport drivers, one on Xbox One and another on the PlayStation®4 computer entertainment system.
The draft was run much like those in the NFL and NBA, which members of each team huddled at desks and given a minute on the clock to make each selection. Several of the teams’ drivers attended and the top draft pick from each entertainment system was on hand for the announcement.
“This is just one more way for us to further connect with our fans and perhaps bring some new ones into the fold,” said NASCAR President Steve Phelps.
“These players are getting the chance of a lifetime to become part of a real NASCAR team.”
With the draft complete, the green-flag will drop on the eNASCAR Heat Pro League’s 16-race season in May at Charlotte Motor Speedway and culminate during the 2019 NASCAR playoffs.
All league races will be live streamed online at NASCAR.com and Motorsport.com.
Cup driver Austin Dillon, who was on hand to announce Richard Childress Racing’s draft picks, said he has taken on a greater appreciation of esports with his own growing interest in gaming.
“I always sort of did some gaming but I never put the effort into it like I have this year,” he said. “I play a lot of Call of Duty and stuff like that. When I first heard about the eNASCAR Heat Pro League, I thought it would be a lot of fun.
“There are so many kids out there that play games. It’s unreal. I’m on at all times of the night and it’s a great way to interact with people and have fun doing it. Anybody can play games, which makes it a cool initiative.
“Our sport really needs to take this and run with it and bring these guys out to the track. I think there is so much you can do – we’ve got so many ideas at RCR. We want to bring our players to the shop, set up the livestream of the races so everyone can watch these guys getting after it on their consoles.”
Chip Ganassi Racing began the draft with the first selection on Xbox One. CGR driver Kurt Busch, driver of the team’s No. 1 Chevrolet, was on hand to announce their first pick of Greg Matarazzo.
Matarazzo has been a longtime fan of Busch and was having a hard time coming to terms with the idea that he would be racing for the same owner as Busch in NASCAR competition.
“At the end of the day, I’ve always wanted to be a race car driver. So, basically, I am now. It’s hard to put your arms around that,” he said.
“I’m Chip Ganassi’s new driver. You see William Byron up here (who got his start with iRacing). So, you never know what can happen.”
Slade Gravitt was the first pick among the PlayStation®4 participants. The 16-year-old from Cumming, Ga., will compete for Wood Brothers Racing.
“This is such so awesome for the RTA and NASCAR to put on an event like this,” Gravitt said following his selection. “This is the ultimate chance to show on a professional level how good we are.
“I think the races will be very clean with a lot of fast guys. I think it’s going to be exciting racing, not only for us drivers, but for the fans to watch.”
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