When iRacing says ‘we hear you,’ that message has historically been delivered in the form of new products and updates, generating a tremendous amount of goodwill towards the developer now that it has been tasked with building NASCAR’s next console game.
The past decade has been a complicated one for the NASCAR gaming landscape.
That isn’t to say that recent offerings have been bad, but there has just been a lot left on the table regarding the experience both hardcore and casual fans say they want from a console game based on the world of NASCAR.
Specifically, the general consensus is that the genre has taken a step back from the 2000s when EA Sports, Monster Games, and Papyrus were each pumping out what is still considered the gold standards of the genre.
So, if there is anyone who knows holistically what NASCAR fans want out of a video game, it would be Steve Myers, the executive vice president of iRacing.
Myers has been in the NASCAR gaming business since the early 2000s, first on the development team behind the fondly remembered Papyrus NASCAR Racing PC games and then iRacing, which formed from its assets.
The most beloved entry in that series, NASCAR Racing 2003, still has a cult following to this day thanks to a never-ending series of modifications that make use of an extremely realistic base code offering the most immersive motorsports experience of its time.
As a result, Myers and iRacing CEO David Kaemmer are viewed as the chief architects of modern motorsports gaming and a group that has been challenged to create a NASCAR console release by 2025.
iRacing acquired the license through a series of circumstances, first purchasing Monster Games in 2022 and then purchasing the rights to the NASCAR license from Motorsports Game a year later. It was an outcome Myers said the company had always wanted to pursue.
Broadly, Myers said he knows NASCAR fans want an immersive experience in the form of a career mode that allows players to create their driver and forge a path toward the Cup Series. It’s basically the Dirt to Daytona concept authored by Monster Games in 2002.
“I think people want a compelling experience, something that makes them feel like they’re doing this thing they love,” Myers told Sportsnaut earlier in the month. “I think they want a fun experience in the sense that they want features and content inside of the game that go beyond the Cup Series, other areas in the sport, be it grassroots and then Trucks and Xfinity.
“I think one of the things we want to be clear is like, everything is going to be a progression.”
On one hand, 2025 seems far away, but Myers says there is a lot of work to be done to create the kind of product he says will match industry expectations but also their own. For example, the Monster Games code base was built upon the Unity Engine, but Myers says iRacing is going to go a different direction.
“That’s really what we’ve been doing right now is kind of more technology assessment to get the code base to a place where we can make a AAA title like a NASCAR game,” Myers said.
AAA is gaming jargon for multi-year projects with industry-leading budgets.
“So again, I think what people can expect is that we’re going to deliver a finished product,” Myers said. “It’s not going to be incomplete. It’s going to have those things that people want but there is going to be a first step and then follow-ups beyond that.
“We’ve proven at iRacing, as a company, that we’re going to take our time and do things the right way as opposed to rushing something out just to collect our 60 to 70 bucks. We are going to put something out the right way. It won’t be incomplete.”
There is a lot of technical lingo here, under the hood video game stuff that Myers knows they need to get right to make that polished product, but he also has a general experience that he wants to deliver to casual and hardcore fans alike.
Video games based on sports have become increasingly sim-based in their presentation and experience over the past 15 years. For example, players can create their own athletes in games like Madden NFL, MLB The Show, or even Codemasters Formula 1 and progress them from the minor leagues to playing on Sundays.
iRacing takes that to the next level in that players start off in a Legends Car, Street Stock, or Mazda MX-5 before working their way up to NASCAR, IndyCar or IMSA sanctioned cars.
So how does Myers intend to take those simulation elements, especially considering they already operate that product but blend them with something that is inherently a console product for a more casual consumer?
“You do kind of have to take a wider approach,” Myers said. “Like, first of all, you develop the game with the game pad in mind, right? That is the big difference.”
It’s an approach they have recent experience with in the form of a well-regarded World of Outlaws game too.
“Like every title that we’ve done, whether it’s the World of Outlaws game, the ExoCross game, the Switch game, like all of the development we’ve done, 90 percent of the customers are going to use a gaming pad.”
That isn’t to say there isn’t a place for steering wheel based online lobbies or spaces for consumers who prefer a steering wheel, but that isn’t going to be the core focus of this next-generation NASCAR console game because iRacing already caters to that demographic.
“Because you can’t take that approach, you can’t make a true simulation and be something that you can drive with a gaming pad,” Myers said. “It’s just not possible.
“Like, we know that from doing this for 20-30 something years, it takes a different approach when you do a console game but we still have to ask ourselves questions like how we make it authentic but also something you can enjoy with a game pad.”
“But I feel very confident that we will deliver that. The rest of the stuff, the immersion stuff, that’s going to be the stuff we build upon because those are the things that iRacing doesn’t have. It doesn’t have a lot of animation, cut scenes and stuff like that.”
If this sounds broad, it’s because it is with the context that it’s so early in this project’s development phase. Myers doesn’t have a lot of the plans set in stone yet, but at the time of this conversation, he was roaming the garage at the Charlotte Motor Speedway ROVAL, having conversations with industry people and fans alike.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. is a longtime supporter of Papyrus and iRacing — having raced on both platforms as far back to his teenage years before he even stepped foot in a real race car. He once infamously racked up a $420 phone bill playing NASCAR Racing while living with his brother Kerry, and it caused a bit of a fight between them at the time.
Earnhardt still competes on iRacing to this day and is both a friend and confidant to Myers — issuing a vote of confidence on this latest development.
“I have been in a conversation with the iRacing about their vision, and it’s absolutely what you’d expect,” Earnhardt said last week on his Dale Jr Download podcast. “There’s some realism (but) the console side of it has to appeal to a very general wide audience. So, I think that they are going to nail the target.”
Myers said they plan to take their iRacing experience and transform it into something more casual and consumable.
“I think, what’s nice about doing console games is like you’re kind of taking a smaller bite, right, cause this is the box this game is going to live in,” Myer said. “That allows us, as a company, to kind of really make sure you deliver on the authentically and hit the demographics that you want to hit.
“Again, I think with iRacing, we proved that we can start people in a Legends Car or Street Stock and give them a taste of what oval racing is and then let them build up to the higher levels of racing.”
It goes back to the goal of providing that Dirt to Daytona style experience.
“I laugh when I think back to my time at Papyrus because we did the absolute worst thing we could do as a new fan of the sport, right,” Myers said. “We threw them into an 800-horsepower stock car with no grip, no tire and no downforce.
“We were like, go ahead, try getting around Charlotte Motor Speedway, and that wasn’t easy.”
The EA Sports games proved to be ahead of their time in some ways in that it featured made-up tracks like a stadium quarter mile or dirt racing, foreshowing things that have eventually come to real-life fruition over the past three years.
Papyrus, and now iRacing, had the three-mile Coca-Cola Speedway (now iRacing Speedway) or historic venues. EA featured a Daytona Beach Street Course.
Myers is excited to begin thinking about those kind of features but is adamant that comes well after they build a quality product that delivers on the authentic NASCAR experience first.
That’s where they intend to begin.
“Right now, we’re in the general design phase and we’re starting from a place of wanting to get that core functionality figured out first, and then everything else becomes icing on the cake, right?
“The thing is that we don’t just view this as a 2025 title. It’s like how many things can be accomplished across that timeline. It’s a very big process but again, we’re starting at the same place we did with World of Outlaws and we’ll have the same approach.”
“We’ll start with core functionality and once we get that right, then add the fun layers.”
Matt Weaver is a Motorsports Insider for Sportsnaut. Follow him on Twitter.