• Sir Stirling Moss

Racing Roundup: NASCAR's Larson utters slur, Sir Stirling dies and Toronto esports racing firm lands big TV contract

Sir Stirling Moss, who died at the weekend, was probably the most famous British racing driver of all time.

Norris McDonald By: Norris McDonald April 13, 2020
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During a virtual “all-star” race last night, NASCAR driver Kyle Larson used the N-word.

Larson, talking to someone else in the game, said: “You can’t hear me? Hey, N—–.”

Others “racing” in the game told Larson he was not on his private channel and that everybody could hear him.

Twitter went bananas, as it should have, and the outrage is undoubtedly continuing today. Mainstream media like USA Today picked up on the story.

Fool that I may be, I honestly thought we’d all moved beyond that sort of thing and it’s very disappointing.

NASCAR and Chip Ganassi Racing, which employs the driver, are now as much in the public eye as he is. How they handle this will be a reflection of their values as much as anything else.

I will say this, though. If I’m Chip Ganassi, he’s fired.

Sir Stirling Moss

Sir Stirling Moss, who died at the weekend, was probably the most famous British racing driver of all time.

The 90-year-old captured the imagination of people around the world with his magical name, his daring-do and his image of what a racing driver should be: fearless, suave, sophisticated, good-looking and with a girl in every port (or every country, at least) where the F1 and sports cars of the time raced.

His career was relatively short and ended in the early 1960s as the result of a terrible accident that nearly killed him. But while more successful drivers had their moments in the sun – Moss, for instance, never won the F1 world championship of drivers – his mystique and charisma carried through to his death and his name was recognized to the end, even by those who would not call themselves motorsport fans.

He was often in Canada and left his mark in several areas. For instance, when Canadian Tire Motorsport Park was being designed in 1960, Moss suggested that instead of a hairpin at the south end of the park, a sweeping curve should connect the road leading out of Corner 4 to the start of the backstretch heading north to Corner 6. Thus, corners 5A and 5B were named Moss Corner, leading some to pronounce the original name of the track, Mosport Park, as Moss-port instead of the proper contraction of the two words, motor and sport, which is Mo-sport.

Earlier, his first marriage was to a Canadian, Katharine (Katie) Stuart Molson, of the Molson brewery family. Their union lasted just two years, until 1959, but I found it interesting when I read the book, “All But My Life,” by Moss and author Ken Purdy, that he’d devoted an entire chapter to her and their marriage and why it failed. You got the feeling that the torch never died for him but that he’d simply screwed up.

I plan to write a salute and review of his life and career in next Saturday’s Toronto Star Wheels.

Sir Stirling Moss

Meantime, although it’s still not my cup of tea, virtual racing is literally everywhere these days – from IndyCar to the World of Outlaws sprint cars and everything in between (my beloved supermodifieds and Oswego Speedway will be featured one of these nights) – and since I write about auto racing it’s time I took a closer look – particularly since there ain’t no real racin’ goin’ on.

Saturday, Sportsnet carried the virtual IndyCar race from a virtual Michigan International Speedway and the winner was the Simon Pagendaud, with the real Scott McLaughlin second and the very real Dale Earnhardt Jr. third.

WHAT?????

That’s right, retired NASCAR great Junior Earnhardt came out of “retirement” to sit behind a simulator in his living room in the Carolinas and take on the cream of the IndyCar crop – Power, Newgarden, Dixon, Hinchcliffe, Wickens, et al. And he gave most of them a good spanking, finishing on the podium his first time out.

NASCAR legend Jimmie Johnson had raced twice previously in virtual IndyCar races – he’s suggested he’d like to do the real thing on road and street courses after his NASCAR career ends – but hadn’t scored particularly well. Little E took to the virtual open-wheel cars, though, like a duck takes to water.

Several things about this race on Saturday:

There was a wreck as the field came down to take the green that was eerily reminiscent of one that took place in 1996 when CART ran the U.S. 500 at Michigan on the same day that Tony George’s Indy Racing League was running the Indy 500.

As luck (or whatever) would have it, the best Indy car drivers on the planet completely botched the start of that U.S. 500 while the no-names, or second-tier Indy drivers, drove like true professionals at Indianapolis in a race that was won by Buddy Lazier, who pretty much wasn’t heard from again.

The wreck on Saturday, which involved a bunch of guys playing a video game, was almost a replay of the real thing 24 years ago.

My wife stopped for a moment to watch a bit of the virtual race. “They have a great crowd, don’t they?” she said. That’s the thing about virtual racing. The events are always sellouts, the sky is always blue and nobody gets hurt, even if they do go flying off upside down.

Sir Stirling Moss

Of course, moments after Earnhardt crossed the finish line, IndyCar fans were speculating that the 45-year-old might just come out of retirement and, like Johnson, start a second career in IndyCar.

(Norris Note: Are these people crazy? Are they so desperate for attention that they think the fact that Earnhardt and Johnson driving in IndyCar is going to give it any more legitimacy or popularity than it’s already got? Who are these people? If they want IndyCar to be the top dog in North America, they can start by convincing the car owners to start hiring the great young supermodified and sprint car drivers out there rather than NASCAR retreads like Johnson and Little E. But I digress.)

Asked if he’d consider an IndyCar career, Earnhardt said he wouldn’t. “For the most part, my driving days are over,” he told the Indianapolis Star. “I have a few events left in me. I don’t know how many of those Xfinity races (for JR Motorsports) I’ll be running beyond this year.”

He went on to say that it had been a thrill to computer-race against guys like Pagenaud and McLaughlin but that his wife is well along in her pregnancy and he has to be around to support her.

Dalton Kellett of Toronto, driving for A.J. Foyt Racing, was top Canadian with a 16th-place finish. Hinchcliffe was 22nd and Wickens was 26th.

NASCAR, as is its tradition, did not race on Easter Sunday (you won’t see them on Mother’s Day, either), but a new promotion, the Legends Trophy, starring retired or semi-retired racers like Tony Kanaan, Dario Franchitti and Jacques Villeneuve made its debut with ex-F1 racer Jenson Button finishing on top (he won US$10,000, which he donated to charity) with Juan Pablo Montoya second and Touring Car ace Andy Priaulx third. Brian Herta was fourth, David Brabham fifth and Villeneuve sixth.

A company called iRacing has been organizing and promoting the IndyCar and NASCAR races, which are being shown on NBC network stations or subsidiaries in the United States and on Sportsnet 1 in Canada.

The Legends Trophy is the brainchild of a Toronto company, Torque Esports, and some of its races can be seen on a YouTube channel, The-Race.com/youtube. The new Legends Trophy and an all-star racing series featuring some current F1, Indy and NASCAR drivers is being seen on ESPN in the United States and, according to the company, attempts are being made to get the races on TSN in Canada. Torque also says it has deals in place with 60 different networks that are carrying its races into 600 million homes around the world.

(With these numbers, it makes you wonder whether, in the long run, virtual racing will prove to be more popular than real racing – if and when real racing ever starts up again.)

Torque Esports is on the Toronto stock exchange and is a registered company here but its president and CEO, Darren Cox, is in London, its marketing manager is in Atlanta, they have a simulator manufacturing company in Modena, Italy, and an F1 mobile game company (that you play on your phone) is headquartered in Leon, France, among other endeavours.

In an interview, Cox said that their YouTube channel racing had attracted more than a million viewers and that’s what had sparked the TV interest. “That is what has enabled us to talk to the networks and to seek out corporate partners like Disney, which owns ESPN,” he said.

Cox said that unlike other gaming companies, which use more of a console-level game setup (Playstation or Xbox), Torque Esports is using “full, pro-level simulators that are the same as those used by professional racing teams.” And they have a strategy.

“We want to be in a situation in five years where we look back at 2020 and know that was when we started to move into the mainstream as another form of motor racing,” Cox said, “rather than as just something else to do because we were all stuck at home. We want to use this as a platform to launch something that will become serious entertainment for people in the years ahead.”

He said you can get started with equipment costing as little as $500 or $600. “When you get serious and want to make an investment, a proper home rig will run you $3,000 to $5,000.”

Now, although I still have misgivings, I’m warming to virtual racing. And, as I’ve written before, when the day comes (and it can’t be far off) that I can race virtually in the Indianapolis 500 or the Grand Prix of Monaco AS THEY ARE HAPPENING, I will be sold solid.

Meantime, I have to figure out where and at what time I can watch the virtual supermodifieds race . . .

Oh, before I go, and returning to the Real World for a moment, you can watch the NASCAR Pinty’s Series Year in Review today at 5:30 on TSN – today being Monday, of course.

By Norris McDonald Special to Wheels.ca

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