Many consider the 1979 Daytona 500 to be the most important race in the history of NASCAR. There were so many things to go right for the sport on that February day that it almost seemed as if a perfect Hollywood script had been written with everything falling perfectly into place just like the ending of a Hallmark Channel Christmas movie.
A hard fought battle throughout the full distance of the race ended with a last lap crash and a fight between drivers Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison that was ultimately joined by Bobby Allison. Furthermore, the sport’s most legendary and recognizable figure, Richard Petty, was the recipient of good fortune following the crash as he kept his famous No. 43 STP-sponsored car in front of Darrell Waltrip and A.J. Foyt to score the win in what has come to be known as “The Great American Race”.
But what truly made this a special day for NASCAR was the fact that the 1979 Daytona 500 was the first live flag-to-flag broadcast of a race by a major television network in the history of the sport. And even better, the people living in the eastern half of the country were basically being held captive in their homes by a major snowstorm that had worked its way up the Atlantic coastline that weekend.
A highly entertaining race playing out on live network television in front of a captive audience. What could possibly be better?
Consider that a very similar circumstance may very well be playing out in front of us right now. And this time the benefit to NASCAR is being shared with virtual racing via the iRacing platform.
Much of America(and the world for that matter) is currently stuck at home under either a government mandated or self-imposed quarantine due to the world-wide outbreak of the coronavirus. And as a result, the recent Fox Network broadcast of the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race from the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway on March 22nd drew almost 1 million viewers according to Nielson ratings.
And in somewhat similar fashion as the 1979 Daytona 500, there was a thrilling finish involving highly recognizable names as defending Daytona 500 champion Denny Hamlin just edged semi-retired star Dale Earnhardt, Jr. for the win.
That offering proved to be the most watched esports broadcast in history. It also proved to be an all important conversation starter as it generated over 200,000 interactions on Twitter. Also consider that Fox plans to show even more iRacing events with “real” NASCAR racing suspended at least through the previously scheduled race at Dover which had been slated for the first weekend in May.
Once again with the sporting world only able to offer up replays of old games and events, NASCAR took center stage this past weekend in front of a captive audience with another iRacing affair from the virtual Texas Motor Speedway. And once again, there was an entertaining race capped off by an exciting finish. But this time there was the element of a feel-good story involved as little known Timmy Hill executed a bump-and-run maneuver on William Byron then fought back a late charge from Ryan Preece to score the victory.
While there probably weren’t as many viewers for the second eNASCAR show as the first, Sunday’s race was still a good followup.
The 1979 Daytona 500 thrust NASCAR into the spotlight of the sports world on that particular day then propelled this form of racing into a new age of notoriety and prosperity. There’s no way to know immediately what the long-term impact of the last two weeks worth of virtual racing will do for that form of competition, but one thing is almost certainly true, and that is a future filled with even more notoriety and prosperity for iRacing.com Motorsports Simulations.
Richard Allen is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association
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