Race Weekend Central

NASCAR 101: What Can NASCAR Gain by Going VR?

In some news that might have gone under the radar this past weekend, it was announced by NASCAR President Steve Phelps that the company is exploring some creative ways for fans to watch races.

Phelps, as first reported by Joe Lemire of the Sports Business Journal, recently spent time at the MIT Sloan Sports Analytics Conference and announced that the company was working on a joint plan for the implementation of virtual reality to allow fans to join NASCAR Cup Series races.

The release of the project is not exactly close, according to the article, but the project could be completed within the year.

Naturally, this raised the eyebrows of fans across the sport, many of whom are of a younger generation, and serve as a market that NASCAR can benefit in leaps and bounds from tapping.

But how will it work?

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The original article by Lemire states that development began on Meta’s VR headsets but that a version for Apple Vision Pro is “expected to follow.” This means that no matter which mainstream choice of VR experience that users prefer, the option and software will be available for both. This is important not only due to the fact of a wider potential market reach, but also because it opens up the options of cross-platform play.

That also opens the door to the possibility of multiplayer. The article discusses Phelps relaying the idea that someone with a VR headset could join as a 41st car on the track. It makes completely logical sense, then, that if two people were to be watching the same broadcast, they could join as a 42nd.

This hasn’t been confirmed, but is indubitably a possibility, and what could be more cool than watching the race with a buddy? Racing with them, that’s what.

Of course, users will not be able to actually affect the outcome of the race in their own reality. However, they will very much have control over their virtual one.

The article mentions that fans would be able to “interact —i.e. crash — with digital recreations of the real cars,” meaning there would be ample opportunity to meme out and target their least favorite driver in the virtual world, drive backward on the track like we all did in NASCAR Heat or just simply try and avoid digital recreations of real crashes in the field caused by real-life driver miscues.

The black magic behind all of this comes from SMT data, which every NASCAR team uses to track things like telemetry, brake and throttle feedback, speed, RPMs, gears and much, much more. This data is already shared among teams, bu, if used in the capacity that Phelps and co. are planning, would make the virtual product as close to real life as can be.

Baked into essentially all VR headsets is the ability to share exactly what the user is seeing, too. If a virtual driver were to make a crazy four-wide move on the last lap of the Daytona 500 to take the win, they could immediately share that with their friends and social feeds with just the literal wave of a finger, voice command or blink of an eye.

It’s clear that the possibilities with technology like this are endless, and it’s become a hotly debated topic in other circles. However, what isn’t up for debate is how expensive some of the options are to actually have these experiences.

Meta comes in with the cheapest available option at the moment; its Quest 2 headset is currently advertised for as near as makes no difference $250. If fans want to splurge a bit, though, they have ample opportunity. Meta’s Quest 3 ($499.99) and Quest Pro ($999.99) round out the budget-friendly (if you can even call it that) end of the spectrum.

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As a writer with his own Apple Ecosystem, I can tell you that nothing out of this company is going to be cheap. That holds true even more so with its Vision Pro VR Headset, which costs a gut-wrenching $3,499. To top it off, fans will look a bit odd sitting on their couch with this bad boy strapped to their dome.

These costs are before any software, and anyone is crazy if they think that NASCAR isn’t going to get its bottom line involved, either. So no, this will not be affordable, at least not early on.

Still, Phelps has made it clear that the new era of NASCAR has to be as progressive as it can possibly be while still maintaining the values that made the sport great in the first place. NASCAR still touts itself as the most accessible form of professional motorsport, and Formula 1 and the NTT IndyCar Series aren’t doing much to hinder that claim.

If that means making entire races accessible from the comfort of one’s home, so be it, but if any of our readers take me out in multiplayer, words will be had. Consider this your warning.

About the author

Tanner Marlar is a staff writer for On3 Sports' Maroon and White Daily covering Mississippi State Athletics, an AP Wire reporter, an award-winning sports columnist and talk show host and master's student at Mississippi State University. Soon, Tanner will be pursuing a PhD. in Communicative Research.

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I never drove backward in a sim NASCAR game. That must just be something griefers and GenZ people do.

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