Have you ever wanted to know the thrill of driving a racecar from the comfort of your own computer?
St. Cloud State University junior Mitch Welker is taking that idea to the next level, recently representing the Huskies in eNASCAR’s College iRacing Series.
iRacing prides itself on realism, something that drew Welker to the PC game about six years ago. With a fixed chair, steering wheel and pedals, drivers can simulate being in the cockpit of a real race car.
“I played a lot of the NASCAR video games when I was younger; they were fun, but they weren’t quite doing it for me as far as the realism,” Welker said. “I really dig realistic experiences in games. I was looking for another way to get my NASCAR fix, then iRacing came up. It was around 2016 or 2017 that I first saw it on Youtube.”
The Mass Communications major finished 10th in the eNASCAR College iRacing Series Coca-Cola 80 at the Charlotte Motor Speedway Roval on Nov. 8. The event was streamed on the NASCAR Youtube Channel.
Welker qualified in 13th place out of about 125 entries, with the top 40 qualifiers advancing to Tuesday’s race. Despite an early collision, Welker’s top-10 finish earned him a $250 share of the race’s $15,000 in total prizes.
“It was quite chaotic,” Welker said. “There was a fair amount of contact from other cars … when you’re racing at that level for that amount of money, that will happen. I was overall pleased with 10th and taking home some kind of prize while representing St. Cloud State.”
Welker’s early crash came from misjudging the brake zone, sustaining some damage that limited his straight-line speed. He made up a few places during pit stops via an early stop strategy, overcoming the added pressure of a high-stakes money race.
The eNASCAR College iRacing Series gives college students from the United States and Canada the opportunity to compete for their share of $60,000 in scholarships. The four-race semester series ends on Nov. 29 at the Nashville Superspeedway.
Welker’s finish is more impressive when you consider he mainly races in IndyCar leagues, where he recently finished a weekly Formula Indy series as the champion after winning nine of 12 races. His sights are now set on the Open Wheels 500 next week, a major race that aims to simulate the famous Indy 500.
iRacing is geared towards extreme detail, giving racers the chance to navigate the same challenges professional drivers face. That could include how specific tires react to track temperatures or how tires perform over longer stretches. Welker also has a race engineer.
“Have some budget set aside and do your research on what kind of racing disciplines you want to get into,” Welker advised for gamers wanting to give iRacing a try. “There’s a variety of options in (simulation) racing. There’s not one way to get into it.”
Esports are currently expanding academic programming and venues at St. Cloud State, including the new Huskies Esports Arena arriving in January.