Startup Esports Racing Leagues Begin Influencing Real-Life Decisions By Racers, Sponsors

Every Monday, a group of Nascar drivers, crew members and motor sports journalists come together for an intense competition of virtual stock car racing. Monday Night Racing is entering its second year as one of the most popular sim racing competitions.

The Monday Night Racing league is symbolic of a shift occurring in the motor sports realm, giving up-and-coming drivers and even champions like Kyle Busch extra opportunities to have fan interaction and promote their sponsors. Not only can drivers add these leagues to their sponsorship decks that they send to potential partners, but it also helps them prepare for a given race weekend.

“Monday Night Racing put out a letter on Twitter asking drivers in the motorsports community (Nascar drivers, crew members, media members) to join a league where we could all come together to race and be sort of a virtual networking league in motor sports,” Monday Night Racing co-founder Ford Martin said. “After each race went by using my connections through motor sports, each season that went by it became more attractive to younger and retired Nascar drivers to help grow it.”

Monday Night Racing is one of several competitive leagues that formed during the Covid-19 pandemic’s shutdown, which saw the sanctioning body itself from the eNascar iRacing Pro Invitational Series. Ever since, drivers and sponsors alike are excited to get involved in additional programming as a way to boost interactions.

Monday Night Racing is so popular now that Busch’s Rowdy Energy drink is the title sponsor of the series’ top division. Market Rebellion, which sponsors Alpha Prime Racing in the Xfinity Series, sponsored the series’ most recent race and plans to increase its support in 2022.

Each race is seen by more than 45,000 fans, with the likes of Dale Earnhardt Jr., Mario Andretti, Ryan Vargas, Rajah Caruth and more are competing in the Monday evening spectacle.

“This league helps some drivers that may have fallen off the map or also while trying to build their brand for the future,” Martin said. “From current Cup drivers to up and coming drivers, MNR brings in sponsorship to those drivers, who in the offseason or mid-season, they utilize their real life sponsorship into the sim racing world. It becomes attractive for all parties.”

Vargas is one of several active drivers who utilizes the league to increase a sponsor’s ROI. Swann Securities, which sponsors his JD Motorsports effort in the Xfinity Series, is often on his virtual car.

Monday Night Racing’s success, with the partnerships it has developed, helped create a major in-person championship. The UNC-Charlotte and High Point University gaming clubs attended the event and neither saw an actual Nascar race prior to it. Martin said they were “blown away” by the competitiveness of the participants and everything that went into making it a first-class event.

Nascar is seeing a rise in interest from college students thanks to its own esports leagues, such as the eNascar Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Nascar’s virtual racing became increasingly popular in 2021, with 10.9 million total minutes watched on live streams, including a 72% year-over-year increase in average minutes watched.

On Tuesday, Nascar announced it is creating the eNascar College iRacing Series, with a three-race schedule that aims to create real-life Nascar fans.

“Gaming and esports are an important component of Nascar, allowing us to reach new fans who are often engaging with the sport for the first time,” Nick Rend, Nascar’s managing director of gaming and esports, said. “Our various eNascar initiatives have seen exponential growth. We felt this was the right time to extend our reach to a younger audience and launch the eNascar College iRacing Series to show students the opportunities that sim racing and our sport hold for them.”

And stock car racing isn’t the only form of motor sports involved in esports. The 2022 IndyCar-Motorsport Games Pro Challenge was held on Feb. 9.

“IndyCar fans are a passionate, global audience hungry for quality motorsports gaming content,” SJ Luedtke, vice president of marketing at IndyCar, said. “With our partners at Motorsport Games, we are now able to bring those same fans a premier virtual esports experience, while also cultivating a new base of IndyCar supporters and followers. We cannot wait for everyone to see the first-ever IndyCar-Motorsport Games Pro Challenge this year and we are thrilled to keep producing these events in the many years to follow.”

The challenge featured current NTT IndyCar Series drivers, including reigning champion Alex Palou, four-time Indianapolis 500 champion Helio Castroneves and two-time series champion Josef Newgarden. This marked the first official esports event since the parties entered into an exclusive agreement in July 2021 for Motorsport Games to produce an IndyCar virtual race series and debut a new IndyCar game title, expected to launch in 2023 on PlayStation, Xbox and PC.

“The 2022 IndyCar-Motorsport Games Pro Challenge is our first foray into the world of esports with our new IndyCar partners and we couldn’t be more excited to bring this competition to the fans,” George Holmquist, vice president of marketing and publishing at Motorsport Games, said. “Viewers can expect the same world-class experience as our other esports events, such as the highly renowned Le Mans Virtual Series, to be carried over into this new series.”