CHARLOTTE, N.C. — One of the more unique aspects of the iRacing boom as a result of the COVID-19 pandemic has been the opportunity for drivers to test the waters in other disciplines, albeit virtually.
Established NASCAR names like Jimmie Johnson and Dale Earnhardt Jr. have made guest appearances in virtual Indy cars by way of the IndyCar iRacing Challenge, while Indianapolis 500 winner and sports car ace Juan Pablo Montoya has tried his hand in virtual sprint cars with the World of Outlaws.
Montoya isn’t the only notable name that has popped up in the iRacing Outlaws field, either. NHRA Funny Car stars Ron Capps and Cruz Pedregon have been getting dirty virtually in recent weeks, as did two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion Kyle Busch — a week before he joined the virtual IndyCar field.
William Byron added his name to the list of invaders racing against the outlaws on April 14, debuting in the World of Outlaws iRacing Invitational field in a No. 25 sprint car carrying the colors of his eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series team — William Byron eSports.
He transferred into the feature with a top-three finish in his heat race at virtual Lernerville Speedway and finished 15th in the 35-lap feature.
The results were respectable, and perhaps surprising, given that Byron really doesn’t have any real-life experience in a dirt car. He graduated from Legend Cars into NASCAR’s touring divisions before hitting the national stage in the Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series in 2016 and moving up from there.
In short, dirt wasn’t part of Byron’s vocabulary growing up. He’s an avid believer in it now, though.
“I love them. They’re really cool,” Byron said of the virtual sprint cars. “I really enjoy the way that they are, just because you have to adapt lap after lap, and the variance of the track and the way that the car feels, is just incredible how much it changes lap after lap. I’ve been learning about the setup of those cars, too, and just trying to adapt as well as I can. I feel like there’s still a lot of room for me to go, but I think there’s been some progress there in the last couple weeks.
“I’m excited for whenever the next race is. I’m excited to run those again when I can.”
Asked what his favorite track and car combination is on iRacing currently outside of his day job — the NASCAR Cup Series car — Byron gravitated back to the winged warriors.
“I actually love the sprints — I’d say the sprint cars at Eldora are really cool,” he noted. “I’ve run them at a couple different tracks. Limaland is a cool track for them, too. There’s a lot of neat ones. I think IndyCar at any track is really cool, as well. There’s a lot of great ones out there. But the sprint cars are neat.”
While Byron has more than 300 oval victories on pavement when it comes to the iRacing platform, his success on the virtual clay has been more modest — and far more in recent weeks, as well.
“I’ve gotten like 12 or 15 dirt wins here recently, but I think that’s probably pretty up there,” Byron admitted. “I think honestly, for me when I first started, things clicked pretty well. I just had to learn the race craft, and once I learned kind of how to race better, I think that’s what translated over for me in the Cup car, setting up passes and when to be aggressive and whatnot is really what I tried to learn.
“The lap times … anybody can make a pretty good lap time, as you saw in qualifying. The lap times were all pretty close,” Byron added. “It’s just about race craft and really knowing what to do there.”
But whether he’s racing on dirt or pavement in iRacing, Byron has been steadfast in his support of the platform that helped to launch his racing career, as well as iRacing’s current efforts to help entertain a sports-starved audience.
“I think that it gives us a chance to show the world what racing is all about. Hopefully we’re bringing it good coverage and publicity,” he said. “I think it’s really cool for us because we are the only sport that’s able to do it and realistically show something that we can do. I’m definitely proud of that right now.”