In the winter of 2020, in the dead of night, and surrounded by towering skyscrapers, iRacing scanned the roads in and around Chicago’s Grant Park. By scanning Grant Park, iRacing was scanning its own virtual sandbox to play in.
Unlike traditional racetracks with clearly defined turns and walls that iRacing recreates in the virtual world, Grant Park provided Steve Myers and his team with the opportunity not just to recreate but create.
iRacing had a few guidelines but the task of defining what NASCAR’s venture into Chicago’s front yard would look like was largely left up to iRacing.
“NASCAR had some ideas but what we ultimately and finally decided on as the track was definitely a collective,” Steve Myers, iRacing’s Executive Vice President told RACER.
“Everyone was pitching in and like, ‘Why don’t we use this road?’ or ‘Try this.’ We did a bunch of test races, but it was basically what we came up with ourselves. They told us the kind of general area, Grant Park, downtown Chicago that section of roads down there was where everyone kind of wanted to track to be — everyone being the city and NASCAR,” Myers explained.
“It was really fun because we had the freedom to design what we wanted,” Myers said. “Having a clean slate of, ‘Here are all the streets, come up with what you think is the best path and the best racecourse that will put on an exciting show and really kind of make a unique track.’”
When iRacing and NASCAR previously collaborated with the redesign of Auto Club Speedway and the planning of the Clash at the LA Coliseum, iRacing worked within the comparatively strict parameters they were given. The Chicago project, however, presented iRacing with a lot more freedom than other ventures.
The Chicago street course as envisioned for the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series race last June. Chris Graythen / Getty Images for NASCAR
Scanning Grant Park’s streets and crafting the circuit in iRacing prior to the event has allowed for problems to be discovered before NASCAR haulers arrive in July of next year. One key issue was the roughness of the streets, and iRacing provided NASCAR with three pages of notes on the track and recommendations for changes. Among those recommendations was a total repave of the track due to the roughness in some areas.
“We were allowed the opportunity to provide them a bunch of feedback about things that we want to see changed. We actually sent them three pages of notes of, ‘If we had an unlimited budget and we can wave a magic wand, what are the things we would want changed to the track?’
“Chief among them is that it needed to be paved because even the bumps that are in the version that’s in iRacing, we actually had to kind of smooth them out a little bit because it was so rough. It was definitely the roughest piece of asphalt that we’ve ever scanned and turned into a racetrack before. When you consider everything else that we’ve ever scanned is an actual purpose-built racetrack, it was definitely a unique project in that sense,” Myers said.
Even if a total repave of the track is unfeasible, iRacing’s scan data has revealed a few areas of the track that NASCAR will likely work on smoothing down, Myers explained. He added that with some smoothing, and the removal of a traffic light, the track could be made wider in some areas — within the limits of real-world practicality.
“We have the luxury of being insane and saying what in a perfect world would work the best and obviously there’s going to be compromises and things that need to happen that are out of people’s control,” noted Myers.
The process is an example of the strong relationship between iRacing and NASCAR. Myers credited Ben Kennedy, NASCAR’s Senior Vice President of Racing Strategy and Development, for trusting the once small sim-racing company with such monumental tasks.
It’s a relationship that Myers hopes to create with other race series and manufacturers. Myers has made pitches to other series, but he thinks some didn’t believe that they could accomplish what was conceptualized. He’s betting that iRacing’s relationship with NASCAR and the products it has produced will ease the minds of other series and open the door for more collaborations outside of NASCAR.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series will use the Chicago street course for its yearly All-Star race on August 2.