Ron Capps is quite the experienced racer.
When he is not driving his NAPA Auto Parts Dodge Charger SRT Hellcat with Don Schumacher Racing, Capps is behind the wheel competing at other race tracks all around the world. Sometimes competing at multiple tracks in one day. Sometimes just hours apart.
How does he do it?
Capps is an integral part of the growing world of online racing that is taking the industry by storm.
Capps is a member of an elite team of real-world race car drivers that serve as testers for some of the top racing simulators in the industry. From iRacing to other online and offline racing games, Capps is one of the first names that is called upon when a new game is about to come out and Capps uses his experience behind the wheel of several different cars over the course of his career to test the realism and fun-factor of each game.
“I was one of the original beta testers. Anytime something new comes out and they are going to beta test it, I am in a small group of race car drivers that they call,” Capps said. “It has grown quite a bit, but originally it started with Justin Wilson, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and others. I started playing the original video games in the late 90s and that is really when it got serious.”
Capps recalls in those early days of the sim racing community spending late nights at his home, playing online until three and four in the morning with Earnhardt Jr., Martin Truex Jr. and others.
“Dale had a setup at his house and back then Martin Truex lived with him. So Martin was on all of the time. It was funny to logon to a game and see Martin and Dale when it is midnight at my house and 3 a.m. in North Carolina and we are playing video games all night,” Capps said. “Back then we approached it the same. (Earnhardt and Truex) and a couple IndyCar drivers that were always there, (Kevin) Magnussen in Formula 1, some rally drivers, a lot of them were always on there. I’ve been involved with iRacing since it came out. We knew it was going to be big. You talk to Earnhardt Jr. or Truex, even early on as basic as it was, you could tell this was going to be huge.
“It really didn’t get crazy until a few years ago when, now, all of a sudden every NASCAR guy is using it. I’ll get a message that there is a new game coming out and I will get home and logon and test and send notes. I’ve been very lucky in my career to have been able to test with IROC, driven sprint cars, midgets. I’ve gotten to do a lot of cool stuff in other cars so it has really helped me give them feedback. I always look forward to it.”
What began as a fun hobby for some and an opportunity to test for others, has turned into real-world contracts and seats in real race cars on real race tracks.
Take for instance NASCAR driver William Byron. Byron, who grew up in the heart of racing country in Charlotte, saw a race on television as a child and decided he wanted to do that himself one day. Lacking the resources to get in an actual race car, Byron began his own race operation in the lucrative world of iRacing as a teenager, winning over 100 races with nearly 300 top fives in online competition.
By the time he was 15, his father put him behind the wheel of a real car for the first time and, today, Byron pilots the No. 24 Chevrolet for famed Hendrick Motorsports.
From a virtual seat to a very real one, Byron is just one of millions of online racers who compete online. And he is also one of the hundreds of drivers that are seeing their virtual successes turn into real-world opportunities.
It has grown so big, in fact, that many real-world race teams with the likes of NASCAR, IndyCar and Formula 1 have begun hiring virtual racers to be a part of their teams to race in online leagues. In fact some of these races, like those with iRacing, have found airtime on television including with the NBC Sports Network.
“Look at William Byron. I raced with him. He had never driven a car, he was an iRacing guy, and he whipped all of our butts,” Capps said. “To have somebody from a video game doing well and then get offered a chance at a real ride, and not just any ride, but Hendrick. And then to actually succeed and win races from growing up racing in a video game? It is crazy to think that that is the world today.
“It is so realistic and always fun. It is fun when I get a message that something new is coming out and I go home and hop on the simulator.”
So what is next for the world of online racing?
While the possibilities are limitless, Capps has one sole focus that he is hoping to achieve over the next few years. To bring drag racing to the virtual world.
“I talk to those guys all the time and they are very much wanting to do a drag race game,” Capps said. “We’ve talked about just coming out with one car – a dragster or a Funny Car – initially. It will be so much fun when it finally does happen. People are going to love it. We are going to work on that and see if we can make it happen.”
Who knows? Maybe in a few years we an online U.S. Nationals champion to join the real world one.
— Competition Plus (@competitionplus) January 4, 2019