Racing From Home – A Rant
My wife will say I’m cheap. In fact, Susan may have even said that on this site before in one of her posts. I consider myself thrifty, but not cheap. On race weekends, I’m happy staying in a Quality Inn as opposed to the Westin. I just want it to be relatively clean and close to the track. Susan would probably choose the Westin. I tend to not be frivolous on some things.
But I’m not afraid of spending money. In the late nineties and early 2000’s, I enjoyed racing simulators on my PC. It all started even before then, when my son had his Playstation. I bought him a game called CART World Series that featured most tracks on the CART schedule and many liveries. Unfortunately, IMS wasn’t featured.
When I got my first PC (a Gateway, remember them?), I bought CART Precision Racing. At the time, I had no wheel and had to make do with driving with a joystick. It wasn’t very satisfying.
As computers advanced, I ended up buying my first wheel along with several other racing sims. I bought NASCAR 3 and 4 from Papyrus. I also owned a couple of Formula One games I enjoyed and also NASCAR Heat. In 2003, IndyCar launched its own game with the 2002 style cars and tracks. Dan Wheldon is in a No.15 Pennzoil car, if that tells you anything. NASCAR Heat was good because you could also download cars from CART and the IRL (from about the 2000 era) that looked and drove great to run on their platform. What I liked about the third-party downloads was that the Penske cars actually said Marlboro on them.
Another favorite was Grand Prix Legends, which featured F1 cars from the mid-sixties along with the properly configured tracks from that time; including Watkins Glen, Kyalami, Mosport and the full-course 14-mile Nürburgring.
More than a decade ago – long before we got married, it wasn’t unusual for Susan to come over on any given night and find me driving an Indy car around IMS or any other track.
On any of these games (or sims), I enjoyed practicing solo or racing other cars driven by the computer. What I did not enjoy was driving online against other online competitors. It wasn’t because I wasn’t any good. It was because there would always be the random jerk (or kid) that would be racing and find it funny to suddenly turn around, drive the wrong way and crash into the rest of the field. It was either that or the other end of the spectrum – those that took what was essentially playing a video game way too seriously
As time went on, I found myself doing more in my free time than racing sims and the games fell by the wayside. Once I started blogging almost eight years ago, the games and wheel went into a box and eventually got packed away.
These games weren’t cheap. Each one was around $50 (or more) and my second wheel was about $150.
I had to buy a new computer last month, and it has quite a bit more horsepower than my last one. With the IndyCar season approaching, I got the bug to drive these things again, but I found most of those games that worked with Windows 98 and XP, were no longer compatible with Windows 10.
I knew that several IndyCar fans were members of iRacing, an online community that raced on a web-based platform. I already had the wheel, so I figured I would look into it. A visit to their website showed I could join iRacing for three months for $19.80. I figured if I hated it, less than twenty bucks wasn’t a bad price for three months. I signed up about a week ago and that’s where the hatred began.
Their website touts “More than 50 cars to choose from” featuring present-day cars from practically every racing series around the globe; including the DW12 for IndyCar. The Lotus 49 from the sixties also caught my eye. But if you so choose, you can also drive stock cars from the Monster Energy Series or the Xfinity series, along with trucks from the Camping World Truck Series. F1 fans can drive a McLaren or a Williams. Not only are IndyCar fans offered the DW12, they can also drive the 2003 style Dallara. There is an assortment of cars to drive from IMSA and even dirt track cars.
What about the tracks? Screen shots of various tracks showed incredible graphics that were life-like. The page featuring tracks bragged that there were “More than 70 tracks available with over 230 configurations”. Current and former IndyCar tracks available included Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Laguna Seca, Road America, Barber, Pocono, Milwaukee, Mid-Ohio, Sonoma, Michigan, Fontana, Phoenix, Gateway, Iowa, Kansas, Chicagoland, Kentucky and Watkins Glen. Other tracks of note included Daytona, Le Mans, Talladega, COTA, Spa, Nürburgring, Homestead, Charlotte, Atlanta, Road Atlanta, Sebring, Mosport and Lime Rock.
This appeared to be a racing fan’s virtual dream. I could be driving a DW12 around IMS one night, driving a prototype at Le Mans the next and even hoofing a sprint car around a dirt track the next. This sounded like twenty dollars well spent, even if I knew it would increase to $110 for a year if I really liked it. I was about to revive an old hobby.
But my enthusiasm waned dramatically after I submitted my $19.80 payment. I was directed to download their software. I expected something would have to be downloaded, but I thought 240MB was big for a web-based program. But I figured, whatever – I’ll be racing in just a few minutes.
Despite my advanced age, I don’t consider myself to be a technological moron. But I found their minimal instructions on what to do after the download was complete, to be totally useless. The member’s home page told me I had no service when I tried to race. With growing frustration, I clicked on something that started another 240 MB download. Still nothing.
I got into the guts of the computer and found another icon to click on. That finally started something that took a while to configure. When that was finished, I figured I would soon be driving a DW12 out of the pits at IMS. Instead, my home page now told me that I did have service, but I had to do a mandatory update before I could race.
This update was massive. There was no visible bar graph showing my progress or if I was even downloading anything. Finally, I found an obscure tiny icon that when I hovered my mouse over it, it said “Manage Software Updates and Downloads”. Clicking on that showed that after about twenty minutes, my download was 10% complete. I left the room for a while and came back to see the download had stopped. After clicking several items, it restarted at 13% complete.
The intermittent stopping went on for the next hour or more. As my frustration level was hitting a boiling point, I could hear something rumbling. At first I was wondering if I was about to have a stroke from being so mad and the rumbling was in my ears. I then realized that the rumbling was thunder rumbling outside – a thunderstorm was approaching, and quickly. My fear was I would get to about 95% complete when our power would go out.
Fortunately, that never happened. By the time my download was finally finished, the front had already passed through and the thunder had diminished – although my frustration had not. By the time the update download was installed and my member’s page said I could race, almost three hours had passed since I originally signed up, and I still had not even gotten a car on track. I was not happy.
Finally, it was time to race. Next to the Race Now button that puts you on track with other online racers, I pressed the Test button, so that I could just be on track by myself. When I went to select my car, I was expecting the more than fifty cars to choose from to show up in the drop-down menu. I didn’t notice there were only fifteen. All I noticed was the only Dallara available was one labeled circa 2011. That’s the one I call the 2003 style, since that’s when it debuted. There was no DW12. I started feeling my face turning red and my temples pounding as my teeth were now gritting uncontrollably.
The other cars listed included a Cadillac CTS race car, two Legends cars, two Mazda Miatas, a Sprint Cup Impala, a Nationwide Impala, a Chevy truck, two versions of a Pontiac Solstice an SCCA Ford Racer, a V8 Supercar Ford Falcon and a street stock. None of those were what got my blood pumping when I elected to sign up.
And those seventy tracks available? There were only fourteen to choose from. Some were fictitious and none were current IndyCar tracks, except for Phoenix. I had to drive an IndyCar from fifteen seasons ago at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Hmmm…
After I drove a few laps of what admittedly seemed like a very realistic excursion, I went back to the member’s page. There I saw a tab labeled Store. Suddenly, I was seeing red as I began to suspect there would be added costs to my $19.80 for three months. My suspicions were confirmed when I hovered my cursor over it and saw tabs labeled Buy Cars and Buy Tracks.
The DW12 is an additional $11.95. In fact, every car they offer is an additional $11.95. Already fuming and feeling violated, I clicked on the Track tab. That’s when I found out if I wanted to race at Indianapolis, it would be an additional $14.95. Most IndyCar tracks were $14.95 except for Barber, which was curiously only $11.95.
I was really looking forward to driving a DW12 along with the Lotus 49. But to download them was going to be an additional $24 – more than my three month subscription fee of $19.80. But if I was to drive them on tracks other than Charlotte, Phoenix or Laguna Seca; it was going to cost.
I’ve gone back and looked – nowhere on their general public website did I see anything that indicated signing up would only give you a handful of cars and tracks that few people cared about. There is nothing that tells you that in order to get access to the cars and tracks you really want, there is an additional cost – and much more substantial than your original subscription cost. My enthusiasm for virtual racing quickly shifted to feeling cheated and deceived.
Am I being cheap as Susan likes to claim? Have I been "out of the game" so long that I now have unrealistic expectations, that I should get all of that for one flat rate? Is it out of the question to wish that companies still put their sims on disks where you always had it, no matter what type of computer mishap you encountered? Or am I wishing for 8-Track technology in a Pandora and Spotify world?
The six tracks I really wanted to drive on were IMS, Road America, Iowa, Pocono, Barber and Watkins Glen. In order to do that, I’m shelling out an additional $87 for tracks and $24 for those two cars. That’s $111 plus the $20 for three months. You know after investing an additional $111 on cars and track, that I’m not going to give it all up after three months. Instead, I would spend another $110 to race for a year to make sure I got my money’s worth. That way, after fourteen months – I would have dolled out $247 to have access to something that wasn’t much better than my $50 games from fifteen years ago that had every car and track I wanted.
Plus, I can’t tell if I have the option to race against computer generated cars. I can either go against the super-competitive trolls that take online racing way too seriously, or I can drive around tracks by myself forever and ever. It looks like I have two choices – I can only do one or the other.
Instead, I think I’ll take Door Number Three. I’ll just drive a few tracks in a fifteen year-old Dallara until my subscription runs out in early June and consider it a $19.80 lesson learned. I just hope I remember to cancel before they automatically renew. Something tells me that this experience is fully embedded into my brain and I won’t forget. I just hope I don’t get too angry and have a stroke before then. End of rant.