However, with the NASCAR Pro Invitational iRacing Series O’Reilly Auto Parts 125 broadcast on FOX and bragging rights on the line, Bowyer and the others have also gotten serious about winning.
“The neatest thing about iRacing, you can get on there and see how many hours the guys have logged,” said Bowyer, driver of the No. 14 Stewart-Haas Racing Ford in the NASCAR Cup Series. “It’s staggering to see the dedication my peers have been putting into this.
“Is it serious? Yes, it’s serious. A million viewers. I want to win this thing for myself and my partners. You want to be the man in front of all that viewership. Everyone is practicing big time. It doesn’t matter what time you log on, there are people on there practicing for the Texas race this weekend.”
After last week’s Pro Invitational opener at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway drew more than 900,000 viewers on Fox Sports 1, this week’s event at 1 p.m. will be broadcast on the main network.
“What a wonderful opportunity for the sport and racing in general,” Bowyer said. “The timing couldn’t be more right for a perfect storm situation. We are longing for some competitive sports action that we can broadcast and show to a fan. Here it is in our lap. It was a great race last week at Homestead.
“Talk about the perfect storm, Dale (Earnhardt) Jr. taking the lead and Denny Hamlin passing him literally the last corner of the race. We can’t wait to have it going on with the big brother station, on the FOX network.”
Bowyer, 40, is the winner of 10 actual Cup Series races. While he said virtual racing is not quite the real thing, he was impressed with the quality of racing and the broadcast of the event. He served as an in-race analyst to complement the broadcast team of Mike Joy, Jeff Gordon and Larry McReynolds.
He found the fight to the finish — where Hamlin edged Earnhardt — particularly compelling.
“I caught myself watching the end to see who was going to win,” Bowyer said. “Who would have ever thought this would have become reality and be on our televisions? Who would ever thought it would have created a situation that had us all jumping up and down at the end? It’s an incredible opportunity to bridge the gap while we wait to get on the race track.
“It had a little bit of everything. It was super competitive, but lighthearted and fun. It was the perfect atmosphere for the situation.”
The veteran driver explained the biggest difference between the simulated racing and the real thing is the seat-of-the-pants feel for the drivers. To prepare for this week’s race, Bowyer has been trying to get on the virtual Texas track the same time as iRacing veterans Parker Kligerman, Garrett Smithley, Timmy Hill and William Byron.
Bowyer also likes how iRacing has allowed him to experience some of what it’s like to drive other cars.
“For the most part, my peers race what they know with Cup racing and asphalt,” Bowyer said. “I came from a dirt background and when I get on iRacing, I don’t want to race what I do every Sunday. I want to have the ability to race a sprint car, a dirt late model or a Street Stock like how I started in this sport. I like to race an IndyCar, a truck, a rally car and every different kind of car, like a USAC midget, and see what those are like.”