When you can’t get to the racetrack, but you still feel the urge to play with cars, the next best thing is the digital version of competition. Racing video games don’t destroy tires, they don’t burn gallons of fuel, and when you are upside-down and on fire … you don’t feel a thing! Pro racers have been using video games for years to keep their skills up, and recently NASCAR has been actually holding sanctioned races online. NASA is even offering $13,000 in prize money for NASA sanctioned races through iRacing.
With money like that on the line, it is time to step up your driving simulation rig. Chances are you aren’t going to win a race on iRacing by pressing the space bar on your laptop for the gas pedal. You need a good seat, a steering wheel/pedal assembly and a proper computer or gaming system. Now, there are plenty of companies who would like to take your dollars and they will set you up with a righteous simulation rig for around $10,000 to $20,000. Yes, I know, most of us in NASA have actual racecars that cost less. Hey, if you have the scratch, press the easy button, write a big check and you will have a top-notch driving simulator delivered to your door.
For the DIY folks, the average Joe’s, facing a $10,000 bill for a video game seat seems a bit steep. But there is nothing to worry about because I can show you that you can race alongside these high-end driving simulation rigs for mere pennies. First stop: the lumber yard. Next stop: the wrecking yard (which for a lot of us racers is actually the side yard of our houses).
The trick in setting up a pedal and steering wheel assembly in a DIY driving simulator rig is ergonomics. You want your arms and legs at the proper positions so you don’t cramp up during long driving stints. The longest run I have ever done in an actual racecar was a triple stint in the middle of the night at NASA’s 25 Hours of Thunderhill, which probably calculated out to about three and a half hours. The crazy part is three and a half hours is nothing for a gamer. I’ve shamefully logged way more than six hours on Gran Turismo in one sitting. The key is to build a comfortable driving position to survive the long stints racing digitally.
For those of you that are less inclined to cut your fingers off with a table saw, you can get in the game quickly by just pressing “Buy Now” on Amazon or Ebay. I started from scratch and scored some brand new gear: a seat, steering wheel/pedals, PlayStation4, and the Gran Turismo Sport game all for less than $800. The only thing I didn’t buy was a flat screen TV. I set it all up in my garage and started cranking through the game. You can actually race in FIA sanctioned events with Gran Turismo Sport.
For those of you who want a little better rig setup, something in-between the $20 system and the $10,000 setup, you can go the PC route and use an Oculus Virtual Reality rig for iRacing. My partner at Double Nickel Nine Motorsports, Keith Kramer, built his own driving simulator to prepare for Circuit of the Americas and Mid-Ohio for the last two years’ NASA National Championships. By just practicing on iRacing, he learned two tracks he had never been to and finished on the podium both years. Seems like money well spent. He built a PC, purchased pedals, steering wheel and shifter from Logitech, a seat rig, and an Oculus VR setup all for around $3,500. He loves it. I tried it. It made me carsick and I threw up.
One of the cool things about digital racing and it doesn’t cost a thing is the ability to adjust the livery of your car. My brother, Randy, is artistically inclined and he cranked out this Double Nickel Nine Motorsports liveried Acura NSX for Gran Turismo. I was so impressed with how it came out I decided to buy a bunch of lottery tickets hoping to win enough money buy this actual car and replicate it for Honda Challenge in 2021. Unfortunately, I haven’t found a winner yet, so this car is only rolling digitally for now.
Now for those of you who want to spend zero dollars on a driving simulator setup, fellow Honda Challenge racer, Dillon Brennon, built his own rig literally with trash. He outdid the Toolshed Engineer by out engineering me and beating me on the budget. He didn’t bother to go to the hardware store to buy wood. Instead he just used old pallet wood from trash next to his house.
Dillon scored a Subaru seat from a buddy, threw together some reclaimed pallet wood and built his setup to go racing on iRacing to compete for that NASA prize money. Look out for him on the digital platforms. If he beats you on iRacing, know that he is doing it while his butt is in an old Subaru seat with about 200,000 miles on it. Oh, and he is probably getting a few splinters in the process.
We have proved you don’t have to spend ten grand to go iRacing (although I wouldn’t mind playing in some of those sweet simulator rigs). We built our rig for about $20. Dillon Brennon built his for nothing. We spent $800 and got a bundle of gear to play Gran Turismo Sport through Amazon from scratch. And my partner at DNN, Keith, dropped $3,500 on a VR setup for iRacing, which has proved to be a solid investment for him at the Championships each year. Get out your wallet, or start digging through the trash, either way, choose your own adventure. We will race you in the digital world.