We thought today, 16th October 2021 would be a good day for us to launch our new website. As people who’s been to our site in the past would know, it’s a radical change, and we’ve decided to go bigger, bolder, and somewhat brasher about what we do and how we do it.
We chose 16th October 2021 as our launch date for a specific reason though. This is the 10 year anniversary of the death of 2 time Indy 500 winner, and 2005 IndyCar Series champion, Dan Wheldon. Dan lost his life on lap 11 of the IZOD IndyCar World Championship at Las Vegas Motor Speedway. A race where he started from the back in an effort to share $5 Million with a fan had he won the race. Sadly, he paid with much, much more.
As a side note, it’s worth remembering that Dan was a spokesperson for Sim Racing, and in fact, it was his promo advert that kept on being played before videos of me learning how to mod rFactor that actually got me to sign up for something more serious in iRacing back in 2010. Had the quazi English-American accent of the kid from Emberton, near Milton Keynes who had been our local motorsports hero as a kid not showed up on my YouTube feed, well, this post certainly would not be written in the way it is now.
This was an important day for many of the people who would eventually work for or with RaceSpot. It was also an important day for iRacing, as Yang Ou, winner of the IndyCar Pro Series of 2011, was flown out to the race. Some of my team mates from my old sim racing team Team Afterburn were there, with a large number of us hosting an online watch party, the mood changing by the minute as we began to realise the seriousness of what had happened. Although ESPN cut back late to Randy Bernard’s announcement of his passing, we all knew by this point, and sat there in stunned silence as the drivers completed a parade of 5 laps and ESPN commentator at the time Marty Reid ended the broadcast as follows:
“Do you know why I always sign off with ‘until we meet again?’, because goodbye is so final. Goodbye Dan Wheldon.”
At this time, I was in the process of writing about legacy for my dissertation, and the legacy of major sporting events. Little did I know then that Dan’s passing would leave a legacy much greater than I could ever imagine personally, but also on the iRacing, and Sim Racing community as a whole, as well as that of IndyCar and motorsport across the world. As Nicole Briscoe said at the 2011 NASCAR Talladega race just after his passing, Dan Wheldon was responsible for developing a safer IndyCar, and changes made to the series, and our perception of certain styles of racing changed for good after that. (Note also that this is perhaps one of the most powerful 7 minutes of TV I’ve ever watched, especially considering some of the personal circumstances involved).
This isn’t just a remembrance post to Dan. This post explains how Dan’s passing by sheer co-incidence has led to me writing this post, as COO of RaceSpot TV, and CEO of RaceSpot Live Events. Whilst it is perhaps wrong to directly say that his passing led to where I, and we are today, he had a massive impact on the direction of my work, and sim racing broadcasting as a whole. Allow me to take you down memory lane for a few moments and explain.
My first Sim Racing broadcast attempt was the 2011 ISOWC Indy 350. Race paid for, yada yada, then no broadcast. Apparently there was a failure, or some form of a fire, but I never saw my money, or a broadcast. Frustrating, but I had a full year to find something new. Then after Dan’s passing, there were requests for a broadcast of a tribute race, and a recording of our own 5 lap salute. After a lot of searching, I found there were only 2 real options; WRN, which at the time was the ‘public’ arm of PSRTV, and SimRaceTV, which was a kind of do it yourself service. Issue was that whilst their servers were optimised for rFactor, they struggled with iRTVO, which was back then the software one would use for graphical overlays (The nightmares of coding that software, to come in another story). In simple terms, the event was broadcasted, but not very well, and there were plenty of issues, but it lead to a cornucopia of ideas from various people, which eventually would lead to RaceSpot. A video of the 5 lap salute still exists, and you can see what I mean about the quality aspect…
On one hand was the need for broadcasting for the 2012 ISOWC IndyCar series, which at the time was one of the ‘Big 3’ IndyCar hosted leagues on iRacing. In a student led desire to save some money, I offered to commentate the series in order to reduce broadcast costs. Before you knew it, this numpty was commentating 6 events a weekend on Glacier TV, a startup broadcaster who had a similar set of issues with broadcasting and decided to go it themselves for the 2011 World Cup of iRacing. At the same time, the same numpty was in the process of getting money together to start up Afterburn Broadcasting, slowly realising the time, effort and money involved in getting things done well, not just to the point of happening. Then in Brazil, a couple of guys were working on growing Sim Racing to their local market, and were doing a rather good job of it.
At the same time, Dan’s passing led to a lot of people getting to know each other in ways that didn’t occur previously. I still have a Private Message from an individual who reached out to me after I wrote something at the back end of 2011, as people he knew and related to had worked with him in the past (One of whom provided the funniest tribute at the IndyCar memorial event in late 2011). Whilst my time running a sim racing team was coming to an explosive end, there was a new community of people whom became good friends, and still are to this day. This led to first visits to the fabled Indianapolis 500, so on and so on. It also meant that a 2nd IndyCar series was commentated on by Mr Numpty, this time at 2AM in the morning (Thankfully, at this time, sleep was a commodity not needed anywhere near as much as today!).
This series was called the 16th Street Racing League, and it became the first broadcast on a new service called RaceSpot TV. RaceSpot started in 72 hours, for reasons which will be explored in other stories on this blog. On one hand you had the two Brazilians of Hugo and Rafael, with the proof of concept and infrastructure in place, and on the other hand some shouty British guy with the contacts to make the product at least financially viable. The first race, frankly was a shit show. We started 10 laps in due to technical issues with YouTube, we had a massive FPS spike in the next 20 laps that caused the race to look like a PowerPoint Presentation, and sound checking was done in real time. The race still exists on YouTube, and it’s nice to look back at how far we’ve come over the way.
3 points are apparent here: IndyCar was our first broadcast (In the IR-11, as the DW-12 was not on iRacing for a number of years due to the Bullriding promoter Randy Bernard being a tool and selling exclusive rights to a video game to SimRaceway. Remember them?). Next was the people on the call that night. This numpty, and Aaron Likens, who is now one of the flag crew for the NTT IndyCar Series. And finally were the people involved in the race. People who in a lot of cases put pre-conceptions about online personas to one side after tragedy, and got to know the real people behind the fake helmets. Most years, there is still a massive meetup of iRacers the Thursday before the Indy 500. There are some incredible stories that can’t be told about these, both because I don’t want to get people in trouble / sued, but a lot of these friendships were formed after October 16th 2011.
RaceSpot’s journey with IndyCar has never stopped. We’ve broadcasted the iRacing Indy 500 every year we’ve been a company, have run more Indy 500 broadcasts than anyone else around (combined, I could argue), and have broadcasted a half dozen IndyCar series leagues over the years. The most recently acquired of these is the Lionheart IndyCar Series, named after Dan Wheldon himself.
I could easily carry on going down memory lane for the next 2,000 words, but the chances of people reading to this point are already low. Whilst Marty Reid’s words continue to ring in my ears to this day, I must say that it’s not Goodbye to Dan Wheldon. His legacy and memory lives on through Sim Racing in more ways than many can remember. From seeing people at the Brickyard in one of the many (often impromptu) meets, to those late Thursday evenings before the big race topped off with a Steak and Shake 7×7. From our first Indy 500 broadcast to seeing Sim Racing’s equivalent of Dan Wheldon become a 3 time winner of the big race in Brandon Traino. From those who participated in ISOWC, Classic IndyCar Series. 16th Street Racing League, Lionheart IndyCar Series, Majors and iRacing’s official series on RaceSpot, to the time when I went head to head with another Brandon in IndyCar for the lulz, IndyCar and RaceSpot are intertwined so much it is the very fabric of our DNA, and it all started with that promo video of Dan Wheldon bigging up Sim Racing in 2010.