So, you want to race in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, do you? With a $300,000 purse and sim racing’s most competitive field, it’s easy to understand why.
But how does a driver go from iRacing newbie to one of the chosen few? The beauty is in iRacing’s ladder-style ranking system.
You have to start somewhere
Everybody who joins iRacing begins as a rookie. All are equal in the beginning, and you’ll prove yourself as a rookie by racing against other rookies in races where everybody has the same goal: to graduate from the beginner level. You can advance from the rookie series by racing safely – the fewer incidents in which you’re involved, the more likely you’ll move out of the rookie series in a timely manner.
Common wisdom suggests using the rookie series as a way to find your bearings and learn how to race around other cars safely, rather than trying to stun the world with your talent and speed. Save the performance for the series ahead.
Climbing the rankings
Once you’ve graduated from the rookie series, a world of opportunity awaits.
You trade in your rookie license for a Class D license, opening up possibilities to race more series and different types of cars – and that’s when your performance will start to matter. It’s time to go fast!
But first, iRating
Everybody who races on iRacing earns a value called iRating: a number that changes based on your performance racing against other drivers. It’s basically the easiest way to quantify your speed and skill. Generally speaking, the better you finish, the more your iRating will climb.
As described by iRacing’s Principal Engineer Randy Cassidy: "Everyone that finishes ahead of you in the session takes iRating points away from you. You take iRating points away from everyone that finishes behind you."
Your iRating value determines your opponents; you’re matched to race with drivers of similar skill when you race official iRacing sessions.
The standard license progression
In the same way you graduate from the rookie series to the Class D license series, you’ll continue to move through iRacing’s license rankings and series: Class C, Class B, and Class A – the end of the normal license progression. Races for these series take place on a regular, recurring basis. You can race on your schedule and earn series championship points as you climb the iRacing ladder. This is the normal iRacing service used by racers all over the world.
Each different class of car unlocks your ability to drive different types of race cars. For the most part, in terms of stock-car racing, late models are Class D, Gander Trucks are Class C, Xfinity Series cars are Class B and NASCAR Cup Series cars are Class A.
When you reach a Class A license, you become eligible to take the next step: racing for a Pro license and heading toward the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Big-time sim racing
Beyond the standard Class A license, there are three major racing series:
The iRacing Road to Pro Series
The iRacing Pro Series
And, finally, the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series
This is how one reaches the big time.
The iRacing Road to Pro Series
Any Class A-licensed driver is eligible to compete in the Road to Pro Series, the series where you, in essence, declare your intention of working toward the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Most casual racers don’t take the step, but it’s a staple of the serious racer’s season.
The Road to Pro Series is where performance is everything. You have to stand out and rise above for a seven-month, 14-race schedule racing NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series-style vehicles.
Unlike the usual round-the-clock races in standard iRacing series, one Road to Pro race is held every other week, alternating Tuesday nights with the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Oh, and remember all that talk about iRating? Here’s where it really matters: since lots and lots of drivers attempt the Road to Pro, it’s impossible to fit everybody into a single race – because of that, multiple 34-car fields race. Each event is divided into different splits, grouped by iRating; there might be a couple-dozen races happening concurrently in the Road to Pro Series.
This is where it pays to be fast – drivers in the top split (the highest overall iRating average, called the Strength of Field, or SOF) earn the most championship points. While drivers in lower-SOF splits still earn championship points, more points are awarded for racing in higher-SOF fields. In other words, there’s more reward for beating the best drivers.
The Road to Pro Series includes a single drop week, meaning each driver’s lowest finish isn’t counted toward the final-season points. That’s good news if you tend to find yourself caught up in the Big One at Daytona.
The top 20 in championship points at the end of the season are promoted to the iRacing Pro Series. Almost there!
The iRacing Pro Series
You might call a stint in the iRacing Pro Series your big break in sim racing. It’s awfully exclusive.
The iRacing Pro Series is comprised of 40 drivers: The 20 drivers promoted through the Road to Pro Series, and bottom top 20 in the previous season’s eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series points standings. It’s a fascinating battle of racers looking to prove themselves as up-and-coming talent – the Road to Pro graduates – and drivers looking to show they can still compete, despite a less-than-ideal showing at the top level.
Pro drivers earn a special class of license beyond Class A, the elusive "black stripe." Fancy!
During the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series offseason, the iRacing Pro Series determines the 20 drivers who will graduate to next season’s top-tier series over the course of a brief season of weekly races using NASCAR Xfinity Series-style cars.
Since there are only 40 drivers in the entire iRacing Pro Series, unlike the hundreds attempting Road to Pro, there’s only one split – a single race each week.
The bottom 20 drivers in final iRacing Pro Series championship points must prove themselves once again in the following season’s Road to Pro Series, while the top 20 drivers in points graduate to the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, joining the previous season’s Coca-Cola Series top 20.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series
This is it – the pinnacle of sim racing. The 40 elite drivers who survived the standard license progression, made it through the Road to Pro Series and established themselves in the top tier of the Pro Series compete for mainstream glory and $300,000 in prizes in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, matching up with an esports team or NASCAR organization.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competes in a 20-race season, culminating in a four-race, eight-driver playoffs. Races are televised, people pay attention, and there’s a ton of money at stake. It’s a gut-wrenching, intense racing series, but it’s the highest level of sim racing for a reason.
You can’t make it to the top level by a fluke. A sponsor doesn’t help you get a ride. It’s all about rising to the occasion and separating yourself from thousands and thousands of other racers.
Few have made it to the top level. Out of more than 100,000 active iRacers, only 200 have started a race at the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series level since the series’ inception in 2010. (Fun fact: Dale Earnhardt Jr. won the first-ever series race.)
So, if you’re an iRacer and you think you’ve got what it takes, get practicing, build up your license, and attempt the Road to Pro Series in the spring. If you’re a spectator or new to esports, understand that the drivers you watch Tuesday nights are the elite few.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series doesn’t award $300,000 to just anybody, after all.