Cody Childs of Auburn sits at his iRacing simulator setup during a race. Submitted photo

Shawn Kimball got a taste of being a race director last year at Wiscasset Speedway, and he said he would have done it again this year but he wanted to spend more time with his 1-year-old son. 

Thanks to the coronavirus outbreak, Kimball now gets to be both a father and a race director without even going to the track. 

The victory lane from Shawn Kimball’s last Mini Stock win at Wiscasset Speedway in 2017. Submitted photo

Like many in the auto racing world, Kimball has turned to iRacing since the pandemic has shuttered race tracks. And using the program, he was a race director again Saturday night, when his newly created Maine iRacing Invitational Series had its first race, the Dave Thompson Memorial 124. PJ Merrill of Canton, who races at Wiscasset, won the inaugural race.

“The idea to do the league came from both wanting to help the family of a racer who passed recently, David Thompson, and knowing that local racing isn’t going to start on time,” said Kimball, who lives in Vassalboro. “NASCAR has had decent success putting on televised iRacing events with its stars, so I figured there was plenty of Maine drivers that use iRacing to do our own version.” 

Kimball opened his league to any race car drivers who live in Maine, have raced at a Maine race track and use iRacing. He capped entries into Saturday’s 124-lap race at 59 (though only 34 made it into the feature race after qualifying), and each entrant had to donate at least $2.40 — a small ask with a nod to the late Thompson’s No. 24 car number.  The competitors combined to raise $1,050 for Thompson’s family, Kimball said.

Thompson, a resident of Jefferson who died in March at the age of 44, competed at Wiscasset the past two summers. 

Kimball, a former Wiscasset competitor himself, was one of the entrants in Saturday night’s race (finishing 16th), which he hopes will be the first in a league he intends to run until the real cars can get back on the track. Next week the series will shift to USA International Speedway, which is a now-closed 3/4-mile track that was located in Lakeland, Florida.

Cody Childs of Auburn, who competes at Oxford Plains Speedway (which is featured on iRacing), was one of the drivers entered into Saturday’s race, finishing seventh. Childs, who drives in Oxford’s Outlaws division and previously raced Running Rebels cars, was looking forward to battling against Super Late Model drivers, whose style of was used for Saturday’s virtual race.

Bobby Timmons III of Windham has experience in those cars, but currently runs Super Modified cars. He was also entered into Saturday’s race.

The cars of Auburn’s Cody Childs (94) and Jacob Heathcoat (32) battle it out at virtual Five Flags Speedway during a iRace on Wednesday. Submitted screenshot

Timmons, who has been virtual racing “about every other night” since the pandemic forced everyone to stay home as much as possible, said his first practice with competitors in Kimball’s league was difficult because drivers couldn’t adjust their car’s setup. 

“I love that it’s fixed setup,” Childs said. “It’s all about the driver.” 

PUTTING THE ‘I’ IN iRACING 

Childs is fairly new to iRacing. He said he started using it in December 2018 when he “wanted to shorten the learning curve” during his transition from the front-wheel drive Rebels to rear-wheel drive Outlaws.  

A glimpse of what Auburn’s Cody Childs sees when he uses iRacing. Submitted photo

“So I invested in a (simulator) rig to adapt during the winter months,” Childs said. “I use it 10 to 14 hours a week in the offseason to keep the skills sharp and continue to develop. In season, I do about 6 to 8 hours a week.” 

Kimball has been using iRacing for much longer, starting soon after it was first released in 2008. He said he’s raced “fairly regularly” since then, with some extended breaks from the service. 

Timmons said he’s been on iRacing for about 10 years. All three drivers said they have crossed paths with NASCAR drivers in races, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Tony Stewart, William Byron, Erik Jones and Paul Menard.  

‘YOU NEED TO PRACTICE’ 

Like Childs, Timmons said he uses iRacing to keep his reflexes sharp. 

“But it’s a totally different feel, or lack thereof, compared to driving a real car,” Timmons said. “I’ve seen drivers who are great in a real car absolutely struggle on iRacing — and vice versa.” 

Childs said iRacing is “as realistic as you can get without strapping in a car.” 

“A lot of people think it’s a video game, but it’s not. If you’re a good Madden player it doesn’t mean you will be a good football player. The two require completely different skill sets,” he said. “When it comes to iRacing, it’s a steering wheel, a set of pedals, a shifter, just like real life. The inputs you put in are the same in the sim or the real world.

Bobby Timmons III of Windham is one of 59 drivers entered into the first race of the Maine iRacing Invitational Series. Submitted photo

“Now, there are some things missing — like motion, you don’t feel the car under your butt sliding around, or the pressure you’d feel leading the Daytona 500 to the checkered flag. That you could never replicate in a sim.” 

Kimball said iRacing, just like real racing, “gives you back what you put into it.” He admitted he hasn’t been as serious as he needs to be to have success with the simulator, though he has recruited the help of a friend, Justin Trombley, to work on his car setups. 

“If you just want to show up here and there to race, you can. But don’t expect to win,” Kimball said. “You need to practice and learn what it takes to set up a car to have consistent success, and I just haven’t done that. I am racing more now, so we’ll see where it goes.”  

SATURDAY NIGHT SHOW 

Kimball and the competitors settled on Five Flags Speedway in Pensacola, Florida, for Saturday night’s action. A half-mile track, Kimball thought 34 competitors was the right amount for the feature. 

Just like regular Saturday night short-track racing at Wiscasset or Oxford Plains, drivers had to qualify their way into the feature. The first 10 cars qualified in a two-lap time trial, then the next 16 came from the top-four finishers of each of the four heat races. Six more qualified during two consolation races (top three advanced to the feature), and the final two spots were for provisionals. 

The remaining 25 entrants, as well as other eligible drivers who also wanted to donate to the cause, had the chance to compete in a separate 124-lap race after the feature. All the action was streamed on Wiscasset Speedway’s Facebook page, with around 4,500 viewers tuning in between Facebook and YouTube, according to the broadcast.

“Overall it was pretty good. There were a few hiccups along the way, but for the most part all the problems were just hard racing,” Kimball said. “There was a glitch with Justin Trombley getting removed from the race. That was an error by race control. It’s awful that it happened, but there is no way to fix it.”

VIRTUAL MAGIC MILE

There was another virtual race featuring local drivers earlier Saturday. The Northeast eClassic was put on by Speed51.com and set at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.

The field consisted of drivers who compete in the Pro All Stars Series, American-Canadian Tour and a few New England tracks, including Oxford Plains. Ryan Kuhn, an ACT racer from Massachusetts dominated the 75-lap feature. Fellow ACT drivers Steve Fisher and Ray Parent finished second and third, respectively.


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