Sim to Reality: eNASCAR stars capitalizing on real world racing opportunities

2024 may just be the year of the sim racer.

With folks like Daniel Morad earning another Rolex at Daytona, William Byron winning the Daytona 500, Ayhancan Guven scoring a Bathurst 12 victory, Jimmy Broadbent and Steve Alvarez Brown sharing a Nurburgring victory in the GT4 ranks, and perhaps one of the greatest sim racing to reality stories in Rajah Caruth scoring his first career NASCAR win at Las Vegas, these sim racing success stories continue to pile up, and it’s only June. There’s also that Team Redline iRacer, Max Verstappen, who was a part of the winning top split team for the Nurburgring 24 hour special event on the same weekend he won a Formula 1 Grand Prix last month.

This all bodes well for our top-level drivers in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing series, many of whom continue to look for their big break in the real-world ranks. There are many different drivers at different stages of their real-world racing careers, each impressive in their own right.

Take Kaden Honeycutt, for example. Since 2022, Honeycutt has competed at the top level of eNASCAR, first for RFK Racing and now for JR Motorsports.

Alongside his climb up the eSports ladder, he’s been working his way into the NASCAR garage, winning often in top level Late Model events like the CARS Tour, scoring top 10 finishes in the NASCAR Craftsman Trucks with Niece Motorsports, and recently competing for DGM Racing in the NASCAR Xfinity Series at Dover. Honeycutt nearly captured his first NASCAR victory in the trucks at Charlotte a few weeks ago.

It’s not just Honeycutt, however. This eNASCAR roster might just have the most crossover in series history, with multiple drivers aiming to achieve their real-world racing aspirations. While there are always plenty of examples outside of the Coke Series, it’s definitely impressive to have top level eSports talent and real-world racing capabilities at the same time.

Now a two-time Truck Series starter, Vicente Salas made his first start at Circuit of the Americas a few months ago, and he made his NASCAR oval debut just over a week ago at World Wide Technology Raceway for Bill McAnally Racing as a teammate to championship contender Christian Eckes. Salas made waves over the last few seasons in the Late Model ranks, winning at Hickory last year. With his eNASCAR win two weeks ago at Darlington, he’ll most likely be pursuing a chance to win the Coke Series title once again.

Ryan Luza has been trying to make his real-world career take off for a while now. Most notably, he’s been a regular at the Snowball Derby, competing at Five Flags Speedway for many years and winning the Pro Late Model track championship nearly a decade ago. His last opportunity came back in 2022, where he practiced inside the top five the entire weekend before a late race incident sent him back to finishing in 17th.

Speaking of Late Model racing, both Donovan Strauss and Garrett Lowe have risen from Legends car racing to the more competitive Late Model scene in the past couple of years. Recently, Strauss announced a new partner to ride onboard his late model this season at Florence Motor Speedway, and has hopes to back up the successes he had in winning the 2023 INEX Pro Division Asphalt National Championship in the Legend Car ranks last season. Strauss has been stacking top five finishes throughout the year so far.

At the top of Lowe’s resume resides his most recent success as the 2023 Southeast Limited Late Model Series Rookie of the Year. Currently, the UNC at Charlotte student has had a lot to juggle, including the Formula SAE Internal Combustion Competition with 49ers Racing, where he and his team finished second overall out of 108 teams at Michigan International Speedway. Lowe has also been moonlighting in the Racing Prodigy competition on occasion.

Up in the northeast, Ryan Doucette has a full schedule of real-world competition to look forward to in the Milton CAT Modified Racing Series. Doucette races in the modified ranks for his family-owned team, JDR Motorsports. He’s already competed at New London-Waterford Speedbowl last month. Next week, you can find him at Riverside Speedway & Adventure Park, where he looks to get his season back on track.

On the dirt side, Tyler Garey races in a Modlite, a 5/8-scale DIRT Modified, for his family-owned team based in Florida. He’s collected a few wins already this season, but that’s not anything new. Garey won the State Championship in 2008 and sits as the defending track champion at Hendry County Motorsports Park.

There are also drivers like Kevin Harvick Inc.’s Matt Bussa, who got his first chance at driving a full-bodied stock car a few months ago at New River All-American Speedway in the Grand National Super Series. While it wasn’t Bussa’s first time in a racecar, as he’s gotten seat time through the Skip Barber Racing School in previous years, it was his first real-world oval event, and finishing in fourth was huge for the Illinois native.

Perhaps the most decorated eNASCAR competitor of all time, even Ray Alfalla has had a few opportunities to wheel at various points in his life. Alfalla’s most recent real-world trip came in 2022 at Hickory Motor Speedway, racing in a Limited Late Model during the Fall Brawl.

As for former Coke Series drivers, Josh Berry might actually be the most successful of all as he campaigns his rookie year in the NASCAR Cup Series this year with Stewart-Haas Racing. That is, unless you’re counting Dale Earnhardt Jr., who was already a well-established racecar driver when he won the very first Coke race in 2010.

All of these sim to reality stories are impressive in their own right, with many of these drivers continuing to make the best out of their situations and take every opportunity in front of them. Even for those who don’t have the means, there have been occasions where eNASCAR competitors like Garrett Manes and Michael Cosey Jr. have gotten on track thanks to partners like Sim Seats. You can even go back a year to when former eNASCAR champion Michael Conti got a track day at Oswego in upstate New York. 

But among all the current drivers in the Coke Series, Honeycutt might have the best shot to make it to the top. He debuted in 2022 alongside Parker Retzlaff, who is also making his stride up the real-world ladder. The two were teammates at RFK in the Coke Series, and while Retzlaff only competed in Coke for one year, he’s now living out his NASCAR Xfinity aspirations full-time for Jordan Anderson Racing, and will make his Cup Series debut later this year for Beard Motorsports. 

With all of that said, and with a real-world career at his feet, Honeycutt continues to call the eNASCAR ranks some of the toughest competition he’s ever done, real or sim. “Coming from a real-life driver, I’m telling you, this is the hardest stuff you will ever do,” Honeycutt said after winning the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series event at Las Vegas over the winter. “This was the most work that I’ve put in, in a long time, and the results showed… It just takes so much time and effort, and I’m sorry I have to repeat it, but this is the hardest stuff you will ever do in your entire racing career, in real-life or sim.”

The quest for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series championship, and the road to $500,000, continues tonight at 8:00 pm ET, live on eNASCAR.com/live. Tune in to the pre-race Countdown to Green starting at 7:30 pm ET.

For more information on the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, visit eNASCAR.com or iRacing.com/eNASCAR. For more information on iRacing and for special offers, visit iRacing.com.­­