Sponsor Spotlight: iRacing & Ty Majeski/Niece Motorsports
A top-performing eSports competitor brings one of the industry’s premier simulation companies along for the ride, from Late Models to NASCAR’s Truck Series.
In the world of virtual motorsports, it’s important to note that there’s a clear distinction between games and simulators, and iRacing is among the most respected of the latter. The subscription-based service first came online back in 2008, boasting a strong emphasis on realism—not only in terms of the race cars, tracks, and physics models, but also the rules and formats of the series and classes represented in the software.
Over the years iRacing has grown from a niche audience, comprised primarily of diehard sim aficionados, into the 160,000-member community it is today. It’s helped in no small part by stories like William Byron’s, a teenager who managed to translate his formidable talent in iRacing into a successful NASCAR career back in 2016.
But a simulator’s inherently unforgiving design has also kept it off the mainstream’s radar for the most part. That’s something the Chelmsford, Massachusetts, company hopes to change, both through the rise of the various e-motorsports alternatives that have emerged in the wake of COVID-19, and by way of partnerships like the recently penned agreement between iRacing and Ty Majeski of the Niece Motorsports team, who currently competes in the NASCAR Gander RV & Outdoors Truck Series. We recently sat down with Majeski and iRacing President and CFO Tony Gardner to get the lowdown on what this new deal brings to the table.
PRI: How did this partnership come about? Who approached whom?
Tony Gardner, iRacing: It is kind of an unusual situation for us to sponsor a national series car, but Ty Majeski has been an iRacing member [for] many years, and we took note of the fact that he was the highest rated racer on our service in terms of skill ranking. Maybe six or seven years ago, I got a call from the Majeski Racing team asking if we would be interested in sponsoring his Late Model, and that really established the relationship—we have been involved in his career ever since. When Niece Motorsports reached out earlier this year, they knew about Ty’s work with us in the past and we really like the team, so we decided to sponsor another five or so races with him, along with a race for [Niece Motorsports’ teammate] Ross Chastain as well.
Ty Majeski, Niece Motorsports and Majeski Racing: Back in late 2014, I was doing a lot of short-track events in iRacing and it got to the point where I was approaching a 10,000 iRating on the service. I think there was kind of an assumption that the rating capped out at 9999, so when I went over that, it was kind of a big deal on the platform.
At the same time, I was also seeing success in my real-life racing career, so it made a lot of sense for us to team up, and it’s been a growing partnership ever since. Over the years we’ve developed a great relationship with Tony and the rest of the iRacing team, so with this latest agreement it was something where I essentially put Niece Motorsports in contact with them to work out the details.
PRI: Entering into this sponsorship, what were the goals for each side? What did you hope to gain?
Gardner: Rather than specific targets, I think we’re really looking to tell the story of Ty’s racing success in both the virtual world and the real world—how skills in iRacing can translate to competitiveness in the real world.
We also want to do a lot of social media engagement, have him on our podcast, and have him host some races on the service so he can interact with the community directly. But more than that, Ty serves as sort of an ambassador to the service, showing folks how talent in the simulator can be applied to real-world racing.
Majeski: I think for iRacing it’s a great situation to have them on the truck—if you’re watching a race you’re probably already into racing, so they’re capturing the attention of people who are likely to be interested in the product already.
It’s also a cool story to tell. They’ve helped me out all along the way—I cut my teeth in short-track events on the iRacing service while simultaneously competing in the real world, and I would not be where I am today without their support on my Late Model program.
PRI: What deliverables and/or assets are included in the agreement?
Majeski: Along with the race hosting and things like that, we want to stay on top of the social media engagement—posting about practicing a particular track in preparation for an upcoming race, for instance. But there aren’t specific targets there. You can’t shove content down people’s throats; you have to understand what your audience responds to and strategize based on that, so we have to be careful that we’re not overdoing it in that regard. There’s a balance. And, of course, they’re going to be on my Late Model car again for this year.
Gardner: Right now, the focus is really on brand awareness more than anything else, and that’s largely told by stories like Ty’s and William Byron’s. Engagement is important, both through social media and through the iRacing service, along with the podcast and race hosting, but a lot of things are on hold right now because of the current situation.
PRI: That’s certainly understandable—and in that regard, has COVID-19’s impact on the racing season necessitated any changes to the sponsorship agreement?
Majeski: Things are obviously a bit complicated right now, as they are all throughout the industry. The plan is to get back to racing when we’re allowed to do so and hold up our end of the deal. They’ll be on the truck for the final race of the season in Phoenix, and some of the races they’re sponsoring are already scheduled for later on in the race season calendar. The guys at iRacing have been really flexible about the situation—they’re really good guys, [and] there’s definitely a mutual sense of trust there.
Gardner: We had some good conversations with Niece Motorsports—we’re going to work with them the best we can to try and deliver value from the agreement. We want to support the teams and support racing of all types, so we’re going to try and work it out through some different races and see how it goes from there.
Because we are the virtual series that a lot of these racers are competing in now, we’re getting quite a bit of press already. We haven’t really asked Ty to run the iRacing brand in the virtual events—he can go out and make new relationships for the team if he wants to do that. We haven’t pushed that issue at all.
At the end of the day, it doesn’t make much of a difference if one or two cars in the race are running the brand—the whole show is already covered with iRacing branding. I think we’re really just going to wait until real racing gets underway again and figure out the best approach at that point. (Editor’s note: NASCAR released its updated 2020 Truck Series schedule in late April, shortly after this interview was conducted.)
PRI: What does “success” for this agreement look like?
Gardner: I think for us it’s about him doing well. That doesn’t mean Ty has to win every race, but doing well and representing us well is how we would define success here.
Majeski: We definitely hope to provide iRacing with more exposure. They’ve seen a big jump in membership this year, so it’s nice to actually see something positive come out of all of this, and it’s been really neat for me to be a small part of their program and their growth.
The goal is to get as many people into iRacing as we can, and the most effective way to do that is to make your fans aware of it—whether that’s the audience watching on TV or my followers on Twitter, Instagram, and Facebook. If you can get people who like racing to try iRacing, there’s a pretty good chance that they’re going to like that, too.