Red Sox Owner’s Simulation Startup, iRacing.com, Waves the Green Flag

8/28/08Follow @wroush

In Boston and Seattle, the professional sports teams aren’t just for entertainment—they’re managed by some of the biggest movers and shakers in the two regions’ high-tech economies. In the Seattle area, the Seahawks and the Portland Trail Blazers are part of Vulcan Inc., owned by Microsoft co-founder Paul Allen. The Kraft Group, owner of the New England Patriots, has built one of the NFL’s most advanced websites and has spun off a startup, Matchmine, that’s doing pathbreaking work in the area of online content and shopping recommendations. Many of the Banner 17, the group of financiers that owns the Boston Celtics, are partners at Boston-area venture capital and private equity firms. Over at the Red Sox, pitcher Curt Schilling is the founder of 38 Studios, which is building a massively multiplayer online (MMO) adventure game set to debut in 2011.

And now you can add one more connection between the sports and high-tech worlds. Yesterday marked the public debut of iRacing.com, an Internet-based auto racing simulation system created by John Henry, principal owner of the Red Sox and co-owner of Roush (no relation to me) Fenway Racing, and Dave Kaemmer, co-founder of Papyrus Design Group, which developed several of the best known PC racing games, including NASCAR Racing: 2003 Season and Grand Prix Legends. (In 1995 Papyrus became part of Sierra Entertainment, which was long headquartered in Bellevue, WA.)

The Bedford, MA, company has been working on its simulation—which combines PC-based software with a subscription-based Internet service that allows participants to race against each other—since 2004. The company has a staff of 42, half in Bedford and half (primarily digital artists and software engineers) working remotely, according to Scott McKee, iRacing’s vice president of marketing. If you’re familiar with the way most big commercial videogames are developed these days, you’ll realize that 42 is a tiny number; major console and PC games like 2K Boston’s Bioshock or Electronic Arts’ Spore (which comes out September 7) involve hundreds of developers and artists and have Hollywood-scale production and marketing budgets.

Mazda -- iRacingBut iRacing goes out of its way to explain that its simulation system is not a game, and isn’t being produced or marketed like one. “I wouldn’t go so far as to say that ‘game’ is a four-letter word to us, but we don’t think of ourselves as a game company,” says McKee. “What we offer is really the world’s most sophisticated commercially available racing simulation, conceived and designed with a very discriminating customer in mind—professional racers. We want to create a software package that will help them learn new tracks, hone their skills, or knock off the rust if they’ve been out of the car for a while. It’s really a driver development tool.”

McKee says he used iRacing to learn his way around Virginia International Raceway—one of two dozen tracks currently available in the simulation—before going there to participate in an amateur race. “I’d never driven the track before,” McKee says. “I spent about half an hour a day for three weeks driving the sim in a comparable car, and when I got there I was immediately up to speed.” So to speak.

Of course, you don’t have to be a real-world racer to use iRacing.com. On Tuesday, after a month of beta testing and two months in invitation-only mode, the company opened its simulations to anyone 13 or over who has a credit card, a Windows PC (sorry, Mac users), a broadband Internet connection, and a wheel-and-pedal set. (These PC accessories are available from joystick and mouse manufacturers such as Logitech and Microsoft.) Subscriptions cost … Next Page »

Wade Roush is Chief Correspondent and Editor At Large at Xconomy. You can subscribe to his Google Group or e-mail him at wroush@xconomy.com. Follow @wroush

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  • chris

    Nascar2003 and GPL (Grand Prix Legends) are NOT console games. They are for the PC platform.

  • http://www.xconomy.com/author/wroush/ Wade Roush

    I’ve corrected that information in the story. Thanks, Chris.

  • Graham

    My thoughts are that after some initial interest, this expensive venture will never have enough customers to make enough money and that it will die a slow death .

  • FHLH

    With products like rfactor that allow you to race many forms of autosport for FREE via community led mods…. this will die a QUICK death… not a slow one :)
    156 bux a year… plus the addtional fees for addtional tracks, no thanks!

  • JS

    This Sim Blows them out of the water hands down.{You get what you pay for}.
    Just ask the thousands that already signed on.My final thought,stay with the other so called sims and race with the kiddies.
    And let the Bigboys Roll!!

  • Andrew

    You can continue to play inferior sims based on weak physics code and user developed add ons which are not accurate in their own right. Or you can step up and pay the money and race iRacing, its your loss. The sim is far superior to anything on the market, hands down. Been doing this since 1996 and nothing comes close. PERIOD.

  • MN

    My thoughts are this if the pro’s like Brad Kesolowski, AJ Almindinger, Dale Jr. think its the bomb why would you think it would die at all, I had the chance to race against AJ and it was all fun but serious at the same time. It’s as close to real as real can get being an internet based racing Sim and the handle of the cars is remarkable

  • http://www.flickr.com/photos/quigleyhome/ John Quigley

    You know what…… I think… who cares if you like or dislike this Sim racing… be thankful you live here in the USA… just about 10 -12 years ago you guys were like me still pushing Hot wheels around a circle track made of carpet…. enough of that crap…. I just love the idea that I can at anytime sit at my computer and race… and have fun.. and pay if I want to, or NOT!! I am doing both… Lighten up guys ” its still a game”..and I love Racing just like you!!!! for what its worth….