Flingin’ Dirt: iRacing Dirt Racing Preview

iRacing Dirt Cushion

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The experience of attending a dirt track race is a remarkable one. There is truly something to be said about being so close to the action, that you literally get hit with clumps of dirt! One of my local tracks, Petaluma Speedway, features some great dirt racing, and has a record held by Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series driver Kyle Larson (Youngest driver to win a Sprint Car race). The 3/8 Mile circuit has offered racing just as, if not more, exciting than events held just a few miles down the road at Sonoma Raceway.

The thrill of dirt racing is looking to be captured by the latest feature to be added to iRacing, Dirt Racing. The next chapter of the online racing service looks to bring “loose surface” racing to the simulation, and is one of the most eagerly awaited racing disciplines to come to the service!

While the release is still a little ways out, Tony Gardner allowed me access to the Alpha Build of iRacing, and test out the upcoming dirt racing content. I spent a few hours testing out the cars, and I’m quite impressed with what they have so far!

NOTE: While I was allowed to test out the latest content, Tony asked for me not to share any photos/video from the Alpha builds. I will be using previously released preview shots from iRacing

Initially, I was planning on starting with a lower end car, but I noticed a hosted race with the 410 Sprint Car, the fastest dirt track car that will be available upon release, running around USA Speedway’s Dirt configuration. I decided “Why not?!” and joined the session, expecting to be thrown deep in over my head.

I used the setup one of the racers shared, and I noticed that the car was surprisingly agile and I was able to throw the car where I wanted it to go. I could tackle each lap flat out, and get a good feel for how the track was changing.

Speaking of changing track, that was one of the features I enjoyed the most with the dirt track racing. You could truly see and feel the track changing around, and that adds an extra element to the way you drive during the course of the race.

iRacing Dirt CushionThe Dirt Cushion forms as you run more and more laps, and that will play a role during the event. The cushion will move up the track as the race progresses, and you will find yourself adapting your line to try to ride the cushion. I found myself trying to ride the cushion but, with the very limited dirt experience I have, I found myself hopping the cushion, and losing traction in the loose dirt.

One thing I learned from my first time driving on dirt was that momentum is key. You want to be able to carry as much speed through the corners as possible. You will have to go “slideways” to carry speed. If you don’t slide, you won’t be going as fast as you can. If you slide too much, you’ll scrub off a lot of speed. Once you find the right balance of speed and sliding, it’s a near-euphoric experience.

The Sprint Car race ended prematurely for me, due to the fact that I had stupidly not checked the amount of fuel in the pre-made setup. In the race, you were not allowed to refuel, so I had to retire early in the event. After I bowed out, I decided to test out some of the other dirt cars.

Dirt Street Stock – One Variant

The Dirt Street Stock is one of the lower level race cars, but I found it to be one of the most challenging of the bunch. This was one of the only cars I could not drive full throttle around the tracks, and it required use of the brakes to properly navigate the track.

The car definitely could be a solid car for learning proper driving technique around a dirt track, and could reinforce the “Momentum is key” mantra.

Dirt Late Model – Three Variants (305, 358, 438)

The Dirt Late Model is an interesting car, because the car features three different variants. I first tested the 305, and the car was drivable flat out around Eldora. However, there weren’t really any surprises. The car didn’t have much power to it, so I didn’t really feel the car stepping out much out of the corner. If you carry the right amount of momentum through the corner, then you can get a good lap.

I then decided to jump over the 358, and go straight to the big kahuna, the 438. This car did provide quite a challenge! While the steering felt the same as in the 358, the added power driving the rear wheels required more precision and finesse. Because of the higher speeds, you aren’t going to want to keep the car flat out, because you’d find it all too easy to run wide and scrub off a lot of speed. If you hit your marks and get the right amount of sliding in, you will have a great time!

Dirt Winged Sprint Car – Three Variants (305, 360, 410)

Like the Dirt Late Model, the Winged Sprint Car features three configurations, with three different engine sizes. In addition, the larger the engine, the LOWER the minimum weight!

305ci – ~500 HP – 1,550 lbs
360ci – 720 HP – 1,500 lbs
410ci – 892 HP – 1,400 lbs

The 305 Sprint Car does a great job learning about the momentum required to be a fast driver. As you move up the ladder, the car gets even faster, and it gets slightly more difficult to drive. I wouldn’t say that it gets to the point of being undrivable, but the cars are definitely a challenge. Now, imagine having 20+ Sprint Cars around a 3/8-1/2 mile track! That will be CRAZY!

Closing Thoughts

iRacing has done a great job so far of recreating dirt racing in iRacing, and I see a lot of potential in it. The feeling of the cars sliding across the dirt, and the dynamic tracks changing as the race progresses, provides for one of the most dynamic experiences I’ve had in a Sim Racing environment.

I am looking forward to seeing how the Sim Racing community embraces Dirt Racing when it’s released. Unfortunately, I don’t know when Dirt will be released, but hopefully it will be this Spring!

What car are you most looking forward to driving? Let us know in the comments!

NOTE 2: I will likely do a smaller follow-up piece covering the Dirt Truck and Dirt Legends Car