We got an unexpected week off from the NASCAR PEAK Antifreeze Series this week since the new mega-awesome build was released on Tuesday. We got three weeks off after Phoenix, meaning Darlington and Chicago will be back to back, so I decided to take the extra time to have a chat with my buddy Nick Ottinger and talk about the past four years running in iRacing’s top Oval series.
Matt Holden: I gave you these questions a week ago…but you haven’t thought about your answers at all?
Nick Ottinger: That’s right, I just finished watching the football game!
MH: Who won?
MH: I don’t really–
NO: The team that’s been in the news for months…just ask me a question haha
MH: Okay, probably a good idea. When did you join iRacing?
NO: May 2010
MH: 2010, so you were…16 years old then?
NO: 15, my 16th birthday was about a month later
MH: This was your first PC sim, right?
NO: Yes it was. I had Gran Turismo 5 and NASCAR 09 on the PS3 before iRacing came along.
MH: What brought you to the site?
NO: I used to run in a league with Mr. Mike Conti, believe it or not. I can’t remember the name…ROCS or something like that? Sounds good. I can’t remember when I started that, but I ran NASCAR 09 for a while and we raced against each other a lot. I read something about iRacing and talked to him about it, he said he was already subscribed and I joined to give it a shot.
MH: Is that why you have #05? Conti fan?
NO: Next question please.
MH: Do you remember your first win?
NO: The day after I joined. Legend car at Lanier. I ran so many legends races, I was on every single day. I nearly won the second race I ran but I was just a rookie back then and gave it away.
MH: So you eventually graduated from Legends and started running the Street Stock at some point
NO: Man Street Stocks are so fun…
MH: If I remember it correctly, you had the record for the most points scored in a 12-week season winning the Street Stock championship. With all the cars available, why did you put your focus on that specific car and not the Late Model or NASCAR cars?
NO: Well, honestly, I was running on a laptop at the time and the graphics card could handle the smaller tracks! That was a big part, but I really liked how you had to drive the Street Stock. I ran the Late Model before the Street Stock, but I just liked how the Street Stock was “different”. It was fun to drive. I remember going into Street Stock races and winning them so often that I was like “Yay. I won.” Eventually I started playing around with CG (Cale Gale) and he said, “Hey man, I’m gonna start up a team.” He started asking how serious I was about this, but I didn’t know what the Pro Series was at the time.
MH: That was actually my next question. I was curious how you got roped into Cale’s idea for a team.
NO: Yep, it was running street stocks. He just started talking about putting a good team together and it sounded good to me so I joined him.
MH: When I came on board at GFR, you were already in the Class A series. I had no idea who you were, Cale just kept saying, “He’s won a Street Stock championship, he’s gunning for Pro”. Did you go through the C/B/A cars in that order? They never mentioned anything you’d done in Trucks or the Nationwide/Xfinity cars.
NO: I went straight from Street Stocks to Cup actually. I never really raced the Truck or Class B cars seriously, just enough to get promoted to a Class A license.
MH: That’s quite a jump. I remember our first race together was in Season 3 of 2011, Class A series at Atlanta. I wasn’t with a specific driver, I was the team’s data analyst at the time, I just started feeding you data in the race and you won that race. Then you went on a tear through the Class A series all the way to Pro. Did you expect to carry that momentum from Class A to Pro at all, or did you expect that you’d have to build up the respect before you even had a chance?
NO: I didn’t expect to do well at all. I knew if I could just focus and challenge myself, I would do alright. I just pushed myself to do better in each race and tried to finish as well as I could. I expected to at least challenge and be competitive here and there. I didn’t expect to win, to be honest. I hadn’t been part of a team before, so I was still learning how it all worked.
The next question pertains to Race #11 of the 2011 NASCAR Pro Series, which was run at Michigan. It’s not really well known, even among the members of GFR, but that specific race was the “Milk & Cookies” race for Nick and myself. His car was set up by someone else and it was absolutely terrible, and since almost every GFR car had the setup, it is still the worst performance of Gale Force Racing as a whole. The frustration over the car’s poor performance resulted in a vulgarity-laden fight, mid-race, between Nick and myself. I eventually had to get Cale into our Teamspeak channel, which then turned it into a three-person fight. Nick’s response to Cale’s question, “What’s going on with the car?” was a simple four-letter word typically reserved for painful injuries, and did nothing but fuel the fight going on.
For the next race, the final race at Kentucky, Nick built his own setup from scratch with no outside intervention. That race changed how both of us approach races, and even today it’s used as an example for our drivers new to the Pro Series.
MH: The Michigan race…
NO: That race…
MH: That seemed like your turning point. You’d won two races, then we had a meltdown mid-race. BIG meltdown. What did that do to change how you approach the races?
NO: That made me learn to stop being a baby. I was really selfish before that race, and I needed to get a grasp on what I was doing, learn the cars. Obviously were didn’t have any of that, we ran the worst car ever in that race. I learned to just put more time and focus into the cars themselves, and be more effective week-to-week. I didn’t practice for Michigan at all, and it showed.
MH: But you did well at Kentucky in the car you built yourself and moved on to, then, the Driver’s World Championship. You get the WC license and a month off before Daytona. However, you missed that race, why was that?
NO: I had…unpleasant…words with a certain driver. Sorta lost my WC license for two weeks.
MH: But then, the second race–
NO: We won!
MH: Yes! I remember you said, as you came through the last turn on the last lap, “I can’t believe this. Can you believe this? We won the first race.” How long did it take for it to set in that you’d won in the highest series iRacing offers?
NO: I still can’t believe it. I couldn’t believe the cars crashed on the restart right in front of me and I got the lead. We ran well, but I was beside myself. To be honest, it still hasn’t really set in.
MH: A lot of drivers have early success and then lose it. They can’t get back to what they were. You haven’t done that, how did you keep your head on straight and keep going?
NO: It didn’t change how I approached the races, really. I won a race, but I didn’t let it get to me, I wanted to win more. I was just really happy that I’d won a race again. I just wanted to do well, none of us were sure how we won the first race, so it didn’t change how I went about everything.
MH: But then you go on to win more that season, a record six wins in 2013, and then in 2014 we started getting behind. Cars weren’t great, luck wouldn’t play in your favor, and the first half of 2015 was a disaster. Halfway through the Indianapolis race, you told me the car was terrible and that we couldn’t fix it at all. But despite that, you won the race in a car that wasn’t good enough to really go out and win, then suddenly everything turns around. You went from angry to “Move outta my way.” What happened that turned it around for you?
NO: After getting suspended from the Michigan race, I basically stopped caring. I wasn’t sure if I was going to run past the end of 2015, I didn’t know what to do anymore. I asked myself if I should even keep racing, but I qualified in the back at Kentucky and drove up to the top 5. I started thinking, “Whatever happens, happens”. My mindset changed to “Just go out and do the best I can. Don’t be stupid, but just do as best as I can.” I was getting ticked off at Indy, and I just went for it late in that race, it worked out.
MH: Let’s move away from the doom ‘n gloom and look at how you go about these races. My pre-race rituals are well known at GFR. Everyone knows I don’t talk to anybody within about 5 hours before the race, we don’t talk until just after qualifying. Do you do anything like that, any pre-race things you always do?
NO: I’m in a practice session right up to qualifying, mainly to just make the rounds with everyone, chat with the drivers, wish everyone good luck. As far as myself, just whatever I need to just calm down, relax, and figure out whatever I need to do in the race. Nothing out of the ordinary, really.
MH: What is it like from when you grid up to when the green flag is dropped in these races?
NO: I guess I just get ready, get pumped for the race
MH: So you just get ready for the race? No way. I KNOW THAT. Let me put it this way: If I’m running a kart race, the pace lap is a constant analysis of who’s around me, looking at the flagman, making sure I’m comfortable. I’ve got someone bumping into me coming to the green, I’m watching the guy in front to go. That stuff. I kind of figured you were “getting ready” for the race.
NO: Oh, I follow ya now! I just make sure everything’s in order, like make sure my button box is in reach, my chair is comfortable, wheel’s attached to the desk. I look and see who’s around me, but at this point I’m pretty comfortable with everyone else in the series and racing around them. I just process who’s there and what they tend to do. These days we’ve done it so much that I don’t really think about it anymore.
MH: I had planned to ask you what the first 10 laps are like for you, but with the new build and Dynamic Tracks it’s probably going to be an unknown heading into Darlington.
NO: Yeah, it’s going to be a toss-up as to what we have for Darlington. I may try to think about it, but it’s a big unknown now. My answer will be better in about a month, haha.
MH: For sure. What’s your favorite track? Any track, not necessarily an oval.
NO: It’s definitely not an oval, so we can eliminate all those. I really like Watkins Glen. I like the whole track, any layout, it’s just fun. I really liked running Montreal in other games, but I haven’t gotten it on iRacing yet. I really like running Canadian Tire Motorsports Park, too!
MH: What track do you hate?
NO: Michigan. Not even joking, I hate the Michigan we have. I’ll probably like it if we get the new repaved version, but I really don’t like the version we have. (Ironically, neither of us have ever liked Michigan at all)
MH: Any tracks you like, but you’re really bad at ?
NO: Pfffffftttt…..probably Kentucky and Daytona. I like those tracks, I’m just bad at driving around them. Kentucky reminds me of Michigan and, like I said, I can’t stand that place.
MH: If there were no “black-stripe” series, what would you be running on iRacing?
NO: Late Models…I guess. I have no idea, there’s so many cars out now it’s hard to know. I’d probably be playing way more Battlefield and Call of Duty if those series don’t exist.
MH: What’s the worst moment of your sim-racing career?
NO: I’d say Las Vegas this year when Kenny [Humpe] and I got together. I was shocked that I just turned the car into the wall and destroyed it. I just got behind on the spin and made a mistake. I haven’t overcorrected to that extent before and the whole thing really caught me off guard.
MH: Best moment?
NO: It’s a toss-up between getting the lead at Indy and leading the whole race at Watkins Glen. Those were pretty awesome, but I can’t give a definitive answer as to which was better. They were both awesome in their own way.
MH: Final question. Someone joins iRacing tomorrow, what’s the biggest piece of advice you give them?
NO: Be patient. Take your time and learn to drive at your own pace, but still challenge yourself. There’s so many things, but patience is big.
MH: Alright, that’s all I got for ya. Thank you!
NO: Thank you! Can I go back to working on Darlington now?