Editor’s note:  Last week we learned of Indiana Club’s Day at the Races at the FASTRACK karting center in Indianapolis.  We would be remiss in not reporting that Carolina Club recently enjoyed its own get-together in Charlotte, one that included a visit to the JR Motorsports shop, the NASCAR Hall of Fame and, later, the Whisky River club.  The highlight of the day had to be the iRacing Carolina Club Challenge, where club members squared-off for some online racing competition at Martinsville Speedway using the Hall of Fame’s full-bodied, state-of-the-art simulators — equipped with iRacing software, of course.

Instead of stepping from their personal vehicles or helicopters into the air of a Virginia spring and the welcoming smell of the famous Martinsville hotdog, competitors and their families were treated to the warmth and excitement contained within the walls of the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Charlotte, North Carolina.  In a setting where weather and track temperatures had no effect on the drivers and their race cars, almost 40 members of the iRacing Carolina Club saw their virtual and real worlds collide for a few short hours as they took to the famed “paper-clip” shaped Martinsville Speedway for the 1st Annual Carolina Club Challenge.

The Carolina Club Challenge attracted dozens of iRacers to the NASCAR Hall of Fame for a day of site-seeing and sim racing.

As early as the initial drivers’ meeting, it was clear that Midland, NC resident Parker Hammons came to win.  When he and his Carolina Club brethren climbed aboard the Hall of Fame’s impressive array of iRacing equipped, full-bodied stock car racing simulators for a shot-gun style qualifying session, Hammons set the bar extremely high for the competition by using one of his five allotted laps to run a 20.038 second lap, thus securing both the pole position and a guaranteed starting spot in the 50 lap main event.  The next fastest qualifying time belonged to Justin Boston whose satisfaction with earning the only other guaranteed starting spot in the big show did not go unnoticed.

Following qualifying, and with 12 of the 14 starting spots in the main event still very much up-for-grabs, each of the remaining 33 racers were slotted into one of three heat races based on their qualifying times.  With no “LCQ” (Last Chance Qualifier) on the racing docket, the heat races, at distances of 50 laps apiece, provided spectators with extremely exciting racing as drivers battled door-to-door for one of the final four transfer spots that each race afforded.  The competition remained incredibly tight but respectful and clean throughout the course of the heat races, and as the checkered flag waved over each of the competitors,  so too did a wave of emotion.  Rock Hill, South Carolina’s David Hutto, Tyler Mckinney of Clemmons, NC and David Trogdon of Winston Salem each emerged from the cockpits of their simulators to applause as the victors of their respective heat races.  The look of relief and excitement on their faces was contagious to all since they would live to race another day in the form of the main event.  But for others who failed to qualify and were relegated to a spectator’s role in the main event, the unmistakable look of disappointment was clearly evident on their faces and in their mannerisms.

The competition featured the NASCAR Hall of Fame's unique full-bodied race simulators.

The sadness and frustration were all short-lived however, as conversation, laughter and the incredible camaraderie between Carolina Club members took the forefront.  As Hall of Fame’s Chief Steward made final preparations to the starting line-up and drivers discussed final race strategies, the anticipation grew to an almost tangible level.  For 14 drivers who had been thinking about and preparing for this day for months and who had temporarily traded in the sanctity of their own racing simulator set-ups for the impressive but different set-ups made available by the NASCAR Hall of Fame and iRacing, the moment had come – it was race time!

With a reputed purse of over $150, the main event was slated for 50 short but grueling laps; cautions were turned off and in the unlikely event of serious contact and/or damage the drivers could elect for a “fast-tow” that would put them back into their pit stall to repair the damage that their race car has sustained.

There was more on the line than just pride in the Carolina Challenge!

The racing action started as soon as the iRacing/FIRST Ford Mustang Pace Car ducked onto pit road and the green flag waved.  Outside Pole Sitter and second fastest qualifier Boston cautiously and cordially abandoned the two-wide battle before he and pole-sitter Hammons ever got to Turn One on the first lap.  When Boston elected to tuck-in behind Hammons’ rear bumper and wait for a mistake, Hammons was able to set sail on the field and never look back.  Further back in the field, the initial green flag did not signify the same give and take exhibited by the front row starters.  Fenders quickly crinkled and bent in typical short-track racing fashion as the battle for running room and track position came to a rapid boil.  Known for being the smallest track the NASCAR Sprint Cup and the NASCAR iRacing Class A Series visits, Martinsville Speedway, at just over half a mile, is also known for being a place where paint gets traded and tempers can fluctuate with the wind.  Even Carolina Club Manager and mentor David Cater could not avoid Martinsville’s legacy as he and Ricky Hardin made incidental contact early in the going, forcing them to pit road for reset and repairs.

With each passing lap drivers got more and more comfortable with their simulators and surroundings.  This newfound familiarity, evident in the second half of the race, had a calming effect on the competitors as several laps clicked off without incident.  Hammons stayed in easy command of the lead while the battle intensified within the rest of the top five.  Brian McCann, who started the main event from the sixth position, slowly and methodically began passing his fellow competitors with his sights set on the leader.  With just a handful of laps remaining, McCann concentrated on hitting his marks and chewing into the almost two second lead enjoyed by Hammons while, half of a straightaway behind, Boston came under heavy fire from his fellow Carolina Club mates.  After several laps of door-to-door excitement that brought nearly every spectator in the house to their feet, Boston watched a promising podium finish slip through his fingers as he could no longer hold-off the hard charging advances of Joshua Fennel.

As the checkered flag fell on the 1st Annual Carolina Club Challenge, Hammons put an exclamation point on a day’s worth of dominance by leading all 50 laps of the main event en route to victory.  McCann emerged from his cockpit with a bead of sweat on his brow and a second place finish to show for all of his hard work while,  after some late race heroics and good racing, Fennell took the final place on the podium.

To the victor go the spoils: inaugural Carolina Challenge winner Parker Hammons with some his booty.

For their efforts, our podium finishers were treated to some nice prizes and schwag provided by the fine folks at iRacing.  Race winner Hammons hoisted the first ever Carolina Club Challenge trophy and received $75 iRacing Credits for his effort; runner-up McCann and third place Fennel took home $50 and $25 iRacing Credits respectively.

With the podium and trophy presentations complete, event organizers Jeff Addison and Scott Brotherton got down to the serious business of the random drawing prizes.  In addition to the generous hats and t-shirts courtesy of iRacing, there were two big ticket items that had everyone holding their breath.  The first prize of a Crew Chief Membership to the NASCAR Hall of Fame that went to Andy Carpenter.  Ray Farlow luckily received the next and more sought-after gift, an ASUSTek 3D Action Monitor complete with NVIDIA 3D Vision Glasses!!

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