One of iRacing’s most popular features is its in-game paint booth. iRacing gives us the opportunity to paint the cars we run in whatever way we want to, plus they provide us a list of sponsors to use on the cars. Obviously, iRacing can’t give members every single sponsor they might want, so because of that, many iRacers custom-paint their cars. Without the iRacer featured in this article, however, none of that would be possible.

22 year old Steve Luvender, from eastern Pennsylvania, is one of the most famous iRacers on iRacing — but not for the reason you might think. A sim-racer since 1996, Luvender’s first ever racing sim was NASCAR Racing 2.  But since joining in 2009, iRacing has been the only sim he has used.  That same year, iRacing announced that members would be able to use custom schemes on their cars.  The following year, Steve Luvender founded Trading Paints, the site many iRacers use to share, use and see custom paint schemes in the sim. In my exclusive interview with Steve, he talked about his sim-racing career, Trading Paints, and what we can look forward to…

Q:    How long have you been sim racing?
A:    I’ve been sim racing for about 15 years — as long as I can remember.

Q:    How did you get started in iRacing?
A:    iRacing is the only sim I’ve used since I signed up in 2009. I joined since a few friends were part of the initial private beta — they had nothing but great things to say. A few YouTube videos of the racing action showed exactly what I was missing. I’d recommend iRacing to anyone who’d like to get started in sim-racing — it’s hands down the best racing sim with the greatest online community.

Q:    Which race car driver do you look up to the most?
A:    That’s a good question, and one I’ve never been asked before. I admire drivers who can persevere through tough times and maintain a positive, sportsmanlike attitude on and off the track. Since I’m more of an oval racer, I think a good example of that is someone like Elliott Sadler, who took a realistic look at his career in the Cup Series and decided he’d do a “reboot” and start over in the Nationwide Series with a good team.  Now he’s more successful than ever. I admire that he was able to be humble enough to not let his ego get in the way — the true racer inside of him wanted to compete for wins instead of 20th place finishes.

Off the track, I’d say Dale Earnhardt Jr. He does a lot of great things for people, and he has a genuine interest and care for others. He was a big supporter of Trading Paints when we first started out, and I can comfortably say that we wouldn’t be where we are right now without him. I hope someday I’m in a position where I can give back to others in the way Dale does.

Q:    What type of hobbies do you do outside of iRacing?
A:    Admittedly, I don’t have many hobbies outside of iRacing. I do enjoy playing Ultimate Frisbee, and I started taking up running recently. I’ve always wanted to give go-karting a shot, but it seems kind of expensive to start out. Sim-racing is ideal for that reason, too — it only costs a few dollars per month for an iRacing subscription, compared to thousands to race at even the lowest level. As a bonus, I don’t need any technical knowledge of cars, either (though I’d love to learn).

I also enjoy Web and graphic design. I’ve always tried to mesh my professional endeavors and my hobbies.

Q:    What was the name of your first ever racing sim?
A:    I started with NASCAR Racing 2 when I was just seven years old. I’ve been hooked from the day my Dad brought the game home from the store. Sims sure have come a long way since then!

Q:    What is one long term goal that you hope to still accomplish in iRacing?
A:    In terms of racing, I’d like to become a better loser. In league races, if something happens, I’m known as the guy who disconnects immediately. I need to work on keeping my head in the race and trying to salvage a good finish, even if it means I can’t win.

Outside of actual racing, I hope to keep working to make Trading Paints a better service for everyone, and find ways to get more drivers involved. Right now, we have 15,000 active iRacers who are enhancing their experience in the sim through custom paint schemes.  We want to find ways to get word out to the other two-thirds of the drivers that it’s actually very simple to customize your car beyond the in-sim paint booth. Our lead programmer -Shawn Brant – is committed to working with me to create the best experience possible for everyone, and we’ve got a lot of great ideas up our sleeves for the next few racing seasons and beyond.

“It’s impossible for me to thank everyone who has contributed and supported us –“

Q:    What type of racing do you like to watch on TV?
A:    I’ll watch any type of racing, but I’ve been a lifelong NASCAR fan. Most recently, I started getting into rally-cross racing after attending the event at New Hampshire Motor Speedway in July. I think a true racing fanatic will watch any type of racing at any time.

Q:    How do you think your fellow iRacers see you?
A:    On the track, I think people see me as respectful and clean. I’m not the fastest guy around, but I’ll always give other people room and race people the way I want to be raced. I’ve also developed sort of a reputation in one of the leagues I race — Average Joes Racing Series — as the guy who gets loose sometimes but can save almost anything. I live by the famous saying: “To finish first, you must first finish.” I need to work on the finishing first part next.

Off the track, I’m the guy who answers questions about Trading Paints and provides ideas and insight in the member forum.

The best attracts the best . . . 2011 NiSWC champion Ray Alfalla uses Trading Paints.

Q:    Who is Steve Luvender outside of iRacing?
A:    Outside of iRacing? Is that even possible? Joking aside, most would say I’m a very relaxed person. I’m 22 years old and live in the Lehigh Valley, PA. (If you’re nearby, give me a shout @steveluvender and maybe we can run some laps at LVGP!) By day, I’m a UX Designer/Architect for a local marketing agency; by night, I’m doing what I can to keep Trading Paints going (oops, I started talking about iRacing again). I have a cat that my girlfriend and I found on my front porch when he was just a few weeks old — before that, I had always been more of a dog person.

Q:    If there was one thing you could change about iRacing, what would it be?
A:    Mandatory membership to Trading Paints, of course!

One thing I’d really like to see is the ability for oval drivers to use their own individual numbers in official races, rather than the iRating-assigned numbers. I think the system that’s in place for practice, qualifying, and unofficial racing works well — the driver who claimed the number first gets to use it. I understand why the current system is in place, where car numbers are ordered by iRating, but I think it generally makes more sense for road racing than it does for oval racing, where a number is more of an identity than a rank of skill compared to other drivers in the race. I wouldn’t change the way it works in road racing; many real-life series order drivers by pre-determined rank or skill.

Q:    What is one thing that you love the most about iRacing?
A:    I don’t know if I can pick just one thing!

I love the balance of hosted/league racing and official racing. It’s easy for me to hop in and do a quick race almost any time I want, but at the same time, I’m able to join a league and practice and race with the same group of people each week.

I also like the responsiveness of the staff. They’re quick to answer questions and give us updates on what’s coming up and what things they’re creating. Susan Flint and the support team are excellent and very helpful. I think that’s important for a service like iRacing — it’s easy for someone who isn’t very good with computers to give up from frustration, but iRacing’s support team is great at answering questions and getting people up to speed. I actually recently talked to an iRacer in his 70s who had only owned a computer for about a year!

Q:    Overall, how do you rate your success on iRacing?
A:    In terms of racing, I’m not sure how I’d rate my success. I’d love for my iRating to be higher, and I’d really like to be a bit faster. I’m happy with my situational awareness and the ability to handle most cars, but speed is important, too.

Outside of racing, I’m satisfied with the way things are going. Trading Paints is running well and allows people to express themselves through their custom paint schemes. For some reason, my fellow iRacers named me the 2011 iRacing Member of the Year, which really means the world to me. There are a lot of amazing community members that contribute tirelessly (John Bodin comes to mind immediately), and I’m beyond flattered that some people consider me in the same company of guys like that.

“For some reason, my fellow iRacers named me the 2011 iRacing Member of the Year, which really means the world to me.”

Q:     How did Trading Paints come to be where it is today? (How did you come up w/ the idea, has anybody helped you along the way, etc.)
A:    Ready for a history lesson? In 2009, iRacing announced that in the next racing year, drivers would be able to customize their paint schemes. However, there wasn’t a way for drivers to easily share them with each other — the player’s paint scheme file would remain on his computer, and while he’d be able to see his custom paint scheme and logos in the sim, no one else would be able to see it unless it was on their computer, too. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on the forums that the community would have to find a way to exchange each other’s paint schemes, and that lit a spark in my mind.

In planning the site, there needed a perfect system for driver registration. I had to figure out a way to only allow active iRacers to sign-up, and under their own account — the site would be ineffective if they could enter someone else’s driver ID and essentially upload cars for other people. We couldn’t have a crazed fan sign-up with Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s customer ID and then control what his custom paint scheme looked like on track to others. I had the crazy idea of automatically sending an activation PM to each user through the iRacing forum, which would mean only the intended user would be able to gain access to the associated customer ID on Trading Paints. The idea worked on paper — I was then presented with the task of actually making it happen.

I talked to Shawn Brant of about the idea and showed him the plan I put together. Shawn and I had worked together on a few smaller projects before, and he had already been exploring with making RacePointsManager work with iRacing, so I was naturally drawn to talk to him. He ended-up liking the idea and joined up with me as our technical co-founder. He told me, with quite a bit of confidence, that he could make the PM activation system work. And that’s exactly what he did — we’re still using the PM activation system today, and it’s what makes Trading Paints so useful. Together, we built the first-generation Trading Paints website — drivers would upload their paint schemes to the site, and then browse through the site and download zip files of other driver’s paint schemes, which they’d have to extract manually on their computer. We’d go on to change our system quite a bit as our needs evolved.

What was that about the best attracting the best? Greger Huttu is another Trading Paints backer.

We quickly learned after launch that zip files weren’t the ideal way to go. Our server was being overloaded, and it made our site performance slow; it was inefficient for people to regularly visit the site and manually manage files. Shawn then brought up the idea of a downloading program that would grab the paint schemes off the Trading Paints server without the need to have the server create individual zip files whenever someone wanted to download cars. As most know, the Downloader was a hit right from the start. By now, we’ve had about 150,000,000 paint schemes through the Downloader.

Rather than requiring users to manually manage their files, the Downloader takes other drivers’ paint schemes from the Trading Paints server and places them exactly where they need to go on the player’s computer so that the player can see other drivers’ custom paint schemes on the track. A recent update of the Downloader increased speeds by about 40% when Shawn added some new file compression features.

Over time, we outgrew several of our servers, which racked-up an enormous cost for us. To put things in perspective, we’re still paying-off some server bills from our last provider from about a year ago. We were eclipsing 10 terabytes of downloads per month (that’s over 10,000 GB being transferred each month); as we quickly learned, bandwidth typically isn’t cheap. Thankfully, several of our generous members donated to help us out — I had been paying for Trading Paints entirely out of my (not so deep) pockets from Day 1, so the donations helped quite a bit.

Luvender trades paint on and off the virtual tracks of iRacing.

Our current server has suited us very well — we have some room to grow and bandwidth pricing is more manageable for us. We haven’t had any issues with downtime, and no real problems with speed.

iRacing has also been very helpful to us. They have been supportive of Trading Paints from the beginning, and it’s fantastic to see iRacing care about their third-party community.

Shawn doesn’t get enough credit for what he does. He spends countless hours fine-tuning things under the hood to make the uploading and downloading process as efficient as possible. Quite frankly, he’s done things that have blown my mind that I didn’t think were possible. What exists as a crazy, improbable idea in my mind acts as a challenge to Shawn, and he’s always ready to accept another one.

It’s impossible for me to thank everyone who has contributed and supported us — whether it’s through a donation, an email containing feedback, or a “Hey, thanks for Trading Paints!” from a fellow racer when I join a session. It’s so great to hear from our drivers, and it’s really motivating.

“What exists as a crazy, improbable idea in my mind acts as a challenge to Shawn . . .”

Q:     How do you personally rate the success of Trading Paints and where do you see it going down the road?
A:    I’m very pleased with the success of Trading Paints right now, and there are a lot of cool things coming down the road. When Shawn and I started this project, we hoped we could get a few hundred drivers on board — I don’t think either of us expected the growth and popularity of the service. It’s become almost a full-time job (without pay or benefits) keeping up with support emails and answering people’s questions. It’s cool to interact with our users on a personal level, and all the emails and questions are just a reminder that Trading Paints is a successful, growing service — I’m very happy with that.

Quite honestly, most have only seen the tip of the Trading Paints iceberg. Shawn and I have been working tirelessly over the past year and a half — in between managing the needs of 15,000 current users — to build a brand new website and downloader from the ground up. We have an emphasis on usability that we didn’t necessarily have in the forefront of our mind the first time around. We’ve been asking our users for their input on features they’d like to see, and I’m very confident that the redesigned website is going to be a hit.

We are going to become the one-stop resource for paint schemes, from start to finish. I can’t give away much now, but there are some seriously exciting times ahead for Trading Paints and iRacing drivers. We want to use cues from iRacing’s system and bring custom car designing to the masses. Using your own logo or design on your car is one of the greatest ways to express yourself on track, and we want to make it as easy as possible for everyone — even that gentleman in his 70s who was just starting out with iRacing.

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