March 17th, 2016 by Paul Slavonik
As the 2016 iRace4Life.org iRacing Seminar Presented by Inside Sim Racing approaches, I sat down with the founder of iRace4Life, Sion Alford, to discuss the history and purpose of the organization as well as what’s in store for this year’s conference.
Whether it be for an adrenaline rush, the spirit of competition, simple fun or pure excitement, we all have our reasons for getting behind the wheel and participating in sim-racing. For some, it’s an escape from reality while for others, a cheaper alternative to real racing.
Regardless of our purposes, we as sim racers oftentimes walk away from the virtual racing world with more than what we bargained for. Aside from the thrill of racing virtually identical race cars on digital versions of some of the best racing circuits in the world, it’s not uncommon for us sim-racers to also build relationships which last a lifetime or simply develop our current friendships through the camaraderie which comes from motorsports.
With iRacing being a global service, however, we oftentimes never get the chance to actually meet the people we race with. Although tools such as TeamSpeak allow us to communicate freely all over the world, being able to meet your friends, fellow competitors or even bitter rivals face-to-face in addition to meeting and greeting the new faces who are just entering the world of sim-racing is a very rare experience.
There is a place, however, which hosts the largest gathering of sim racers in the United States where some come from all over the world to meet, greet and race. That place is the annual iRace4Life.org Conference in Dallas, TX.
The Founder of iRace4Life.org, Sion Alford, who is also a Pastor at Gateway Church where the iRace4Life Conference is held every year, sat down with me to share the origins and purpose of the organization as well as where his passion for racing all began.
“My family has a background in racing,” said Alford. “Being from Florida, my dad comes from a family that owned a dealership so he would build hot rods and they’d go down to watch the Daytona 500 back when it was on the beach.
“When they opened the speedway up, he was there so as a kid growing up, we went to Daytona every year.”
Looking back a little further, Sion recalls a particular memory which arguably put NASCAR on the map.
“I was actually at the race where Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison got into the fight.”
Pointing to the wall behind me, Sion indicated to a picture he has in his office of the historic brawl from 1979.
“Now you know how old I am.”
A true veteran of sim racing, Alford recalls the time when he first got bit by the figurative sim-racing bug long before their were digital replicas of tracks and cars.
“I started sim-racing back when I found a Papyrus title in a computer store. It turned out to be the original NASCAR Papy title. I started racing then and then when it went online, I was racing and was doing that in the Hawaii days. I went through all of their iterations until, of course, they shut the doors.
“From there, I went into the rFactor stuff and some of the mods there like SCE (Stock Car Evolution). I was racing that for a couple of years until I was able to get into iRacing around 2008. So right when they opened their doors to the public, I was standing in line ready to do it.”
The birth of iRace4Life
Sometimes the greatest ideas which impact the most people are born in a very short amount of time. As it so happens, Alford’s next sim racing journey would go on to impact the lives of hundreds if not thousands of people all over the world.
“It had to be five years ago now,” said Alford. “It was Christmas break and I had a week off and I decided that I wanted to paint my (virtual) car. So I was in and I was putting sponsors on the car and I thought about putting things like Titleist or musical stuff because I’m a musician. Then I’d do out and go around the track and people would see it but I thought that it’s such a waste.
“What if I could put something on there that actually said something that would actually benefit the iRacing community as well as help people. My job is being in the ministry full-time. I love helping people. I just felt like the Lord said to do something that’s gonna help people so the name popped into my head – iRace4Life.”
With an initial goal of simply raising awareness of non-profit organizations, Alford explained that the entire basis of iRace4Life is giving.
“I thought what if we we’re able to raise awareness for that and put this thing called iRace4Life.org on a race car. You go to our website and join up and basically say that you want to give to a non-profit every time you win a race.”
In a nutshell, a membership in iRace4Life means that “Every time we win, we’re helping somebody.”
Racing for a reason
As it states on the iRace4Life.org website, “Every time an iRace4Life.org member wins a race on iRacing.com, the iRace4Life.org member donates money to a charity or non-profit of their choice providing help for those in need.”
Says Alford, “Now, that feeling of winning is not just ‘Hey, I won. Now what?’ Now when people win, they can go to the website, register their win and then go to the website of their choice of whoever they want to give to – American Red Cross, American Cancer Society – whatever non-profit they chose and they can donate money directly to that organization and then report that on our site so we can keep track of it.”
A membership with iRace4Life is free and they offer three brackets of giving ranging from $5, $10 to $15 per race win. However, Alford also stated that members can give however much they’re able to give.
“We have guys that give $100 every time they win a race and we have guys that give $1. You can sign up and commit to giving a certain amount of money. It doesn’t necessarily have to be one of those three brackets.”
To date, members of iRace4Life have logged 1,065 wins and have collectively donated $12,686 to various non-profit organizations.
I won. Where’s my money?
With the knowledge that professional drivers all over the world make large sums of money from their victories on the track (along with a handful of top-tiered sim racers), many in the sim racing community initially thought that the idea of giving after winning was a bit unorthodox.
“I think a lot of people thought that it was kind of backwards,” said Alford. “They say, ‘I thought I’m supposed to get money when I win?’ At first, nobody complained because obviously you didn’t have to join.
“I personally come from understanding what [the Bible] says about giving in that you’re actually more blessed when you give than when you receive. The guys that join realize that giving is a seed and it also blesses and helps other people.”
Although the organization of iRace4Life.org had been a tremendous success, Alford, along with several sim-racers in the Dallas/Fort Worth Metroplex, realized that there was a strong contingent of iRacers in the area. Like many clubs in iRacing, the Texas club enjoys getting together regularly so the idea of an iRacing ‘conference’ so to speak, soon took form. With Alford an employee at Gateway Church, merging the two organizations together seemed natural.
“I realized that there wasn’t an iRacing event anywhere in the United States. Why not just do it here? We’ve got the facilities, we’ve got the technical ability to pull it off.”
Looking back to the first conference a few years ago, Alford commented on how far things have come since that time.
Says Alford, “At first, it was just David Cater and a couple of us (Texas) guys doing classes. Obviously David is premier and he was the guy we kind of reached out to and brought in all the way from South Carolina. That was a real risky move because I knew David online but I didn’t know him personally. Come to find out, he’s one of my best friends now.”
With guest speakers now ranging from the President of iRacing.com, Tony Gardner, to the Texas Motor Speedway President, Eddie Gossage, along with sim racing stars such as Ray Alfalla, Wyatt Gooden and the broadcasting powerhouse of Inside Sim Racing who will be live streaming parts of the event, the iRace4Life conference continues to grow with no end in sight.
2016 iRace4Life.org iRacing Seminar Presented by Inside Sim Racing
iRacers who’ve participated in previous iRace4Life seminars may notice a few changes to the layout this year. The tournaments will continue but there will be more competition between people who have the same skill levels to ensure that everyone has a shot at winning.
Prizes and giveaways up for grabs this year consist of the “boat load” of gear from Thrustmaster along with gear from Derek Speare Designs, Z1 Software, iAnalyze Racing, iRacing credits and the grand prize of $5,000 worth of store credits at Main Performance PC. Additionally, SimXperience will have a full Stage IV motion chassis up for demo.
Although participants are encouraged to bring their own racing rigs, many people who are traveling are not able to do so. No need to worry, however, as the conference will have at least seven rigs set up for iRacers to use during tournaments including the SimXperience rig which will feature an AccuForce wheel.
Aside from famous guest speakers and a chance to walk away with great prizes, the iRace4Life conference is also a chance for everyday people to hit the brakes on the rush of life for a few days and kick back with their fellow sim racers (along with a few real racers) and learn about their craft.
Whether you come for the tournaments, the prizes, the fellowship, the free food or to simply show off your ultimate racing rig, the iRace4Life Conference is the place to be for sim-racers.
“The goal is to get iRacers all together,” said Alford. “We’re all passionate about this hobby. So let’s get ’em together, fellowship and have a good time being around each other.
“I think the ultimate goal would be that everyone who comes just gets blessed and walks out a better person.”
For a quick recap of last year’s conference, check out this video by Inside Sim Racing.