William Byron's NASCAR experience comes both on and off the track
William Byron has likely spent far more time racing off the race track than on it.
That’s in large part because the 20-year-old rookie in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series gained a lot of his racing experience growing up competing in iRacing.
iRacing is a subscription-based racing simulation that simulates cars, tracks, and racing events, and enforces rules of conduct modeled on real auto racing events.
But Byron’s simulation racing doesn’t stop there.
As part of his career as a driver for Hendrick Motorsports, Byron also spends hours working in the Chevrolet Simulator in Huntersville, N.C., honing his craft with its Driver-in-the-Loop (DIL) technology.
Simulation racing is also part of Byron’s downtime entertainment. He and his HMS teammates Jimmie Johnson, Alex Bowman and Chase Elliott are pictured on the cover the new NASCAR Heat 3 racing video game.
The latest version features options to compete in the NASCAR Cup, Xfinity and Camping World Truck series, as well as on dirt tracks. The game also provides an option to manage your own team in NASCAR competition.
Motorsport.com recently talked with Byron about his take on all three types of video racing simulation.
How much did iRacing gave you a realistic look at what NASCAR racing would be?
I think it got me about 50 percent there. I was able to use iRacing to understand racing around other people, the race traffic, running against real competitors. I feel like I was able to hone my driving skills a little bit. I think most of that was natural but I do think it helped a little bit. When I got into a real car, the biggest difference was the fear factor of everything and the real feel and going through the motions of communicating with your team and all the other things that happen at the race track.
What ended up being your biggest adjustment between iRacing and being in a real car?
I would say it was probably racing with a clutch and having to get on and off pit road. In iRacing I didn’t have to do any of that. I had to learn to drive a stick shift. You also build a reputation on the track in a real car where on the computer you can get away with whatever and you’re just on to the next race. There are usually no long term ramifications.
What is the biggest benefit to you with getting time in the Chevy Simulator?
I feel the biggest benefit is understanding what our car is going to do and how it will respond to the changes we make as a team. For me, it’s less about what I’m learning but more about what we’re learning as a team and communicating the changes the car makes or the way the car feels. I use it as a reference as how the next weekend will go. It’s like being in a real practice session for us. We use it like we’re actually at the race track.
When you are at the race track, do you find the changes you experience in the simulator are fairly accurate?
I do. I think there are variables at the track that can be 10 times different than in the simulator. But if you can keep the lap times close, if you can get the handling close (in the simulator), then when you get to the track, it ends up being pretty close to the real thing. We try to go to the simulator just about every week. I feel like if we don’t learn anything from it, that’s still OK. But we try to go and try to learn something, even if it’s just an evaluation of how we performed at the track or what seemed to work or what didn’t. We use it as a tool. Sometimes you may not apply anything but I feel like it’s better than sitting on the couch and not doing anything during the week.
What was your impression of NASCAR Heat 3 when you got the opportunity to play it?
I think the Hendrick guys being on the cover was really cool. I grew up playing video games like that – NASCAR ’08, ’09 and those things. I like the way you can run your own team. If you are using it as a way to understand the sport from a broad perspective, I think it’s really good. It’s a good entertainment option, just like Madden NFL Football or the any of the other games. If you asked a football player if he plays Madden and if it’s like the real thing, he’s probably going to say, ‘Not really.’ It doesn’t hurt when you get hit. It doesn’t hurt when I wreck.
What other NASCAR Heat 3 features do you like?
They have a ton of tracks. The Roval is on there, dirt tracks, and it’s cool to have those different options. I also think it’s cool to see all the different paint schemes. When I was running all those video games when I was growing up, I wanted to be able to have the cool paint schemes on my car when I raced. I think they did a very good job with that. Realistic paint schemes to me were always a game-changer. The games didn’t use to have all the driver stuff – like the driver getting out of the car in Victory Lane or pit stops and stuff – it’s getting more sophisticated. But the paint schemes were a big deal. Like if you didn’t have the paint scheme that your favorite driver had just won win with at the track, what was the point?
When you play NASCAR Heat 3, do you compete as William Byron?
No. I mean if we’re doing a competition or something, maybe. Usually it’s whoever’s paint scheme I like the most.
NASCAR's Mike Helton joins AMA Pro Racing's management board
Goodyear makes tire change for Texas playoff race