For the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series season, I’ll be sitting down with some of the drivers competing in the series to ask a series of approximately 10 questions. Well, at least 10 topics of questions, and we’ll divulge further from there. Some will be related to their sim racing efforts, while others will shed light on the personalities of each driver.
My first guest is the driver of the Jim Beaver eSports No. 15 Ford Mustang, Blake Reynolds. This is Blake’s sixth season at the top level of eNASCAR racing, competing full-time since 2017. At the time of this publication, he’s competed in 91 races for teams such as Jim Beaver eSports, McLaren Shadow and Team Dillon Esports. Blake also competes with DeadZone Racing on the backend.
In those 91 races, Blake has yet to score a victory. However, in 2019, he was one of the four finalists to compete for the eNASCAR championship. Most people remember that season as the year Zack Novak held off Keegan Leahy for the title. Blake and Bobby Zalenski were the other two drivers in contention, and Blake wound up finishing ninth in the race, fourth in the overall standings.
Overall, Blake has eight career Top 5 finishes and 27 career Top 10s. Five times, he’s finished in a podium position, all of which came in the 2019 season. Three of those podiums were runner-up results. As it stands in 2022, Blake is sixth in the overall standings with a Top 5 on the dirt at Bristol and another Top 10 result from Daytona. His other three finishes have all resided in the Top 20.
I sat down with Blake a few weeks ago, and we talked about the driver behind the computer screen, his sim equipment, his eNASCAR career and his outlook as he aims towards not only his first win in the series, but towards a championship in the 2022 season.
Q1: GET TO KNOW BLAKE REYNOLDS
Justin Melillo: First question, tell me all about Blake Reynolds? What’s your age? Where did you grow up? Where are you now and what team are you on?
Blake Reynolds: I’m 23 years old, born and raised in Houston, Texas. I’m just working full time and then I’m just doing a NASCAR on the side. It’s a pretty good gig right now. I’m racing this season on Jim Beaver eSports.
JM: You’re with Jim Beaver for the first time this season, you were with McLaren Shadow last season, and you were with Team Dillon Esports season before that, so pretty much you’ve been around, you’ve been to a couple different teams.
BR: I was looking for a change coming into the season, and then McLaren just didn’t come back. Not that there was anything wrong with the previous teams, but the Jim Beaver guys are just less corporate, and they do a lot more fun extra stuff like the off-road trucks and the e-short course.
I also enjoyed my time with the Team Dillon guys. Jim Beaver Esports, though, they’re just what I was looking for in a team.
Q2: SIM RACING BEGINNINGS
JM: Where and when did you get your racing game start? Like, where did you start playing racing games in general? It doesn’t even have to be online.
BR: Let’s see, I got a PlayStation 2 in 2004, 2005, and actually, even before that I had an Xbox, but I got the PlayStation 2 second and for some reason my first racing game was on the PlayStation. I don’t know why. I’ve loved racing since, like 2002, 2003, I was, you know, five, six, or seven years old.
I don’t know why I didn’t realize video games existed, I guess, so it took me a while, but once I found that out, you know Gran Turismo 4, NASCAR 06, NASCAR 07… NASCAR 07, man that was my jam on the Xbox. I don’t know why I got that on the Xbox.
I had the PlayStation, you know, it’s just whatever my parents were like, let’s go to GameStop and buy this game for our son, so that’s kind of how that happened. My first sim racing start, that we consider sim racing, I started doing GT Academy on the PlayStation 3 around 2011 or 2012. Shortly thereafter, I learned about iRacing and got on there in 2013.
JM: That was actually the second part of my question, relating to iRacing, you said you started racing on that in 2013?
BR: Yes, but, they didn’t have as much content that we see on the service nowadays.
JM: What were some of the different series that you were getting involved in in 2013?
BR: I guess it was just official racing, you know rookie street stocks for some reason, right? They had fast tracking, but I wasn’t clean enough. Well, I mean, it wasn’t even that I wasn’t clean enough, it was just that I kept racing.
You know how it is like when you race, you typically don’t get Safety Rating as fast because you’re battling people. So I ended up doing it the regular way. It took me a full year to get my license. I just went per season and I ran the full schedule, whatever series I was in.
Q3: RACE WEEK PREPARATION
JM: You’re officially with Jim Beaver Esports this season, driving the number 15 General Tire Ford, you’re running with DeadZone on the back end. How much time, how much effort, how much practice, how much race preparation are you putting in every race week at this point?
BR: When I initially started, I was one of those guys. I was young and I had all the time in the world. I didn’t have a job, I was still in school, so whenever I’d come home at like three or four o’clock, I’d practice all day.
Back then, I was a rookie in 2017, and I put in so much time. Just thinking back on it, it’s like, that wasn’t smart. It really wasn’t because a lot of time, too much practice is like you’re not learning anything, so definitely as the years have moved on, I’ve learned how to practice smarter, not harder.
Some people can call that lazy, but I feel like I am getting all the information I need for the race and my results show, you know, I feel like I’m prepping just as much as I need to, and getting the right preparation that I need.
As far as DeadZone, yeah, we do have a lot of people on DeadZone, but that really helps in getting the base down very quickly, and what happens after that is just, you know, we make personal driver adjustments.
I typically like a tighter setup. Other people on DeadZone like Graham (Bowlin) or Steven (Wilson), they’re typically so loose that they’re spinning out. They’re barely turning the wheel where I like to be tight, I like to turn my wheels so I like using the front end of my car, not the rear. It doesn’t take a whole lot of time to get my own personal adjustments, I’d say per week, probably 10 to 15 hours.
JM: You get what you need out of your practice time, but it’s fascinating to me how other drivers in sim racing wake up and this is their job. This is what they do for a living.
BR: That’s how something like Deadzone works, because a lot of us have jobs, a lot of us are rejects in some way, so we’re not able to put the man hours in. Some people, this is their full-time job and it’s seen as an advantage and to make up for that lack of an advantage of having time because we have full time jobs or other commitments. We just have a lot of people that put in the hours.
JM: Who are you mostly working with at DeadZone to perfect your setup every week?
BR: Huston Hamer, Dustin Lengert and Jarrett Liebert, and then every driver pitches in, if they find something, we can all pretty much help. I know what tire pressures we need, but the NEXT Gen is kind of throwing me for a loop. In a way though, it’s actually made it simpler because it’s almost like a clean slate.
Q4: DECIDING TO GO PRO
JM: You made the decision at one point in your life and career to try and qualify for the eNASCAR Coca Cola iRacing Series and you’ve obviously succeeded in that. I mean, you even want a pro championship at one point, so what was that process like for you when you tried out?
BR: Well, the format that I tried, it was actually really strange back then. Very few drivers were able to qualify and that was the period when they switched in some drivers from every ‘A’-Open season. It was a long wait from 2015 to 2017. The top ten in ‘A’-Open points were given the opportunity to qualify. I don’t even think they gave you a pro license.
They would whitelist you to the Coke series and you could try and qualify into the race you were one of those. Obviously they had the locked in spots, the pro DWC drivers. They had the 43 car field and you could qualify in so every ‘A’-Open. The Top 10 had the opportunity to qualify into the race for those three final spots.
Then, there was the transition period. I think 2017 was the last season they did that. It was like seven years ago at this point, right? I just know I was in the first class of people to go in from the Pro Series. They pretty much did ‘A’-Open season four, but they had one time slot on Tuesdays at 9:00 p.m. Eastern. Anybody with an ‘A’ license could qualify and pretty much it was very much like it is currently.
Anyone with a license can qualify, and then you know, obviously you want to try to get that larger strength of field. The highest SOFs pays the most points the fastest guys end up going the most points, so I was lucky enough, at the time, I had just discovered how to be one of those top guys. That summer in 2016 and going in that winter, I was like alright, you know, hot damn I can wheel it, you know, I can do it.
Obviously we had Ryan Luza with us and he won the championship. Darik Bourdeau was with us at the time as well, so us three were part of the 10 to get that initial round of new DWC licenses. I didn’t really care about qualifying, and I still don’t. Thankfully, I’ve had a locked in spot for every Coke Series race since.
Q5: HOBBIES OUTSIDE OF SIM RACING
JM: Outside of the racing online competitive scene, what other hobbies do you find yourself making time for?
BR: Honestly, I’m just really caught up in computer stuff. I play other games. I have a PlayStation, and I play that like typically when I get off from here. I’m like ‘oh, what can I play?’ I’m not really good at FPS games. But, you know, there’s always a single player story that has a really nice mechanic system, like Horizon Zero Dawn and Marvel’s Spiderman. I’m really big on PlayStation as you could tell so I like playing those games.
I dropped out of college. I did three semesters and it just wasn’t for me and I ended up being like I want to go to work, so I’m working now. I’m making money, and I want to buy a house in the next five to ten years or so.
I used to be in the band where I played the French horn. I was really big at that. Actually I have my mouthpiece right here, I was being annoying one night with it.
JM: Did your school ever do anything, like any of those competitions where you’d go out and do something like a music competition field trip?
BR: No, we did parades and we had a marching contest. Here in Texas we have something called UIL (University Interscholastic League) and that’s typically where they grade how good your band is. Texas High School football and marching band is incredibly competitive, so there’s tons of competitions.Otherwise, we’d go play in their parking lot 1 night or like at Ace Hardware, or like a Home Depot.
Q6: LEVEL OF RACE FANDOM
JM: Do you enjoy motorsports outside of racing online?
BR: I watch all sorts of racing. I feel like racing is a hobby. I don’t watch motorcycles though, or drag racing, I think drag racing is stupid.
JM: So you’re not going to be getting into the next MotoGP game or anything like that?
BR: No, I can’t get into it. I think it’s because I don’t understand the physics of bikes. I feel like I understand cars very well. Drag racing, well I don’t know. I know there’s technique to it. I know there’s a lot of technique you have to understand. They have insane reaction time, but I don’t care.
I just like cars. I like many cars like Formula 1, NASCAR stock cars, you know, all of that. For F1, I’ve been following it since 2008, I think that was my first season and I only got into it because of IndyCar.
When I got into NASCAR, my dad told me there were these things called IndyCars and they raced the Indy 500 like the biggest race of the year. I think it was in 2007. I watched the 500 and I was like wow, that was awesome. Then I got to watch the Coke 600 and watch Casey Mears win.
So then the next year I’m like, I’m gonna do it again. I got up super early. What’s on? The Monaco Grand Prix. Because of IndyCar and me trying to catch the Indy 500, I watched the Monaco Grand Prix where I found out about Formula 1 and then I watched Lewis Hamilton beat Felipe Massa.
JM: Photographic memory there, Blake.
BR: I am so bad at remembering things, but I’m hyper fixated on statistics like that. On the other hand, I cannot remember if I locked my car door, but I can tell you that David Reutimann won the 2009 Coke 600.
I can tell you that Brian Vickers probably wrecked the most cars in 2011. I can tell you that Michael Waltrip probably would have won the 2012 fall Talladega race if Tony Stewart didn’t do what he did.
Q7: SIM RACING EQUIPMENT
JM: What kind of sim racing equipment are you currently dealing with, and what have you used before?
BR: I’ve been around the block. I’m probably one of the few people that’s used every single thing, and it was just because I was curious. Every two years, it feels like, I’ve switched up my wheel.
Because I was doing GT Academy, I got a Logitech G27 first. Most people went for the Driving Force GT, but I went for the G27 because I knew that this was the wheel I needed if I wanted to go to NR2003 or iRacing, those people use the G27 as well.
I said ‘Mom, Dad, for Christmas, I would like a G27. And then I got it, along with some socks and underwear. However, I have found as I get older, socks and underwear are a fantastic Christmas present.
JM: That’s facts.
BR: Honestly, that Christmas was the best Christmas ever.
That G27 lasted forever. It still works. I still have it. A few years later, when it was time to upgrade, I didn’t want to spend the money on Fanatec. That’s where I wanted to go. Instead, I went in between and I got a Thrustmaster T500 and that was awesome. I loved how heavy it felt, but obviously there was better stuff.
I think the pedals broke on that, so I fixed the pedals and I kept that as a backup. Then I sold it to my friend Chris, who is still racing with it today on iRacing. Then I had the Fanatec CSL Elite. I got that back in March 2018 and I used it all the way to October 2021.
Now, I have a VRS Direct Force Pro and I now sit in a Sim Seats rig, before all that I sat at an IKEA desk. Oh, and I have Heusinkveld Ultimate Plus pedals. That McLaren paycheck went somewhere.
JM: Have you noticed a difference in your racecraft, in your lap times and just overall feeling?
BR: Yeah, so I’ve only had it since October, but you know, I’m feeling like I’ve mastered it now. Like I definitely know what every single feeling and I can in a split second in my brain and be like. Oh, that’s what that is.
At first it was a little tough, whenever you get new stuff, you kind of have to connect new brainstems, so I feel like I am now getting to where I’m like I have 100 percent mastered this. It is an incredible piece of hardware.
I feel like I’ve had the best braking control I’ve had in years. My Fanatec V3’s were great and I feel like that’s the new standard for like any sim racer. But everything I have now is incredible and I don’t think I’ll be upgrading for several years because this is all like bulletproof stuff.
Q8: WHAT’S FOR DINNER
JM: What’s your favorite food, or what’s your favorite meal? Do you have anything that you need to have before the race, or is there anything that you would eat on a perfect day?
BR: I love chicken. Grilled, breaded, fried, whatever it is, it’s like the perfect thing.
JM: Do you make your own or do you have a favorite chain?
BR: I try to make my own but you know, I don’t have time for that. I work, I have to practice. So what do I do when I drive home? I pick up Chick-fil-A, and I get an ice cold Coca Cola product.
JM: There you go.
BR: Chick-fil-a is good, I love Raising Canes, and Zaxby’s is kind of great.
JM: Is there any chicken you won’t eat?
BR: I’m not the biggest fan of chicken wings. I will absolutely eat chicken on the bone. I’ll absolutely eat a massive chicken leg. I’ll even go to the Renaissance Festival to get a Turkey leg. But you know, if I’m going to Buffalo Wild Wings I’m going to get the boneless wings.
Then, there are Popeyes spicy chicken tenders. Let me tell you, Justin, you can’t have it all the time because you’re going to get extremely overweight, but it is the best thing. Popeyes spicy chicken tenders with barbecue sauce. It’s an incredible, impeccable meal.
Q9: HOW FAR WILL YOU GO?
JM: Let’s say it’s the last lap of a championship race you’re running in second, you’ve got a chance at making the move for the win, how does it play out in your head? Does it matter who’s in front of you?
BR: I feel like I’ve been in that position before, twice actually, I’ve been second. I wouldn’t wreck them, I wouldn’t spin them, but I would move them very far away. Doesn’t matter who it is. Well, if it’s my corporate teammate, probably not.
If it’s my DeadZone teammate, I would catch a lot of flak for that. I’d definitely get hounded on by everyone at DeadZone if I move someone there, but I’d probably be open to thinking about it at the time, racing in the moment. You know it’s racing. I would absolutely throw someone, not into the wall, but I would move them three lanes up the track.
I don’t want I don’t want to keep it clean and just be haunted by the fact of not trying, I just don’t think I could bear myself. I’ve been the bad guy before.
In 2019, the battle for the championship, a bad pit stop kept me out of it, but you know, I was almost in this very position. I was up there fighting with Zack Novak, Keegan Leahy, Bobby Zalenski. We were up in that Top 5 all night at Homestead and if that pit stop hadn’t happened? That still haunts me.
JM: Two weeks before that, when you guys were at the Roval, when you and Garrett Lowe were going at it. I could not believe the stuff that you guys were doing to each other and not wrecking because of it.
BR: I think that perfectly encapsulates what I would do in that situation. I think that 2019 Charlotte Roval race perfectly shows what I would race like if I was racing for a championship. Clean but I would rough him up but you know, it’s fair, and especially if they race me back with that exact same, you know?
I mean, to me, that’s one of the best battles in series history, and it’s just because we raced each other with the same intensity. We went back and forth like five times after that, and the next couple of laps. Honestly, I wish that was the championship race and we were racing for the lead.
Q10: A LASTING LEGACY?
JM: Let’s say 20 years from now, they somehow come up with money to come up with a Sim Racing Hall of Fame, and you’ve got an exhibit for your sim racing accomplishments, what would you want your stat line to read, and what would you want to put in your showcase? How would you like to be remembered in your sim racing career?
BR: I feel like I want to be remembered as the guy who would never spin out. While I hate loose race cars, I am for some reason really good at not wrecking them. I will look out of control, but I can hang on to it, especially in the Gen 6 area I mean.
2019, Las Vegas, Ashton Crowder hooks me to the right. I should have been in the wall, but I somehow caught it. There are several races where I feel like that car should have absolutely spun out, but I kept it going.
I want to be known as the guy who can keep all four wheels and all four fenders on it. I guess you could call that an Iron Man of some type. Also, that 2019 Charlotte Roval race, just put that like 10 minute clip in there.
Maybe the 2018 Homestead race as well, that was good for me. I don’t know why because 2018, I think it’s statistically my worst year statistically. I don’t know why I ran well, but you know, three months later I won that pro series championship.
The next race for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series will take place at Dover Motor Speedway on 26th April. In three career starts dating back to 2017, Blake has finishes of 28th, 10th and 11th at the Monster Mile.
Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET to see it all unfold. Things will kick off with the Countdown to Green for a half-hour before the main cast starts at 9:00 p.m. ET. The broadcast will be available at eNASCAR.com/live or on the iRacing Social Channels.