There seems to be a recent movement of drivers exiting the top level of eNASCAR racing. The 2023 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series grid will have at least three new faces for sure after three of the top level drivers have announced their retirement from the series in the past three weeks.
Liam Brotherton, Logan Clampitt and now as of Monday, add in Blake Reynolds, have all decided that 2022 will be their last competing in the series, for now, as they all move on in two races time from competing in iRacing’s premier esport.
With two races to go, Brotherton sits in 32nd in the standings while Clampitt, not even a season removed from his Championship 4 appearance in 2021, sits down in 30th after a dismal season. Reynolds, on the other hand, sits safely up in 11th, 58 points ahead of 12th with two races left, likely to become the best of the rest of the drivers that didn’t make the playoffs. He certainly is not facing relegation…
There are rumors around the eNASCAR circles that these three might not be the only ones, dependent somewhat on how the rest of the season turns out for some. There’s no need to speculate on who else might join these three, but in fact this is much earlier than how it went down last season.
For sure, the series saw a bunch of longtime drivers dip out last year, but none of them made the point to quit this early in the going. Most of them even gave the Contender Series a shot.
Comparative to last season, this year, drivers are announcing way earlier than ever before… so what gives? Why is there recently such an evacuation of some of the series’ most longtime, popular drivers?
2021 SET A PRECEDENCE
At the conclusion of the 2021 season, former eNASCAR driver Nathan Lyon went on record with Kickin’ The Tires to state that he was declining an invitation to compete in the eNASCAR Contender iRacing Series after slipping into relegation at the end of the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series.
Lyon was the first and most vocal to do so before the series even got to the Contender round. Caine Cook and John Gorlinsky both also declined their invitations to the Contender Series, which allowed three drivers more from the Qualifying Series to advance upward.
Contender was brutal on some of the drivers that have been around for a while. We saw the loss of longtime drivers such as Brad Davies, Justin Bolton, Chris Shearburn who was a winner last year but relegated for not making the Top 20 in points at season’s end, and of course, Brian Schoenburg, who’s been in the top level eNASCAR series since the start in 2010.
Bob Bryant, who made the Coke Series playoffs in 2021 and avoided relegation with a definite seat at the table for the 2022 season, took all of that a step further by announcing his retirement following the conclusion of the Contender Series, which led to the Top 21 drivers in the series advancing upward.
At least eight of the 40 drivers in 2021 were gone, none of them even attempting this year’s qualifying ladder. Other drivers who were relegated out, such as Jake Nichols and Santi Tirres, attempted to make their way back only to fall short last week in making the Top 20 for this year’s contender.
BROTHERTON, CLAMPITT, REYNOLDS… WHO ELSE?
Here we are, weeks before the end of the 2022 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, and three drivers have already announced their plans to quit racing in the top level of eNASCAR racing, with rumors that more may also follow this trend.
Liam Brotherton, a rookie in the series for Elliott Sadler Esports, was the first to announce this season would be a one-and-done.
The 23-year-old from Huntersville, North Carolina said on the Bristol Countdown to Green pre-race show that he made his mind up in the previous Road to Pro season that he would like to just experience it once, and he accomplished that.
Brotherton said that he’ll continue to work with his current team, Elliott Sadler Esports, in the social posts, car paints, and wherever else needed.
The admission took Countdown host Alan Cavanna by surprise. Later in an interview with team owner Elliott Sadler, Cavanna asked about that, and Sadler said he respected it, reiterating that Brotherton was happy to have accomplished that goal.
Earlier last week, long time competitor in the series Logan Clampitt, currently driving for William Byron Esports, also announced his intentions to hang it up at season’s end.
The runner-up in the 2021 eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series standings is actually younger than Brotherton, only 22 years old, but has been in the series full-time since 2016, amassing three victories over the course of 114 starts to this day.
Clampitt, from Trabuco Canyon, California, stated in his post that it wasn’t an easy decision, that he’s looking ahead to the next chapter of his life. Considering he’s been racing in the series since he was 15 years old and still can call himself one of the youngest in the series, Clampitt has his whole life still ahead.
Monday saw another driver post a retirement post, that being Jim Beaver Esports’ Blake Reynolds. A former Championship 4 driver, Reynolds just missed out on the playoffs this season by five points.
Despite this, the 24-year-old from Houston, Texas has been working hard to get his team to the top of the team standings at year’s end with his teammate Michael Guest. Reynolds tweeted out a thread on Monday morning to thank everyone that has helped him get to this point.
The second tweet in the thread is the most telling, not only stating his intent but some of the reasons why. Three drivers all with different backgrounds in the series, all from different teams, all deciding to hang it up from the top level of eNASCAR competition.
All three are still looking forward to being a part of the iRacing service in other ways, whether it be league racing, team development, or just kicking back and racing at a non-super-competitive level. Whatever the reasons, all three drivers brought their own flair to the series that will be missed in 2023.
Every other week, Evan Posocco leads into the broadcast with the phrase, “The road to $300,000”, a nod to the total purse of money that can be won through the 18-race season, the champion of it all taking $100,000.
With $200,000 left on the table, a good portion of that going to post-season earnings for Championship 4 contenders, there’s not much left in terms of prize money for the 36 other drivers in the series to take home.
All of the drivers in the series have signed deals with their respective teams, but some of the teams just don’t have the budgets to put their drivers on a livable wage, and most won’t considering there’s a minimum that many will either take advantage of or abuse, depending on your viewpoint.
A lot of what wins races in the top level series is preparation, and while we would all love to believe that eNASCAR is a financially rewarding esport, the truth is that many of the drivers in the series don’t have a contract that’s worth putting in full-time working hours or more of commitment into.
4-Time champion Ray Alfalla delivers mail for the USPS, rookie Kyle Peddle regularly has to miss races as he’s off piloting an aircraft, and a couple of drivers, such as the eNASCAR RFK Racing duo of Kaden Honeycutt and Parker Retzlaff, moonlight as NASCAR Truck or NASCAR Xfinity Series drivers on the weekends.
For all three of the drivers that are leaving, it seems that commitment may be the leading factor. They might not be testing late models, but most have a life outside of the computer screen.
To be competitive in the series, drivers have, in the past, put tens of thousands of laps into testing on any given race week. Take the defending champion Keegan Leahy, for example, who took all the time he needed to prepare for the championship race. His opponents (Clampitt, Mitchell deJong and Bobby Zalenski) all echoed similar intent, looking to put in as much possible preparation into the Texas finale.
Point being, many of the drivers in the series don’t have the commitment time to put in with other things happening in their lives, such as their real jobs, other hobbies, or working towards a real-world seat. Some drivers do, and you can somewhat tell by who is on top of the leaderboards most weeks. Don’t read that as a knock, either – those that can commit and be at the top of their game may walk away with $100,000.
The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series has seen its ride to the top of American e-motorsports, but as we might be able to tell from those retiring, even though it’s an accomplishment to get there and stay there, it can be taxing.
I don’t know what exactly needs to happen or could be changed to keep their top talent from leaving, but hopefully iRacing, NASCAR and the teams involved can all come up with something to make the series worth sticking around for, or worth trying to make.
There’s no reason that in a 70-driver field, only 43 show up to the last race in the Road To Pro Qualifying Series… That’s not exactly relevant to this story, although it kind of is, but that’s another issue entirely.
The Coke Series returns to action next week for the penultimate race of the 2022 season, the finale to the Round of 10 at Homestead-Miami Speedway. Tune in at 8:30 p.m. ET on 11th October to watch the Countdown to Green. The main race broadcast starts at 9:00 p.m. ET.
The broadcast will be available at eNASCAR.com/live or on the iRacing Social Channels.