By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
The concept of ‘sim to reality’ has brought success to NASCAR drivers William Byron, Rajah Caruth, Kaden Honeycutt, Ty Majeski, and more. Another driver that has found success in the crossover from iRacing to real-life competition is two-time INEX Legend Car Pro Division champion Donovan Strauss.
The Marietta, GA native won the 2023 Winter Nationals Pro Division Championship at Citrus County Speedway at the start of the season. Strauss then bookended the season with the 2023 INEX Pro Asphalt National Championship. The 18-year-old took the championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway by just three points over another competitor.
Strauss’ success in part was the result of his time on iRacing. The eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver for Williams eSports earned his first career victory in the esports series season finale at the virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway.
While he competes competitively in eNASCAR competition, there’s been multiple important lessons that have translated to the real-world. Strauss has taken lessons from iRacing on everything from improving on the fundamentals of racing to his consistency, tire saving, and both when and when not to make a push.
“I think iRacing honestly has played a bigger part than I can honestly express because it teaches you the basic fundamentals of racing and how to be fast,” Strauss explained. “That was something I honestly could carry over to the Legend Car. (It was) all about being very smooth. (On) iRacing, where you have to save tires and conserve more, (the Legend Car) was all about going full push because of how short the races are.
“I got really consistent and that’s something I worked on iRacing, testing and just being really consistent. Everything transferred over to the real-life stuff really, really well. And I think that’s been a big part of my career and it’s going to be a big part of my career going forward.”
In addition to the thousands of laps and multiple hours that Strauss spent with his Norse Force Racing alliance teammates for eNASCAR competition, he also spent time preparing on iRacing for the INEX Pro Asphalt National Championship at The Bullring at Las Vegas Motor Speedway.
The laser-scanned track was very accurate, giving the up-and-coming driver an opportunity to familiarize himself with the track’s visuals and various characteristics of the track.
Preparation for on-track competition is not the only feature of the ‘sim to reality’ mantra that Strauss has taken to heart. He’s used the opportunity as an eNASCAR competitor to build his own brand. The media relation skills, marketing skills, and social media acumen he’s built on iRacing easily transfer to the real-life skills he will need moving forward.
“(The Bullring) transferred over really well on iRacing and it’s pretty accurate,” Strauss said. “I’ve got to thank iRacing for giving me a platform not only to transfer my talent from there to reality, but to give me a platform to develop my talent and my brand. (It’s) given me an opportunity to continue to pursue my career and I’m hoping we can get that set in stone for 2024.
“Honestly, (iRacing has) helped my media skills quite a lot and I think I’d be way behind now if it wasn’t for eNASCAR all when it comes to that. It’s been a big, big help and just developing basic skills, and I’d say honestly my racing career didn’t really take off to where it is now until this year. I’ve obviously been around the media this year and hopefully going into next year with the plans that we have, we can grow on that and only develop that and get better.”
Competitive sim racing has allowed Strauss to ‘break out of his shell.’ The once quiet driver learned not only to be professional but to be out-going and engaging. What can seem like basic skills to some can take years for drivers to develop, sometimes skills that don’t get reached until a driver has reached upper levels of competition. Strauss has had a headstart on training and learning those skills thanks in part to the concept of ‘sim to reality.’
“(eNASCAR has) definitely taken weight off my shoulders like when it comes down to social media, sponsors, our media is talking a lot when it comes to that and just being who I am and being really professional, learning basic skills and because I used to be a quiet person,” Strauss admitted.
“I wasn’t really out going a couple years ago and then I’ve kind of turned into who I am now in the last year and a half and grown into something different, something better. It’s been huge.”
The success that Byron, Caruth, Honeycutt and others have had throughout NASCAR’s Three National Touring Series and the ARCA Menards Series gives Strauss the confidence that he could follow in their footsteps. iRacing allows drivers like him to see if they have the talent, the skills to potentially make the leap from the simulation into real-life cars. Strauss’ championships are proof that he has found those skills and the talent to continue moving up the racing ladder.
The championship-winning driver was quick to point out that he has good people around him. Among those that are in Strauss’ inner circle is Honeycutt, a two-time ARCA Menards Series West winner and fellow eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series competitor.
“I have really good people around me in my circle to work on stuff for next year and we’re going for it all, we’re going for the limit, and I don’t think there is a limit, honestly,” Strauss stated. “Kaden has been a huge help to me. He’s been in my circle for a couple of months now and he’s been really helpful for me for next year and I expect to see him help me out more.”
As for what is next on Strauss’ sim to reality journey, whether it’s competing in more Legend Car races, Late Models, or another series entirely, only time will tell.