By Seth Eggert, Associate Editor
Fresh off of two championships in US Legends Cars, Donovan Strauss hopes to carry that momentum into the next rung on the racing ladder, Late Model Stock Cars.
The 18-year-old will compete with the AK Performance team in both the NASCAR Advance Auto Parts Weekly Series and select ZMAX CARS Tour races. Several of the tracks that Strauss will compete at are familiar through both his time in Legends Cars and iRacing. That familiarity could give him a head start on learning the tracks in a different car.
“I’m going to be racing with AK Performance next year and I’m going to be doing 16 to 20 events in the NASCAR Weekly Series and the ZMAX CARS Tour,” Strauss said. “With AK Performance my plan is to do tracks such as Florence Motor Speedway, Hickory Motor Speedway, Tri-County Speedway, and Caraway Speedway. Then a couple CARS Tour starts (in Late Model Stock). That’s what my 2024 plans are.”
Much like the strategy that earned Strauss championships in Legends Cars, he aims to utilize both GoPro footage and iRacing to familiarize himself with tracks in a Late Model Stock. Of the tracks that the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series driver will compete at in real-life, only Hickory is on iRacing. The rest will force Strauss to rely on GoPro footage as well as his competitors.
“I’m going to be there using a lot of GoPro (footage) and a lot of the iRacing stuff that I can use to the best of my ability,” Strauss explained. “I am going to try and get as much of an advantage as I can get (ahead of on-track starts).”
Sponsorship for Strauss’ Late Model efforts are still being put together. With his ‘Sim to Reality’ story, the opportunities are more unique. The chance to sponsor Strauss in both real-life competition and esports competition is similar to a strategy that NASCAR Xfinity Series driver Ryan Vargas has employed in recent years.
Strauss will once again compete in NASCAR’s only esports sanctioned series in 2024. While the team that he will compete for in that series has not yet been announced, the Marietta, GA native earned his first career win in the series in the 2023 season finale with Williams eSports.
“We’re just trying to put together some deals,” Strauss stated. “We have a lot of cool, unique opportunities that I think a lot of people will be interested to see if it all comes together. It’s all about putting that together. But as far as the racing part goes, we know what we’re doing just putting the deals together to help us out there.”
‘Sim to reality’ is not a new concept as several of Strauss’ competitors in eNASCAR also compete in real-life, including Ryan Doucette, Kaden Honeycutt, Garrett Lowe, and Vicente Salas. In NASCAR’s three National Touring Series, Anthony Alfredo, Josh Berry, William Byron, Rajah Caruth, and Ryan Vargas all have utilized ‘sim to reality’ to one degree or another in their ascent up the racing ladder.
Much like Caruth, the eNASCAR winner’s career started on the motorsports simulation platform. It proved to be the launching pad into Legends Cars, and now, for Strauss, Late Model competition.
“One thing we’re trying to really show to people is how organic and how real our ‘sim to reality’ story is and how true it is because every ‘sim to reality’ star, how real is it, how many started exclusively on iRacing?” Strauss continued. “I think that’s where my story is different because that’s why I started. I think this is something that a lot of people will be interested in if we can pull the partners we’re talking to together.”
While a part of Strauss’ rookie campaign in Late Model competition will showcase ‘sim to reality,’ it also includes several unknowns. It is the first time that the up-and-coming driver will be behind the wheel of a Late Model Stock Car outside of a test session. New tracks, new competition, new expectations will help shape Strauss’ career and ultimately his ‘sim to reality’ journey.