For outsiders, a driver retiring from what is viewed as a video game series may seem strange. For the drivers in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, though, it’s not as unusual as it may seem. Of the 40 drivers in the field, many of them balance racing in the simulated world with school and work obligations in the real one.
A look through the birthdates of those 40 drivers reveals many born in the late 1990s and a fair few born in the early 2000s. They spend their days in high school classrooms and college lecture halls before logging onto virtual racetracks in the evening. It’s a balance that can be stressful for those trying to compete at sim racing’s highest level.
One of those drivers balancing the demands of college and the eNASCAR series was Nathan Lyon. The 24-year-old from St. Louis announced that the 2021 season would be his last in the top level of NASCAR sim racing. While he can’t say where his life will be in five years — and despite the seeming permanence of the word ‘retire’ — Lyon agreed that it’s a good way to describe his decision.
“I can’t really say where I’ll be in five years so I don’t know if I will ever decide to come back and try to go for the eNASCAR Coca-Cola Series again or not, “ Lyon told RACER. “I’d say retire is a pretty good word actually.”
Stepping away from sim racing was “something that was kind of in the back of my mind since the beginning of this year,” Lyon said.
“Last year, it was kind of like that too. I had a pretty rough period last year but towards the beginning of this year I started running out of time and I realized over the summer that I just wasn’t going to be able to do it anymore.”
With a considerable amount of time on his schedule now free, Lyon is hoping to get to do some of the things he couldn’t do previously because of the demanding schedule of the Coke Series. Lyon is a meteorology major who has been fascinated by weather and storms since he was a kid. He is hoping he spend the summer of 2022 on the road, chasing storms across the Midwest and Great Plains states.
“I’d love to go storm chasing if I could full-time,” Lyon said. “I love watching anything weather. I have a huge passion for it — more than racing.”
The commitment to the Coke Series is a big one and it’s one that a lot of teenagers and young adults decide to take on. Saddling themselves with such a workload at a young age can be difficult and leave them with little time for other opportunities available to kids their age. Lyon doesn’t see it as anything too different from the various sports teams that kids join.
“I mean, that’s why I actually kind of stayed away from it in high school and early on in college,” Lyon said. “You have to put a lot of time into it, and it takes away from some of the stuff that you really should be doing as a young adult or as a kid.
“At the same time, a lot of people really enjoy this. They love the grind, and they love the community and the gaming aspect of it. But yeah, I’d say if you’re used to any team sports, maybe football or baseball, you’ve been in that kind of a grind before, so it’s really no different.”
While the time commitment influenced Lyon’s decision, the competition also played a part. Lyon had become dissatisfied with the way the current NASCAR car drove and the style of racing it produced. The move towards cars with high downforce and low horsepower took some of the fun out of it. Despite eventually getting used to it, he compared the racing to slot car racing, which left him frustrated.
“I’ll still do special events and I want to help out with teammates and friends and stuff like that,” Lyon said. “I want to stay involved in it because I really like sim racing. It’s just I don’t have the time to give right now that you really should give to the top level in the Coke Series, because if you want to be successful, you really do have to put on the time.”