NASCAR, commonly derided as turning left for 400 miles, does feature a couple of road courses in its top circuit. Reigning Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski has had unusual success at one of them, Watkins Glen International, and he attributes it all to playing a PC video game as a teenager.
Keselowski won the Nationwide Series race at Watkins Glen on Saturday and finished second in the track's Sprint Cup event on Sunday, for the third straight year. He's never finished lower than ninth in the Nationwide races (NASCAR's lower circuit) at the Glen. It's an 11-turn course, a far cry from the tri-ovals and short tracks that define stock car racing. Keselowski says he became familiar with it on a PC in his parents' shop when he was a teenager.
"I remember I spent a whole summer when I was kind of locked in my parent’s shop, because I was just young enough to where they wouldn’t let me touch anything and just old enough to where I wasn’t getting a babysitter,” he told NBC Sports' Motor Sports Talk. “And I remember spending a whole summer sitting on the computer in the office area running Watkins Glen as a video game.
Given his age at the time and the platform, Keselowski may be referring to NASCAR 2000, the first game in EA Sports' series to release on the PC (and one of only three editions ever to do so). Watkins Glen was a course in that game and Keselowski, today 29, would have been around 16 when it came to PC. [Edit: He may also be referring to the PC series of NASCAR racing games made by Papyrus Design Group, which had a run from 1994 to 2003.]
"Watkins Glen was always a track I ran. It was just a place I really liked and, I don’t know, it’s hard to explain, but it’s something about this track I have a real deep appreciation for," Keselowski said, vowing that learning to race there on PC "absolutely" translated to his real-world approach.
He's not alone in that opinion. Teammate Joey Logano, better known for driving with a GameStop sponsorship in the Nationwide Series for four years, said he practiced with the current console NASCAR game by Eutechnyx to familiarize himself with his racing line from track to track. "It's still racing, and a lot of things I do on racetrack as a driver - throttle here, brake here, a lot of that transfers over to video games," Logano told Kotaku in 2011. "The G-forces and all the other little things that come into play when you get going, no, you can't replicate that. But the line you run, where you brake, where you gas, that part transfers."