bolton

Justin Bolton

Every NASCAR racer has a story about their first lap around Bristol Motor Speedway.

Justin Bolton will get his first BMS experience tonight – at least on the virtual version of the fearsome short track.

The 24-year-old native of Greensburg, Pennsylvania, competes for the Stewart-Haas team in the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. Bolton also works as an engineer for the regular SHR team.

Part one of virtual race week in Bristol will unfold tonight at 9 with 40 of the world’s best sim (simulated) racers competing on eNASCAR.com and YouTube.

“I don’t know what to expect, but Bristol will definitely be a show,” said Bolton in a phone interview Monday. “I’ve been practicing for this on and off the past two weekends while working on my setup. I’ll try to gain speed that way.”

The world of iRacing is not about raw horsepower, sleek car design or courage. It’s a technical challenge where clever competitors factor in equations such as tire pressure, camber, track bar and springs.

Bolton knows his sport from all sides.

He grew up racing real late models and Legends cars, winning the 2013 Fall Classic at Hickory Motor Speedway in a limited late model.

“I was also using iRacing as a way to adjust to different tracks and cars,” Bolton said. “Eventually I had to make money rather than spend it, but iRacing is as close as you can get to strapping into a real car.”

Like nearly everyone else in the NASCAR community, Bolton watched the nationally-televised Pro Invitational Series events from the virtual versions of Homestead-Miami and Texas Motor Speedway the past two weeks.

“It’s been great to see how the sport has come together and offered something to help people relax and have fun for a couple hours,” Bolton said. “The tracks and cars in iRacing are identical down to the millimeter. Really, everything is very similar.”

The Bristol Pro Invitational event will be shown live on Fox this Sunday afternoon.

The Coca-Cola Series may lack the star power, but it does have feature some of the most talented and experienced competitors in the diverse world of iRacing.

Teams include Joe Gibbs Racing, JR Motorsports, Denny Hamlin eSports and Wood Brothers Racing, with four-time champion Ray Alfalla serving as the master of the genre. Several NASCAR crew members compete in the series.

So how involved is the Coca-Cola iRacing Series? Consider that drivers race for a pool of more than $300,000 and are supported by spotters, crew chiefs and sponsors.

“Our races are only streamed online, but we’ve had as many as 100,000 viewers the past couple weeks,” said Bolton, who just reached a sponsor deal with Busch.com/delivery.

Bolton, who helped guide current NASAR Cup rookie driver Cole Custer to seven Xfinity Series wins in 2019, has been part of the eNASCAR iRacing World Championship since 2014.

“In real racing, drivers go by the feel of their car,” Bolton said. “With iRacing, you mostly drive with your eyes and you are predicting what’s going to happen rather than feeling it. This form of racing is more competitive because everyone has the exact same car.”

Tonight’s BMS bash will feature a 10-minute practice session along with qualifying and happy hour.

Instead of pit road, the vantage point for Bolton will be a single-room computer monitor in a spare room upstairs at his home.

Bolton was unable to participate in last year’s iRacing event at virtual Bristol, but he did take notes and analyze the findings.

Now, its show time.

“After you’ve been doing this kind of racing for a long time, you treat it as another race,” Bolton said. “But this is Bristol. Who knows what can happen.”

agregory@bristolnews.com | Twitter: @Greg_BHCSports | (276) 645-2544

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