Like many people during the COVID-19 pandemic, Jared DeValk found a new hobby.
DeValk, EchoPark’s digital producer, decided to pursue his love of car racing by getting behind the wheel of Porsches and a Ferrari 488 EVO and hitting the gas on endurance tracks across the country, like Lime Rock Park, Daytona International Speedway, Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta and Watkins Glen International.
He’s taken the checkered flag 8 times, although he hasn’t hit the podium yet in that Ferrari 488 EVO emblazoned with the EchoPark logo. Maybe a more winning car is just a download away.
Yes, that’s “download.” DeValk’s racing steering wheel and pedals aren’t stored in a garage somewhere, but at his desk with a computer monitor for iRacing, a virtual version of the motorsport.
The COVID-19 pandemic brought DeValk’s first racing-related hobby – race photography – to a screeching halt, with officials putting the brakes on all sorts of public sporting events. That’s when he decided to get behind the virtual wheel with iRacing.
iRacing bills itself as a “one-stop shop” for online racing. The platform includes iconic racetracks around the world, with more than 100 laser-scanned tracks and digitally recreated cars for the most realistic experience possible.
“We utilize the latest technologies to recreate our ever-expanding lineup of famed race cars and tracks from the comfort of your home,” according to its website. “Simulate what a professional NASCAR driver experiences inside the seat of a stock car, or a Grand Prix driver sees over the dash. All of the details add up to a lineup of cars and tracks that are virtually indistinguishable from the real thing.”
When the pandemic set in in 2020, it made for a big year for sim racing, with NASCAR and iRacing filling the void left by cancelled events “by hosting a sim-racing series featuring real-life, professional drivers, which proved a surprise hit: the inaugural race earned the highest TV ratings ever for an esports event,” The Washington Post reported on Oct. 29, 2020.
“I’ve been sim racing since I was six years old, when my dad would let me play NASCAR 2003 if I got my homework done,” popular NASCAR driver Chase Briscoe said in the article.
At that time, The Washington Post reported that Briscoe had racked up 400 wins in iRacing.
“It’s been absolutely vital for my development as a driver,” Briscoe said, “especially in preparing for tracks I’ve never been to.”
It costs a little over $100 for a yearly iRacing subscription, and a gamer can spend a little – or a lot – of money on a rig. But the main thing is having fun, DeValk says. His set-up includes a steering wheel and pedals, and he takes to the track 3-4 times a week during specific seasons and classes that mirror the real thing.
“You’re definitely rewarded for good race craft,” DeValk said. “The competition is quite fierce. You can hear the motors – it’s so awesome. I geek out over it – I’m not going to lie. I have a few Porsches, but also enjoy some single-seater racing and the Ferrari 488 EVO fully wrapped with a custom EchoPark livery is a joy to drive. It’s a lot of fun to drive tracks like Road Atlanta and Lime Rock Park and it gives you a whole other level of appreciation for real-world racers that have to contend with physical and mental demands of driving a race car – things like, there is no “reset button” if you miss your braking point.”
Competitors aren’t allowed to crash other racers at will. Racers are expected to follow proper racing etiquette and receive a safety rating. Too many hits or running off the track leads to disqualification. Most people are in it for fun, and it’s not unusual to receive an apology DM if someone causes a crash, DeValk said.
“I always try to race as clean as possible,” he said. “It’s really about getting into good, clean battles whether it’s for 12th place or 1st place. It’s the good racing that I enjoy the most.”
DeValk has been a racing fan since he was a teen.
He grew up near Lime Rock Park in Connecticut and was hooked on the sport since attending his first (in real life) race, a regional Sports Car Club of America event, at age 16.
He enjoys all types of car racing, but these days especially enjoys attending endurances races, as it’s easy to walk and find good spots to set up for exciting action photos. It’s less complicated than shooting NASCAR, which typically requires getting clearance and credentials.
DeValk said he had taken up general photography as a hobby around 2014 and then shot his first Trans Am race.
“It’s a humbling experience,” he said. “But when you nail that one good shot, it’s like golf. You keep coming back for more.”
DeValk’s need for speed and his eye for photography come in handy for his role as digital producer for EchoPark’s new state-of-the-art website. He ensures that content on the site not only looks good, but functions properly.
“My day-to-day focus is working on the EP website making content and configuration updates,” he said. “As part of the eComm team, I work with teammates in a variety of disciplines to ensure our website is giving our guests the ability to find vehicles and information in an efficient manner while providing a consistent brand voice – in short, enhancing the guest experience with the website and EP overall.”
In other words, making sure EchoPark.com visitors have fun while racing through the quickest car-buying process ever.