The world of a successful professional race car driver sure seems glamorous, with all the fame, dames, and gallons of champagne there to keep you company as your victory lap comes to its crescendo, all made possible by piloting the cars that as a small child you one day dreamed of owning regardless of whether they were street legal or not.
Not to be the garlic in the breath of life or anything, but what you see on TV is just a fraction of what goes into making these drivers the best in the biz. Much like how a fighter trains for months in preparation for a fight, race car drivers must do the same: From intensive physical training in order to withstand the extreme force one’s body must go through while pulling serious G’s to analyzing suspension geometry and spending endless hours behind the wheel re-calibrating everything, motoring is a tedious and tiresome affair. Then, when the chips are down and the race is on, a faulty cool suit causes your body temp to rise to dangerously high levels and for some reason your water bottle has disconnected, so fresh H20 is impossible to obtain. The next lap proves that urinating in your suit is the only way you can keep your position, and god knows your competitive ass isn’t going to give it all up for a potty break.
But outside of the nitty-gritty, there’s a lot of wonder in racing. In the case of Glenn McGee of Tampa, Florida, success came about after two days of rain-soaked competition at the Carolina Motorsports Park in Kershaw, South Carolina. By winning the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout late last year, the young driver was able to garner a $100,000 scholarship, earning him the largest prize in grassroots motorsports, and solidifying his position with a well-respected and very prominent Mazda race team. First launched back in 2006 as the Mazda Club Racer shootout, the Mazda Road to 24 Shootout is known for elevating one talented grassroots driver every year into the professional ranks, an honor that requires more than just some skill behind the wheel.
What’s interesting about McGee is that he is the first person to ever win the shootout as someone who received a large amount of their training in a simulator. First earning access to the shootout as an iRacing sim racing champion, McGee trained on the track with 2015 MX-5 Cup Champion John Dean II in the latest generation of the MX-5 Cup car, a move that offered him real-world experiences that simulators cannot replicate. Winning the shootout ultimately landed McGee both the entry card and the resources to compete in the 2016 Battery Tender Mazda MX-5 Cup, and for 2016 that means he will be racing in the all-new Global MX-5 Cup car. Beginning the weekend of April 29 at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca, in Monterey, California, the 2016 MX-5 Cup is gearing-up to be a real nail-biter, a challenge that the youthful auto enthusiast embraces head on.
“I don’t believe it! Just competing in the 2015 Mazda Road to 24 Shootout and driving the new Global MX-5 Cup car felt like a dream the whole time, but to come out with the overall victory is surreal and is really over-whelming,” McGee said in a press release. “To transition so well from the iRacing.com virtual MX-5 Cup car to the real-thing, against so many talented proven drivers, was well beyond anything I could have ever imagined.”
So, a young man who started off with playing Mario Kart on N64 posted some seriously fast times in a popular online race simulator website iRacing.com, was offered a training session by Mazda in order to evaluate his skill sets not only as a driver but also for his business and marketing skills, and proceeded to impress everyone. Chosen to compete in the finals against reigning champion Mark Drennan (another iRacer who has more than 60 wins to his credit), McGee wooed judges and took home the $100,000 win.
After the win Mazda was quick to emphasize its enthusiasm on the matter:
We believe our Mazda scholarship program – whether open wheel (Mazda Road to Indy) or sports cars (Mazda Road to 24) – provides us with a competitive advantage. Our professional drivers help fuel the excitement of racing and also help us build relationships with customers, dealers, and race fans around the world. They can also help develop and improve our road cars. With iRacing’s help, we’re happy to add Glenn McGee to that list of drivers.
Kevin Bobbit, director of marketing and communications for iRacing.com says he couldn’t be more excited for McGee, and that this further proves how simulators like iRacing “can be a stepping stone to a professional motorsports career.” Looking ahead, iRacing has taken full advantage of this success with Mazda, and reportedly has been working on developing a digital version of the 2016 Global MX-5 for the iRacing Mazda MX-5 Cup for the next round of video game/simulator incubated racers.
John Doonan, director for Mazda Motorsports talked a bit after the competition to explain what made 2015 so unique. “This year provided an extra twist as it was the first shoot-out with the all-new 2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup race car, so none of the finalists had a chance to test the car in advance,” Doonan said. “The two days were extremely pressure filled for the candidates, as everyone had to learn the car and the track as rapidly as possible. Adding to the challenge was constant rain.”
The cars driven that day were built by Long Road Racing, both of which were 2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup race cars, specially prepared for the two finalists and equipped with the latest BFGoodrich g-Force tires for maximum grip in the torrential rains over those two days. The criteria were simple, given that both of the finalists had already proven themselves with simulated race wins, so the overall points awarded had to be more encompassing than ever before, proving that in order to succeed on a professional level one must illustrate a balance of both on-track and off-track skills.
Three key elements that won McGee the title were as follows:
- Driving ability: fast laps/consistent laps
- Technical skills: understanding of vehicle dynamics and suspension, ability to evaluate vehicle handling, and ability to analyze data
- The business of motorsports: business proposal and presentation
In a final statement, McGee voiced his jubilation, saying that while sleeping at the track and promoting oneself is exhausting, he couldn’t be more thrilled with the way things are shaping up. “I can’t thank Mazda and their partners enough for supporting so much talent over the years and for awarding me this extraordinary honor to represent their brand in the 2016 Battery Tender, Global MX-5 Cup and I can’t wait to get back in the car!”