FULTON, N.Y. (WSYR-TV) — Before you know it, the snow will be piling up outside and the cold weather will be brutal, but inside, the iRacers in the city of Fulton’s iRacing League in 36 communities from all over New York State, Canada, and 19 states are warm and toasty.

These racers are focused and strapped into their virtual race cars on a sunny day in ideal racing conditions.

The best part of it all is that this is not just like another online game.

“It’s serious, realistic racing with large cash prizes, and race participation by both national and regional NASCAR and DIRT drivers,” said James Batzer, Fulton-based iRacing streaming broadcaster and color commentator. “ More real-life drivers are getting involved and that’s validating this as a true sport. NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt, Jr. is involved, and the racing is so realistic, that some NASCAR drivers are testing their cars iRacing instead of a ‘real’ track. The national eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series, for example, has offered thousands of dollars in prizes, with some offering $10,000 for first place.”

The iRacing League is steadily growing in Fulton and has even been embraced as part of STEM education at Fulton High School, according to Chris Waldron, City of Fulton Parks and Recreation director.

Waldron, along with Batzer and Robby Swan started the iRacing league from Oswego in early 2022.

“Students there are benefiting from learning everything from engineering preparation to graphic design and video editing,” said Waldron.

“The rapid growth of this program—the first city league in the nation— and the many ways it’s helping educate, entertain, and expand our city’s positive image is tremendously impressive,” said Fulton Mayor Deana Michaels.

“We’re thrilled that we can support the Fulton community by providing a platform designed to entertain and challenge all users, and we look forward to seeing how Fulton’s participants will use their experience to do great things,” Angela Tagariello, iRacing’s manager of sales and marketing, said. “Today’s STEM students are tomorrow’s innovators in the world of motorsports, and iRacing is happy to help build a bridge for them to get into real racing by applying the skills they’ve already learned and developing new ones.”

Member of the iRacing Apex Industries group, Robby Swan says he’s been involved in simulated racing for more than seven years and it’s his job to race Apex.

When Swan wins, he tells the other racers that the car he drove is from Apex and that they can have one too.

“I saw that Chris was establishing the league and I offered to help,” Swan said. “I hope that this grows into something where it is in the majority of high schools around the county and the U.S. What the City of Fulton has done is incredible and it’s right in my backyard.”

Kyle Perry, who oversees the iRacing program at Fulton’s G. Ray Bodley High School, agrees with Waldron.

“iRacing has been a great tool for us to teach our students real-life STEM applications,” Perry said. “We use iRacing to teach students the physics of race cars, along with using real-life telemetry software to make improvements to the car’s setups to increase speeds and lower lap times. Using a realistic simulation such as iRacing to teach STEM was a no-brainer given our department’s extensive racing background, along with Central New York being home to multiple dirt and asphalt racetracks. Students have taken a strong interest in not only racing but helping build simulators as well and our numbers have tripled from last school year.”

In addition, Perry emphasized the wide range of skills students are learning through their participation.

“Along with learning the engineering concepts about how race cars work, how to make them faster, and how to drive them faster, there are many other skills that students can learn, these include Graphic Arts/Digital Media Design, Sports Broadcasting, and Business Management. Students are using the Adobe Suite (Illustrator and Photoshop) to paint their own cars that thousands of people around the world they are racing against will see. Many students are interested in broadcasting their races to various streaming platforms including Twitch and YouTube, where they can provide the audience with their analysis of the race, along with interacting with viewers. Lastly, students will be creating sponsorship proposals to local businesses for program funding and learning how to properly allocate funds within the club so there is little to no out-of-pocket cost for them to participate.”

There are four racing stations at the high school, Perry said, but they have plans for at least seven.

Fulton Speedway has also allied itself with the city’s iRacing league. Cory Reed, who handles marketing for both Fulton and Brewerton Speedways, said iRacing keeps racing fans engaged with his brand, especially during the off-season.

“The challenge we have is how to remain relevant all year as a seasonal business. This promotion keeps eyes on our brand in the off-season, helps us develop sponsorship and advertising programs for our regular season, and engages current and future racers,” Reed said. “What I find great about iRacing is that drivers that never have the chance to compete against each other in real cars due to proximity, can do so online through this league. Also, fans can compete side-by-side with their heroes. As of December 1, there are 91 drivers signed up for the league from 19 different states and multiple Canadian provinces.”

Reed said that Fulton Speedway is pleased to partner with the city.

“iRacing has grown exponentially in recent years, and when our NE Modified style of race car became a part of the game, it became a real player in our region. On behalf of track owners John and Laura Wight, I’d like to thank Mayor Deana Michaels, Chris Waldron, and the City of Fulton for their efforts. This is just one of so many valuable community-based initiatives in recent years that they’ve established for the betterment of the city.”

Not only has the number of participants grown for the program, but viewership, the streaming of races and race videos has grown as well.

“I get as many as 400 live viewers during a race live stream,” Batzer said. “And I get tens of thousands of views on video. It’s another way to bring people together and engender pride in Fulton.”

According to Waldron, the city of Fulton is one of the first cities in the country to host its own iRacing League.

“Our followers on our Parks and Rec Facebook page have grown from 600 in October 2020 to more than 2,300 today,” Waldon said.

Waldron also announced that the city of Fulton Racing Series is back with the First Municipal iRacing Dirt League in the country.

“All racing slots and sponsorships are full,” he added. “The response has been amazing.”

Anyone interested in more information can message Waldron through the Fulton Parks and Rec Facebook page.