Over the past several weeks, the motorsports world has turned its focus to online racing, mostly focusing on the iRacing platform. Due to iRacing, many drivers have risen to popularity through strong runs against some of the best racers from around the globe. Two of those drivers gaining national and international attention are Max McLaughlin and Bryce Bailey.
Whether it be on dirt or asphalt, both drivers have shown tremendous strength against fierce competition. Now they are putting their driving talents together looking to set the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series scene on fire.
The tandem of McLaughlin and Bailey was originally started from an online friendship. Out of that friendship has begun Max McLaughlin Racing eSports. McLaughlin has taken the reins of owner/driver, while Bailey will be the primary driver of their NOS Energy World of Outlaws Sprint Car.
"He was getting ready for an invitational with the Outlaws and we started talking. We just sort of clicked. We've been friends ever since, " Bailey told Speed51. "I starting helping him with setups and figured we might as well start our own thing. And here we are."
"He messaged me and asked if I needed any help because I'd been struggling a little bit," McLaughlin added. "Ever since he started to help, we've been running up front even more. It just kinda sparked from there. I've been running the World of Outlaws deal on iRacing and he's actually been doing all of my setups. He's really smart with all of that stuff. He's the one who is the brains behind all of my sim activity."
Although being on iRacing for a long time, it was only recently that McLaughlin has really gotten into using the sim. The driver out of Mooresville, NC now sees it as something more than just a game.
"I've always had iRacing, I was just never too serious about it. I wasn't on it every day. Late at night sometimes I would jump on and run a few laps. Now it's become a serious hobby of mine to where I do it all of the time. I have really had a lot of interest in eSports lately. I helped Alex Bergeron a little bit with his stuff last year and ended up winning the World of Outlaws title. After that I didn't really just want to sponsor a car, I wanted to start an esports team. So this is just the beginning of that."
So how did "Mad Max" decide to have Bryce Bailey, a 15 year old kid from Waverly, NY be his driver? Well, take into account that Bailey has a 48% win percentage on the dirt, as well as wins in everything from Sprint Cars to Asphalt Modifieds. It didn't take long for McLaughlin to find the right guy to join him at his new team.
"When you're hosting Sprint Car sessions all of the time and you're getting beat by the same kid, it's a pretty good indication that he's got some talent. I can practice all day. I've beat him a few times dicing through traffic, but 90% of the time he comes out on top," McLaughlin said of Bailey. "He's awesome to work with, he's a great kid. He works really hard towards anything he sets his mind to. My dad has always made me work hard for everything I've had and I see the work ethic he has towards even making my setups and making sure I have everything I need to go win, so that's really cool and I respect that about him. He's always winning in something and his versatility definitely caught my attention."
Bailey has won races with the Race of Champions Modified Tour, as well as the ESS Sprint Car Series this season on iRacing. Although he has shown a lot of versatility, the Sprint Cars are where he seems to thrive.
"I just kinda clicked on the Sprint Car thing right away then other things followed," said Bailey. "I just kept improving myself and that helped tremendously. I always loved the Sprint Cars. I fell in love with them right away and I was fast in them. Then the asphalt seemed to follow."
Since deciding to start Max McLaughlin Racing eSports, the primary focus of McLaughlin and Bailey will be on the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, though both hope to build their relationship into more racing disciplines in the future. Adding to the excitement of their team is NOS Energy Drink, which will have its logo on their cars.
"I've become really good friends with Ricky Stenhouse Jr and the NOS connection originated with him," explained McLaughlin. "Running the NOS Sprint Car on the esports stuff and then it moved into everything else I run on iRacing. Everyone at NOS Energy Drink has been really awesome to work with. We've had a lot of fun since I've been in contact with them when I asked if they had any interest in coming on board. It's really cool to see all of the attention being directed to iRacing and all of the media attention it's not only giving iRacing, but racing itself. Being on TV with the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, it's just an awesome thing to be a part of."
The sponsorship also adds a little bit of a twist for Bailey who isn't as used to the spotlight as his car owner.
"It's definitely a game changer. You have to act very professional in everything you do and people are always watching. It's always nice to get those guys wins on the esports side of things and get their name out there. It kinda adds a little more pressure, but it's just business as usual."
With the added pressure to perform also comes the added pressure of racing against some of the best drivers in the world. Whether it be sim racers or real life drivers, one of the most interesting things about iRacing is how drivers from different disciplines can compete against one another. That is one thing that both McLaughlin and Bailey enjoy about the online experience.
"The real life guys are so much fun to race with. It definitely adds some pressure to beat them for sure. Since this quarantine I've gotten to meet some people that I never dreamed of meeting in my life," said Bailey.
"It's all cool. Even just the relationships that I've gained with some of the people," McLaughlin added. "I've got Ron Capps and Juan Pablo Montoya following me on social media now. It's little things like that that are pretty dang cool to me. It originated running Outlaw Karts in 2015 and now you have Juan Pablo Montoya following you and you're running in ARCA. It's pretty cool to see in a short time."
The team has had success so far, seeing strong runs for both drivers in a short period of time. One of those races includes a second-place finish for McLaughlin against the World of Outlaws Sprint Car Series at Charlotte, barely being edged out by his friend Christopher Bell. Only time will tell what is in store for this new partnership, but it wil definitely be worth watching as the results are already positive out of the gate.
-Story by: Evan Canfield, Speed51 Correspondent