Simulated Racing Ignites Cottage Industry

With simulator racing the flavor of the month in esports, makers of the intricate contraptions that drivers use to compete in the virtual events are seeing a major spike in sales.

The machines, known in racing parlance as rigs, are simulators that combine a metal frame with everything you’d need for a virtual race like a seat, pedals, and steering wheel — plus, of course, a computer.

They can cost anywhere from a couple thousand dollars to tens of thousands. Many drivers around the world have been posting updates on social media of them taking new rig deliveries in recent weeks.

There are a handful of prominent companies in the U.S. that specialize in building sim chassis, which typically come with everything from specially cushioned gamer seats to unique curved flat-screen TVs that allow drivers to get the sensation of having vision on their sides in addition to straight in front of them.

One of the more popular companies making rigs has been WR1 Sim Chassis, an Oklahoma-based company with deep ties in racing that offers several models from a bare frame for $1.42K USD to a fully decked out version for $7.9K.

The fully stocked version includes an HP desktop computer, a 49-inch Samsung curved ultrawide monitor, pedals made by Fanatec, Bose speakers and a high-grip wheel made by Max Papis Innovations. WRI’s website says that the average shipping cost for the rig is $350.

Chad Wheeler, owner of WR1, said that his company has made 300 rigs since it was founded a couple years ago and now has 100 more on order. With hundreds of the machines sold, WR1’s revenue is far into the six figures, but Wheeler said he’s been reinvesting profits back into the company.

Wheeler, who races in real life, said that he got into the space in 2017 because he already owned a metal craft business and needed a simulator, so he built one for himself. He started building to sell once he saw interest in them when he posted pictures of the rigs on social media, and word of mouth among drivers eventually led to him having a steady business.

That business has since exploded because of the effects from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) shutdown, which has halted real-life racing.

“We’ve hit a home run and feel really fortunate, but I come from a hardworking family,” Wheeler said. “A lot of people think we’ve made a lot of money doing this, but I’ve been really focused on investing and putting money back into the company — I’m looking five or six years down the road.”

Drivers who have posted on social media about buying a new WR1 sim chassis in recent months include NASCAR drivers Clint Bowyer, Kevin Harvick, and Noah Gragson. Even Barstool Sports and esports organization FaZe Clan recently took delivery of a WR1 rig.

Other companies in the space include Georgia-based SimCraft, Richmond-based Sim Seats, and Carolina Sim Works in North Carolina.

“One of most enjoyable things I’ve gotten out of this whole thing is introducing new people into racing,” said Wheeler, a third-generation racer. “That’s why you see [drivers like] Dale Earnhardt Jr. so fired up about this, because they know it is such a tool to introduce new blood into the sport.”

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