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NASCAR Racing 3: The Sim That Never Was

Tim Wheatley - Oct 31, 2020       2 Comments
Tim Wheatley - Oct 31, 2020
    2 Comments

It’s 1997 and I’m a college kid living with my parents in the middle-of-nowhere English countryside. I’ve been sim racing since Indy 500 and Formula One Grand Prix, and had started watching NASCAR last year due to free-to-air Eurosport coverage from a satellite dish I had propped up inside my bedroom pointing out of the window.

I hadn’t known NASCAR even existed just a couple of years earlier; I found out when I bought NASCAR Racing (1994) and was shocked to find out it was a real sport later on. I would edit the drivers text files to create a realistic result every week, I’d then run 100% races – and I loved it.


NASCAR Racing (1994)

Discovering an online community at US Pits and full carsets from IWCCCARS happened around the same time. I learned about NASCAR Racing 2 (1996) and SODA Off-Road Racing (1997) purely because of them. I learned that SODA especially was going to be a huge breakthrough title for sim racing as it would have “3D physics” and the car could actually physically leave the surface of the race track! This was amazing stuff at the time… Honest!

It wasn’t long before news about Grand Prix Legends (1998) surfaced. We’d first seen a glimpse of the possibilities with SODA Off Road Racing – a project Papyrus worked on – but this was the first globally recognized title to push sim racing forward because it included the global sport of Formula One. But it was so difficult that I uninstalled it immediately after trying and didn’t touch it again for a month because of my frustration. This same experience, felt by executives at Sierra, reinforced by less-than-stellar sales, was unfortunately what held back sim racing for nearly three years.

NASCAR Racing 3, initially due for release with what was now called “GPL physics” in Q4 1998 according to a teaser video in the Busch Grand National Expansion Pack for NASCAR Racing 2 and various press announcements, was cancelled. NASCAR Manager (announced in the same teaser video) was also cancelled, and the team was pulled onto what eventually became NASCAR Racing 3 (1999) without “GPL physics” and NASCAR Legends (1999).


Screenshot from February, 1999 of “N3” as previewed by GameCenter.

Sadly, NASCAR Racing 3 and NASCAR Legends became a shadow of what they should have been, barely more than technology updates to NASCAR Racing 2 and its aging physics. The community was massively disappointed, but why? Well, we’d learned just how amazing Grand Prix Legends actually was… We might have been frustrated, uninstalled, returned the product, not bought it at the sales numbers Sierra executives wanted, but those of us who stuck with it (after reinstalling it) learned to drive it, could feel it – and we loved it.


Grand Prix Legends (1998).

The exciting prospect of seeing the Grand Prix Legends engine used for NASCAR meant that we’d truly be able to bounce our way across the kerbing at Sears Point and we’d be able to experience the blowovers we saw in real life NASCAR races… We’d got confirmation from Sierra that NASCAR 3 would use it, we got confirmation from Papyrus that NASCAR 3 would use it, and we eagerly awaited it happening… But it didn’t happen until NASCAR Racing 4 (2001).

I think about those lost years 1999-2001 and that lost simulation because I think of the young people like myself who failed to be influenced by it. Grand Prix Legends became a massive part of my life and ultimately led to my career in founding both Legends Central – which became Race Sim Central later on – and later working at iRacing, Image Space Inc. and Studio 397. It also did the same for many others who now develop their own racing simulation software and hardware (you wonder why so many simulations include 1967 Grand Prix cars?)

Eventually Sierra re-visited the tech demo with Papyrus and found that (unsurprisingly) a Gen-4 NASCAR Cup car was easier to drive than a wing-less 1967 Grand Prix car. These screenshots are from that trial, and what went on to become NASCAR Racing 4. If you look closely you can see the Grand Prix Legends menu and UI barely modified for the task:

Papyrus went on to refine the “GPL physics” with NASCAR Racing 2002 Season and NASCAR Racing 2003 Season before being shutdown by Vivendi Universal. They re-formed shortly afterwards in a joint venture between John Henry, principal owner of the Boston Red Sox and Dave Keammer, co-founder of Papyrus. Together forming iRacing.com Motorsport Simulations and purchasing the Grand Prix Legends/NASCAR Racing 2003 Season codebase from Vivendi.

Oh, and remember SODA Off-Road Racing? Well, the non-Papyrus half of the Software Allies SODA development team joined Kaemmer at iRacing and is the reason you drive on a low resolution pointcloud with so many details of the track surface. Before that the scan was just used for the track geometry. “3D physics” literally came full circle.

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Whoa, where did you get those screenshots from?

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I got them on the rec.autos.simulators newsgroup back in 2000-ish.

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