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Posted: Apr 26, 2022 @ 08:45 am GMT-0600
Updated: Aug 11, 2023 @ 09:31 pm GMT-0600
Sorting Tags: Article Lost Titles, Article Software, Articles, bignews, devnews Bethesda, Skip Barber Racing,

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Today we know Bethesda as the software giant that brought us a number of largely open-world titles gamers have used to explore fantasy worlds and escape reality. But in the late 90s they were also known for their racing games, and to this day are renowned for the Burnout, IHRA and NIRA Drag Racing series that allowed gamers to explore the view from the cockpit of something very, very real.

When first announced on April 27, 1999, Skip Barber Racing sounded like an exciting and useful addition to the sim racing genre because through an alliance with the Skip Barber Racing School we would be able to learn many of the advanced techniques that real-world racers use to improve their race craft and win races. Had it released as planned late 1999 the ability to heel-toe, learn a track, or even safely re-enter the circuit after a spin might have become so ingrained we may not have needed a ‘safety rating’, and the connection between at-home simulation training and real racing could have been made solid so much earlier.

Skip Barber Racing was to include comprehensive evaluation and feedback based on your performance simulating a three-day racing school and car control clinic that would include the Dodge Dakota truck, Dodge Viper and open-wheel race cars as-used by the real-life school. You would learn trail-braking, heel-and-toe down shifting and be able to compete in a number of virtual championships in at least two different types of cars; Both the pre-aero Formula Mazda and Reynard-designed Barber Pro series cars. While the amateur Formula Dodge (Mazda) cars were equally prepared and setup-locked, the Barber Pro cars would have suspension, wing and brake bias as adjustable components to the setup.

Development was quite far along by late 1999, with the focus on building tracks. Extensive video shoots with Skip Barber instructors for the in-game instruction that would have aligned to four in-game views showing suspension or input telemetry were complete, and so was the overall design of the UI that matched Skip Barber’s corporate branding.

Lime Rock Park, Scott Brayton Memorial Street Circuit and possibly Road Atlanta shown in screenshots.

Lead Designer Brent Erickson, the man also responsible for those Bethesda Drag Racing titles, spent hours in the real-life cars getting down to a respectable lap time to try to feel-out the chassis he would try to simulate. He certainly believed at the time his engine and the dynamics of the cars in Skip Barber Racing were on-par or better than Grand Prix Legends, and with six degrees of freedom, Direct 3D (now Direct X), force feedback, positional audio cues, multi-player, wet weather, and an open architecture that would have supported modding, it would have been hard to find a more accessible engine at the time.

After a delay into 2000 caused by the company going through some changes in structure with ZeniMax, resources were then re-directed to other projects due to a lack of interest from upper management. Brent Erickson decided to leave Bethesda and his team in Washington was disbanded. It was over, but sim racers wouldn’t learn about this until listings for the game disappeared from online pre-order Web sites in March, 2001.

While Bethesda had originally planned to use the same NetImmerse engine seen in the previous Drag Racing titles for Skip Barber Racing, there were significant rewrites moving to C/C++. Sadly, with the cancellation of the product, it appears the advancements made for this title never went towards any publicly released product.

Just a few months prior to the announcement of Skip Barber Racing many of us had – at first – been hugely frustrated by Grand Prix Legends; It made us realize you couldn’t brake in a turn without worrying about weight transfer, without worrying that you’d throw the back of the car off the race track where you’d inevitably follow it. To this day I still check my mirrors when driving on the highway, hyper-aware, as if I’m driving using a single 4:3 display and blind on my left or right, and I am absolutely sure my muscle memory and even fuel saving abilities on the road came through lessons learned virtually. It’s somewhat sad to think what Skip Barber Racing could have taught us, and what the consequences have been of its loss.

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