Ricky Paz Steers iRacing Team as Lone Driver

Sophomore Ricky Paz is a music education major and the founding member of Valpo Esports’ new iRacing team. On top of participating in drumline, pep band, and two jobs, Paz finds time to compete as the unique team’s only driver. The game differs from most esports due to its close connection with a traditional sport. Being a lifelong racing fan, Paz still only started his journey as an iRacing driver thanks to the COVID-19 pandemic.

“When COVID happened, it was really boring and I couldn’t hang out with people. It was frustrating, so much like most of America I found my time playing video games and seeing the virtual world,” Paz said. “Around May, NASCAR was doing a virtual series to cope with not having in-person races and they were doing it on iRacing.”

After seeing the race, he became inspired to purchase the intricate equipment to race virtually. iRacers use actual wheels and pedals hooked up to a computer to control their car in-game. A simulator cockpit and virtual reality headset make the experience ultra-realistic. In addition to high-tech gear, the game itself was designed to feel like a real race.

“These are actual raceways that NASCAR competes on. Iracing scans real-life racetracks into the service. All 36 NASCAR tracks are in there, road courses from Germany, Japan, Italy too.” Paz said. The scans capture every detail of tracks. “If there’s a bump on the back stretch of Daytona International Speedway, it’s actually in the game. You can feel it in the cockpit and see your screen shake.”

Paz got on to raceways during his first few weeks of the Collegiate iRacing League, but got off to a rough start. In week one, he finished a respectable 19th out of 36 cars. In week two, Paz had to go through a last chance qualifier to reach the main event. With only ten drivers advancing out of the qualifier, he put together a strong finish. “We had a restart with two laps to go and once we got the green flag, I just completely went shake and bake on the outside. I moved from 14th up to 5th and made the main event.” Paz said.

In the main event, Valpo’s iRacer suffered an unfortunate wreck putting him 32nd, but the early struggles haven’t discouraged Paz. He believes experience helps him grow as a racer. “It was a learning opportunity and good to get our name out there. Especially in the qualifying heat, I think people saw how quickly I made up those eight spots.”

Now that he is in an official league, another thing he wants people to see is his support of social causes. Paz celebrated Black History Month and Pride Month on the raceway and in October, he is painting his car pink to recognize Breast Cancer Awareness Month. Using his platform to be vocal about global issues is important to the sophomore. “I’m grateful for the opportunity to make a change. Hopefully we push down the road of being social activists and pave the way for minority and first generation students like me,” he said.

Paz is excited for the future and hopes the team will also bring attention to Valpo’s esports program as a whole.  “I want to continue the path of making this program stronger and shed light to prospective students knowing that the university has teams like this and is supportive of us.”
Follow along all of the Esports matchups this semester at https://www.twitch.tv/valpoesports.