Microsoft

NASCAR Heat Evolution (Xbox One)

nascarheatevo

Zero black drivers compete in the current NASCAR Cup Series. In the 60 years prior, there were three. Total. Only one of them won a pole. Wendell Scott’s Jacksonville victory came in 1968. Nearly forty years, and the sport continues to wait for another. Just one.

Bubba Wallace is the closest thing modern NASCAR has to a black driver, racing in the Xfinity Series (a minor leagues of sorts). He’s not included in NASCAR Heat Evolution, leaving every aspect of this sport – even the videogame – rife with inequality.

NASCAR does advocate with “Drive for Diversity,” offering developmental programs to draw broader ethnicity into the sport. It’s clearly not working. NASCAR Heat’s (potentially) corrective feature is create-a-driver. To NASCAR Heat, it’s a simple skin tone slider. All hair customization options are white-centric, leaving bald as the lone solution for those of color.

Opening screens belt notes on a banjo. This fits with the fleet of Confederate flags often draped over the trailers at center track. It’s an unwelcoming visual, strangely missing as any black create-a-driver in NASCAR Heat scans the Daytona 500 audience. Convenient deletions leave NASCAR Heat artificially concealed from the sport’s reality.

It’s been a few years since a studio attempted to replicate NASCAR in interactive form. Papyrus/Sierra dominated PC DOS in the early ‘90s, while a majority of console efforts were one-offs, licensed by elite drivers like Bill Elliot. EA took on NASCAR in the mid-90s and early 2000s, often allowing different racing disciplines to co-exist. Andretti Racing shifted into a full NASCAR sim, the final entry coming in 2008. NASCAR Heat comes from a short lineage at developer Monster Games, this only their third since 2000.

None of those games offered black drivers, either, FYI. Even the imagination of off-shoots like NASCAR Rumble didn’t contribute to that level of fantasy.

NASCAR Heat Evolution’s dire presentation doesn’t exude the spectacle of the sport’s broadcast, more crummy in-car sim than TV replicator. Without TV coverage, it leaves one to wonder if trailers for The Free State of Jones are ironically playing between lapses in the action. Probably. With or without, the crummy production values and ailing feature set limp NASCAR Heat into retail existence.

To drive NASCAR, you need sponsors – drivers fall under the veil of independent contractors, so it’s either winning a chunk of the purse or slapping decals on your car to survive. The first corporate sponsor in NASCAR Heat Evolution comes from Moog Steering and Suspension, a terrifying proposition for Moog if they’re first in sponsoring a black driver. Imagine Moog’s poor social media team after that announcement.

It’s all so strange. NASCAR fan memorabilia typically features model cars in various scales – not the driver. Fans snatch replica vehicles, donned with accurate corporate logo placement, and toss them on a shelf. Drivers identify more with numbers (vehicles decorated with a slanted 3 in honor of Dale Earnhardt) or those logos than their faces. So it is with NASCAR Heat. Outside of menus and post-race pop-ups, drivers stay invisible. This makes the racial divide evident in the sport increasingly absurd.

In 2016, Ted Cruz posted a famous selfie with GOP interns. They were all white.
Scanning the polygonal crowd of NASCAR Heat, it’s possible to recreate Cruz’s selfie. This isn’t inauthentic – Nielsen noted 2% of NASCAR’s TV audience is black. Live event viewership undoubtedly follows course. And, not including a black driver on the roster isn’t wrong either – it’s also depressingly authentic. Not including the tools to make that change, to even fictionally allow inclusiveness? That’s nonsense.

2/5

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