03-27 HARDIN PHOTO page 1B

Denny Hamlin does a virtual spinout after winning the eNASCAR iRacing Pro Invitational Series Dixie Vodka 150 at virtual Homestead-Miami Speedway last Sunday.

Way back when, back in the early days of color television, well, at least our television, my favorite Saturday morning cartoon show was about racing.

It wasn’t real. In fact, it wasn’t even plausible. But I loved it anyway.

The Wacky Races.

You can still find it on YouTube, and all these years later it’s still, you know, silly. But at the time, it was cutting-edge artistic technology.

There were 11 vehicles of varying degrees of the word “vehicle,” and there were 11 distinct teams ranging from Peter Perfect, who drove a sleek dragster, to the Slag Brothers, who drove a boulder.

Don’t ask.

It was great entertainment for 9-year-olds.

Which brings us to the latest weekend cartoon show brought to you by NASCAR. They call it eRacing, or maybe iRacing, depending on the patent, and last week it was introduced to the world on Fox Sports. The virtual race involved a smattering of actual NASCAR racers who were home sitting in “cockpits” in front of big screens playing a version of NASCAR 2000.

And 900,000 people watched it.

So of course, never an organization to turn down attention, NASCAR has decided to turn it into a series of sorts. Last week they were at Homestead. This week they’re at Texas.

Now while some are referring to this as a “sport,” it’s not. It’s a game, and it’s closer to Donkey Kong than actual stock-car racing.

But it’s where we are.

The truth is, these drivers have been doing this for years with no one paying attention. Some have been doing it to familiarize themselves with an upcoming track. The visuals are that good.

When they were both young Busch Series drivers, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Martin Truex Jr. would actually hang out at Earnhardt’s house and study track maneuvers. You could hear them on Saturdays discussing over the radio moves they were about to make based on “the other night.”

It was fascinating then.

Now it’s just odd.

These are grown men playing video games. I watched it for about 20 minutes last week. I won’t watch it again.

Well, maybe I would if, say, one of the drivers turned out to be a bad guy like Dick Dastardly, who would cheat and wreck the other Wacky Racers every Saturday morning.

I mean, why wouldn’t someone like Tony Stewart show up one week and reduce an event to a cartoon show? If it boosted ratings, NASCAR would probably allow it.

Last week’s race winner, Denny Hamlin, donated money to coronavirus victims after the event, which made it a worthwhile afternoon. The sport should probably figure out a way to use proceeds from the show to aid crew members and thousands in the industry who are out of work right now.

They could even raise money by allowing people to place bets on the outcome. Believe it or not, they did that in 1968 with the Wacky Races until someone made them stop.

It helped turn a nation of 9-year-olds into gambling race fans.

Are you listening, NASCAR?

Bring back Penelope Pitstop and the Saturday morning gang. That, I would watch.