Virtual race temper tantrum has real-world implications for Bubba Wallace

BRISTOL, TENNESSEE - APRIL 05: (EDITORIAL USE ONLY) (Editors note: This image was computer generated in-game) Clint Bowyer, driver of the #14 Smithfield Ford, and Bubba Wallace, driver of the #43 Blue Emu Chevrolet, crash at Bristol Motor Speedway on April 05, 2020 in Bristol, Tennessee. (Photo by Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

It’s just a video game, but it wasn’t anything fun for Bubba Wallace Sunday.  The Richard Petty Motorsports driver, who is self-isolating like the rest of the world due to the COVID-19 virus, has been taking part in the eNASCAR Pro Invitational Series.

With all pro sporting events cancelled, the racing at least has gone online with a virtual racing series that features many of the same drivers who race in NASCAR’s Cup series. All the racing takes place online and Sunday’s race was held at a virtual Bristol Motor Speedway.

Wallace was racing using a simulator rig at his home like the rest of the field.  While the racing was virtual the emotions were real.  Clint Bowyer was the in-race reporter for Fox Sports and at one point was moved out of line by Wallace.

“I got Bubba’ed!” Bowyer shouted then chuckled. “I need a beer really badly.”

There was no chuckle from Bubba, and shortly after Wallace seemed to “rage quit” a video game term that in IRacing is when a virtual racer disconnects.  “That’s why I don’t take this shit serious. Peace out,” Wallace said on his Twitch channel just before he signed off.

Wallace was campaigning a virtual paint scheme for his sponsor Blue-Emu which had already signed a deal to sponsor the No. 43 Wallace drives and was planning on running in real life.

After he disconnected from the iRacing platform, Wallace took to Twitter.

“I ruined so many peoples day by quitting … a video game,” he Tweeted. “Bahaha. A video game. Damn quarantine life is rough.” He then admitted to rage quitting in a second post.

The sponsor, Blue-Emu was apparently none too pleased:

“Bye bye Bubba. We’re interested in drivers, not quitters,” said a tweet on the account of the topical pain reliever cream. The company added a second tweet using the image of Donald Trump uttering his “You’re Fired” catchphrase from “The Apprentice.”

Blue-Emu had started sponsoring Petty drivers in 2015 and had done 10 races over the past five years.

Ben Blessing executive vice president of Blue-Emu said that iRacing was a great opportunity for the brand as sales decline in the Coronavirus economy.

“I used to work in NASCAR, and you aren’t going to find the dollar-for-dollar return on investment we were getting on this,” Blessing told website The Action Network, a betting site.  He declined to comment how much Blue-Emu was paying Wallace.

“We thought this was a blessing in disguise for us. But then you find out that you aren’t sponsoring a NASCAR driver, you are sponsoring someone like my 13-year-old son who broke his controller playing some game where he builds houses.”

Blessing told the site that an official with Richard Petty Motorsports reached out to Blessing after the race and said they wouldn’t be invoiced for Bubba’s virtual sponsorship on Sunday.

Blue-Emu is sponsoring the races on a week-by-week basis. They also sponsor Landon Cassill.

“Landon has been a real pro,” Blessing said. “He’s practicing six to eight hours a day with our brand in the background.”

Greg Engle