Nova Scotian fuels up for $300K virtual race
HALIFAX -- Competitive gaming, or esports, is on the verge of becoming a billion-dollar industry – and a Nova Scotian is among the top virtual drivers in the world. Working for a NASCAR superstar and one of the most popular athletes of all-time, his promising career has only just left the starting line.
Keegan Leahy is not the Michael Jordan of esports NASCAR racing just yet, but Jordan is helping him to reach that goal by pairing up with NASCAR driver, and three-time Daytona 500 champ Denny Hamlin as co-owners of the team Leahy is a part of.
“It’s pretty cool that Michael Jordan got involved and that he’s a NASCAR fan,” says Leahy. “[He] got started with Denny last year in the sim racing world, and this year, he made the jump with Danny to start a team in real life NASCAR as well. So that’s what our team is named after the real-life team 23XI.”
Leahy is one of 40 drivers going bumper to bumper for the checkered flag in a virtual racing series consisting of 20 races. In 2020, he won three races and pocketed $12,000.
As the popularity of iRacing grows, many professional NASCAR drivers are becoming owners of their own virtual teams. And the stakes are growing too, with prize money increasing exponentially.
“In the last few years, interest has really picked up. NASCAR has an interest in it as well,” says Leahy. “We are racing for a prize pool of $300,000 this year.”
In addition to cash prizes, there are other perks to being one of the top sim drivers in the world.
“Last year I got invited down to Charlotte [North Carolina]. We did a media day with iRacing, and Denny Hamlin invited us over to his house, and we got to play basketball in his basement,” says Leahy. “It’s like ‘wow,’ I never imagined myself doing that.”
Meanwhile, from his living room to the virtual race track, the rumble of his engine keeps Leahy focused on the upcoming iRacing season – where he hopes to continue making a name of himself.