Specter Chronicle 001: NASCAR, NASCAR Heat 5, and Auto Racing Simulation

The move towards returning normalcy back to this website is one step closer as I am shifting from a generic “Emerald Specter” column to this new “Specter Chronicle.” The first topic for this is in the title: NASCAR, NASCAR Heat 5, and Auto Racing Simulation.

As a fan of the NASCAR Cup Series, I have followed the sport for quite a long time. My first full season of watching was in 1992 when Richard Petty ran his final race and Alan Kulwicki won the Winston Cup. There were a large number of “legends” present during this season and it also kicked off my determination to want to start trying to simulate the sport.

Since ’92 was more analog than digital, the first attempt was cards. I have since learned that there was a NASCAR Race Cards game that essentially did what I was trying to do, but my game was closer to a 10 lap race. That card version also required friends to play and trying to run any sort of “more than a night of games” league wasn’t happening. I wanted something that was more of a simulation of a season than just a race.

While enjoying Cup Series I was also learning to code in BASIC, which meant I could try to create my NASCAR dream in a digital form! I could simulate an entire field of cars but my parameters relied heavily on randomness, meaning drivers weren’t able to be super consistent.

Video games evolved enough, eventually, to liven up the scene. While I could simulate entire seasons, or careers, I still had to be personally involved… and that wasn’t exactly what I was after. I did enjoy my time with those early versions but it wasn’t exactly what I was looking for in simulation.

But that does lead me to the specific video game I’d like to talk more about: NASCAR Heat 5.

While video games have done various levels of quality in the playability department but none of the games have done as much as NASCAR Heat 5 has done. Sure, it’s the most recent game that I’ve personally purchased, but it isn’t the most recently released game out there. That belongs to NASCAR ’21: Ignition (as of the writing of this article). Where Ignition fails, though, is that it’s new and didn’t have the polish of the Heat series. It’ll be quite some time before they do get there, too. NASCAR Heat 5 has done the best that I’ve played in allowing the player to experience the NASCAR… well, experience.


True, I haven’t personally played Ignition, but my opinion of Ignition comes from someone I trust who has played it extensively. His opinion is that Ignition is complete garbage, to the depth that he got rid of the game after only eight months of owning it.

Looking back at the above, though, NASCAR Heat 5 allows me to run either as a fictional character (like my current run as Lou Sweel on my YouTube Channel) or as myself in a season or career mode. This is still the same problem that I’ve mentioned above. So, is there a solution to this problem in 2022?

Actually, yes.

In 2000, I worked somewhere that did tech support for Microsoft Excel and was assigned to the team that provided this support. In order to be able to confidently provide this support I needed to be formally trained in the program, so Microsoft sent out their representative to train me (and the rest of my class) on Excel. Since that time, I’ve expanded to include Apple’s Numbers and Google Sheets. So, I’m really into spreadsheets as a whole.

There have been several runs at a NASCAR-esq simulator in a spreadsheet. Just like back in the BASIC days, a lot of my attempts ran into the randomness element. Using other people’s spreadsheets that simulated entire events like soccer and American football, I tried to adapt those concepts to auto racing. None of these attempts work because, as one would expect, auto racing is a different animal all together.

A more recent search for auto racing spreadsheet simulations turned up the solution to my problem. Trying to simulate auto racing is something that can be boiled down into a simulation of one specific aspect of the sport: a lap time simulator.

Building something that simulates only a single lap, using parameters that include a driver’s skill, track differences, vehicle speeds, tire wear, and other factors is the basis for building a simulation. Like an onion, I started building on top of that and have gotten to the point that I can start creating a roster of drivers to compete in a simulated season on a variety of tracks.

At long last, a simulation.

What’s the point of this? Well, I like the idea of honing this simulator and building my skills in spreadsheet programming up. I also have simulated sports on this website before, and will do so again. This time, though, I’ll start with the auto racing and build out from there.

The simulator will start out with a certain level of technicality and build up from there. There are certain elements built into the spreadsheet currently and there are more elements that I’d like to include into it in the future. As time moves on, I’m hoping that the level of detail a real NASCAR Cup Series team has in adjusting a car for traveling around the track can be included.

Maybe that will be when I’m programming something more than a spreadsheet.