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Virtual speeding — simulator business takes drivers to the racetrack

by SUMMER ZALESKY Daily Inter Lake
| May 12, 2024 12:00 AM

As a former high school soccer player, Tim Doepker was looking for a way to satiate his competitive drive when he heard about simulated racing. 

He found that the sport, also known as sim racing, allowed him to challenge himself in new ways and in August of 2023, Doepker opened Glacier Racing Simulators in Kalispell. 

“I saw a YouTube video on sim racing and thought that it looked really fun. This was right during COVID and I thought it would be good to bring to people during what was a hard time for everybody,” said Doepker. 

Upon walking into Glacier Racing Simulators, patrons will see several driver’s seats in front of wide screens. Donning headsets, drivers are then taught how to use the simulators and are provided with guided videos for learning gauges, car control skills, and basic racing lines.

Since racing a real car can be expensive and dangerous, Doepker said one of the main goals of his business is to make racing more accessible for young drivers so they can get a sense of the sport. While the simulators can’t actually teach people how to drive, Doepker did say that there is an emergence of physical and occupational therapists using similar techniques to treat patients.

“We even had somebody in his 80s come in,” Doepker added. “He had been in an accident and was doing therapy to try to get back to driving. They came in and tried it while taking notes, so it worked for that purpose.”

While at first glance, this simulated racing might appear like an arcade game, the experience aims to mimic driving a racecar with as much realism as possible and the business’ website calls it “an immersive driving experience unlike any other.”

“Driving them can be pretty hard and there’s a lot of physicality when it comes to the steering wheels which have motors and then it gives you torque as you're trying to drive so it allows you to really feel the car. You have to be able to push on the brakes pretty hard and there’s a lot of force to them,” Doepker explained. 

The simulators at Glacier Racing are modeled off of what professional drivers are using according to Doepker who added that most up and coming professional drivers use them in order to master the courses and to not burn up tires and cars. 

In a blog post, Doepker said, “I would argue that the simple fact that professional drivers of all disciplines use sim racing as a training tool tells us just how realistic they are.” 

The majority of Glacier Racing’s tracks feature famous road courses from around the world making the racing more engaging than standard NASCAR style tracks. For frequent drivers, membership packages are available which allow access to guides, live coaching, leagues, and log their race times. Doepker has also found that the experience is great for work parties, date nights, and family sessions, where he has even seen three generations racing against each other.

“We've seen a great response from family teams,” said Doepker. “Mainly father-son combos who are really enjoying learning the ropes of racing together, and we had some really cool family sessions where three generations are racing.”

Glacier Racing Simulators is located at 30 Second Street East in Suite B 10 in Kalispell. They are open Wednesday through Sunday and can be reached by phone 406-261-6696 or email tim@grsimulators.com. To find out more, visit grsimulators.com.

    One of four racing simulator cockpits at Glacier Racing Simulators in the KM Building in Kalispell on Tuesday, May 7. (Casey Kreider/Daily Inter Lake)
 Casey Kreider