Brandon Hubbard is part of a new generation of drivers.
In the rookie's first race last Saturday, he passed 14 blunderbusts in 20 laps to finish fifth after starting dead last. How did the 19-year-old from Mastic accrue such passing acumen? From a video game, of course.
Starting in 2003, Hubbard raced online against human competitors in a game called iRacing. It may be a virtual experience, but according to Hubbard, the track, steering wheel, gas pedal, and especially maneuvering, are as close a racing facsimile as you'll get from a simulator. "It's the most realistic game I've ever played," Hubbard said. "It's nothing like actually getting into a race car, but it helps you feeling people out. It teaches you how to make moves and pass them."
Hubbard was a quick study. He dusted off the 1974 Buick his dad used to race -- a car that hadn't seen a track in eight years -- and stamped his claim as a contender.
"The first five laps, I was trying to feel people out and see how they were racing," Hubbard said. "After that, I was just picking cars off one by one. It's kinda tough to pass 14 cars in 20 laps. It brings me so much confidence into [Saturday night] when we race again."
Hubbard, who won a full size school bus demolition derby last season, will also start dead last Saturday night as the newcomer to the division.
The Floyd graduate's ultimate goal is to race in the modified class, but he'll have to start from the back like his predecessors. And, like those who came before him, Hubbard will do it on a limited budget. Hubbard lacks sponsorship and doesn't expect to race a full season. He says he'll continue "until the money runs out."
But don't expect Hubbard to go back to video games. He knows he belongs on a real track.
"Fifth place as a rookie feels so good to me," he said. "It doesn't give me a big head, like I'm going to dominate the field. But just, 'Wow, I did it.' "