Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing Review
It’s a warm Saturday night in the summer. The dirt is flying as 20 sprint cars slide around the track in a perpetual left-hand turn, jockeying for position in front of local fans and family members. The motors are a constant drone, leaving your ears ringing while the dirt and dust gets in your eyes; leaving a gritty feeling in your teeth.
In video games, that smalltown dirt-track feeling has been missing for a while. Sure, you can run a dirt series in the latest NASCAR Heat games, and Wreckfest has some fun dirt-track racing, but it’s not quite the same. Enter 2020 and Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing, developed by the team behind the modern NASCAR Heat games.
If you’ve played Heat — and especially the dirt series there — then you have an idea of what to expect in terms of the look and feel of these sprint cars. Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing is in many ways a re-skinned version of the NASCAR games. When it comes to the on-track dirt action, that’s a pretty good thing.
Like any racing game this side of Mario Kart, Sprint Car Racing is all about momentum. The quickest way around the track isn’t necessarily the shortest way. Therein lies the fun — and the challenge — of sim(ish) racing games like this.
Don’t get me wrong — Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing is not a sim racing game. It’s got some of the trappings of sim racing, while the actual driving leans a bit more arcade.
Sprint Car Racing includes three racing classes: TQ Midgets, 305s and 410s. It features official licenses from the All Star Circuit of Champions Midget and 410 series, including official drivers, which is a really cool touch. The series is also owned by Tony Stewart. Despite the official license, there are no real-life tracks in the game.
The game does feature 24 dirt tracks that vary greatly in looks, length and style. The tracks range from flat to high-banked; there are short ovals, tri-ovals (ala Daytona), a triangle, a rectangle (like Indianapolis) and even a road course (eventually available via DLC). The settings are varied as well, from deserts to mountains, indoors, a carnival and so-forth.
On the track, things get pretty simple: Press R2 (or RT), turn left and go. Occasionally, you’ll lift off the gas into a corner, feather the throttle and pedal to the floor down the straight. Find the fastest way around the track and try to win. And repeat. The game also supports racing wheels, though I have not tried it with the wheel.
Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing has the requisite game modes you would expect from a modern racing game: Quick Race lets you run any car on any circuit, including in splitscreen; a single Championship season; career mode and online, which lets you race with up to 24 fellow players.
For me, the two most important modes in racing games are the career and online. A great career can make up for lackluster online, and vice-versa. At launch, Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing isn’t great online, at least on the PS4. There’s a lot of lag and bugs abound. In some ways, this is a carryover from the NASCAR Heat series, which also has online stability issues.
But the career mode? It’s great, if somewhat standard: You start off on the lowest level, with the lowest-powered parts. As you race, you earn money and sponsorships and toss higher-quality and more reliable parts on your car. Better equipment equals a better car, which leads to more winning and so-forth. Eventually you will work your way through all three levels of cars as you try for championships. Throughout your rise, Tony Stewart will occasionally pop up with congratulations on your first win, or on reaching a new level.
Again, pretty standard stuff, and a re-skin of the NASCAR Heat career. But the on-track action is so good and the career is just deep enough (without going too far) that the whole package is just a blast.
In career, you have the chance to upgrade your car in five spots: engine block, chassis, shocks, tires and wing (for the 410s only). Each part has 18 potential upgrades that you can navigate through — do you pay more for performance or reliability? As you drive, you will add wear-and-tear to your car, which will need repaired between races. The damage model in-race isn’t quite there, but it’s great to see that your racing style has an impact on your career.
As your car gets better, your goals change and get tougher. I love the challenge of improving my car, and trying to eke extra performance out of the car when I’m on the track.
Here’s the best compliment I can pay Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing: I race 100% length races exclusively. Now, this is partly because sprint car racing is shorter by design than, say, Formula 1 or NASCAR. A 100% race in a TQ midget car takes maybe 15 minutes from qualifying through the end of the A Main, depending on how successful you are.
Here’s a typical “race weekend” in this game, whether you’re doing quick race or career: Practice; qualifying; Heat race; Qualifying Dash (if you do well enough in the heat); B Main (if you don’t do so well); then A Main. When I would run a 25 or 50% race, I found the heat and lower tier races would be too short for me to really make progress.
This is also where the game’s tuning comes into play. Typically, I just mess around with the tight/loose settings, but there are far deeper customization options that you can adjust: Shocks, weight, torsion bar, tire pressure and more. I love hopping into practice with a setting, ripping off a few laps, making an adjustment, and hopping back into practice to find a few tenths of a second. Like actual racing, the difference in position often comes down to a tenth of a second; that final tenth can be the difference between having the chance to qualify for Pole, or starting a race in 10th place or lower. I’ve also noticed that I typically do a lot better in races rather than the qualifying.
The racing is frantic, and I’ve grown to really love the shortest tracks. On a long enough run, you will encounter cars running on a variety of different laps, and there’s almost always someone to get past. It’s constant action.
Throughout the course of the race, new lines will start to open up. I’m not sure whether there is actually track degradation, if my car is changing, or if I’m just getting better.
Like Doc says in Cars, if you want to turn left, you need to turn right… unless you’re playing Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing. Using the preset tunings, you really just need to turn left to go left. But when you dive into the more advanced settings, you really can fine-tune your cars to drive a bit more realistically (turn right to go left, etc.)
Developers and the Community
Since the day this game was announced — just about 10 days before release — a fervent community sprung up. Popular YouTuber Jeff Favignano did some early gameplay videos through a partnership (he’s also in the game), and community member Red 4424 did a big trailer breakdown. A Facebook community is pushing 3,000 members.
It’s a niche game, but it’s a niche game that has quickly found a passionate fanbase. It’s always fun to be into a game along with others who are having fun with the game.
The developers are also involved with the group, and respond well on social media. They’re working on improving the game and have DLC planned. While not specifically a part of this review score, it’s great to see a receptive developer that clearly has passion for its product and fanbase.
Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing is a really good game. The core racing gameplay is just plain fun, and the career mode is deep enough without being too imposing for casual gamers. There are plenty of things that could be improved — damage model, customization and online stability — but there really are a lot of things to like about it.
I’ll again reference my above compliment: The best thing I can say about Tony Stewart’s Sprint Car Racing is that I like to race the full distance of every race. Racing each style of car feels just different enough, while the variety in tracks makes learning each nuance a challenge. And at a $30 budget price? It’s practically a steal.