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Racing is bigger than ever with the popular Netflix Drive to Survive series chronicling the lives of the drivers, managers and team owners in Formula 1. But well before the show launched the sport into a mainstream sensation, Calgary tech company TracksVR was innovating to bring world class virtual reality racing experiences to Calgary.
TracksVR opened in 2018 after a year and a half of R&D that incorporated 9 different software systems in order to reproduce the experience of an assortment of race cars from GT3, Formula 1, GT Endurance, Touring, NASCAR, and Indy Car franchises on over 200 tracks from around the world. Husband and wife team – Virginia and Howard Trawick started the company with the goal of making racing accessible to everyone and they kept this value at the forefront when developing their racing simulators. Howard says he “Manufactured nothing and built everything,” which involved sourcing various hardware and software and integrating systems into a comprehensive and realistic racing experience.
Howard started TracksVR leveraging his background in the automotive industry and passion for racing and technology. This passion stems from childhood when he would watch racing, then grew as video games emerged. “Some of the first games made were racing games. I went to the 86 Expo in Vancouver and I remember seeing a VR headset. It was massive and had all these wires coming out of it. I thought it was so cool.” Today’s VR technology has come a long way and continues to improve. In 2018 they started out using Samsung Odyessey headsets and have recently started transitioning to Pimax which extends the experience with higher resolution, a wider view, and faster processing.
TracksVR sees themselves in between e-sports and training. Although the simulators are often rented for parties and events, they are also frequently used by race car drivers to train. “You learn spatial awareness, physics, tire wear, gas usage, and driving skills here. You’re not going to play League of Legends and become a wizard or Madden NFL to be a football player, but race car drivers are using this to train. It’s a real-life transferable skill.” When asked about the training required for staff to work with the technology Howard mentioned that even though they are a tech company that provides a racing experience, they don’t need pure tech skills, instead they need actualizers and customer experience. He went on to say that he would like to see a VR Technician course being offered in the province to support and build more immersive experiences.
Like other businesses that provide in person experiences they had to close down operations during the pandemic, however they quickly pivoted to add a retail line which brought in another revenue stream. TracksVR is now the biggest retailer of F1 merchandise in Western Canada, and they are also distributors of Pimax VR Headsets. Now their business is growing faster than ever with corporate event rentals, and even interest by investors to franchise.
You can check out TracksVR at their location in Calgary or at Game Con Canada this July at the BMO Centre.