Record champ, iRacing legend and fan-favorite – but will probably never be able to drive NASCAR. This is Ray Alfalla’s story.
The smell of rubber and gas fills the air. The tension is boiling over as NASCARs fly over the Homestead Speedway in Miami. As they drive their laps, a certain someone watches them closely.
He is focused and drawn in by the action. He imagines himself behind the wheel of a NASCAR such as those he is so precisely watching. He is equipped to do it. More than that, he might be overqualified. He has already driven these cars to their full potential. Winning a total of 25 times inside the oval and even being a record champion. His yard is not in real NASCAR, though. But a racing simulation called iRacing.
With every car going by, his pulse rises. One day he wants to show them all. One day he wants to sit in a real car as well. One day, a NASCAR will hold the name: Ray Alfalla.
The Cuban born sim racer is already a legend of the scene. After emigrating to the United States, his love of motorsport turned him into the man we now know as Ray “4-time” Alfalla. He has set the record for eNASCAR championships by winning it four times. Nowadays, the record champ is trying to get a foot into real NASCAR. Ray Alfalla came a long way. In the most literal sense.
Green light to an early racing life
The beginning of this story brings us to Matanzas in Cuba. In a bay facing the Caribbean Sea, young Ray Alfalla watches TV. The high temperatures and vast humidity make it hard to focus on something, but the young man’s eyes are glued to the ever-changing colors and images of the screen. The program shows gigantic boats. They go through a set track and race each other. They push each other off and are dangerously close to colliding. Three-year-old Ray is hooked. No humidity in the world could have torn him away from the TV. It’s as if his destiny was settled right there.
Ray’s parents described him as hypnotized. He would just sit around and watch the boats race non-stop. Nothing was more appealing to the young man in front of the screen. Even in a family without racing enthusiasts, young Ray Alfalla got hooked on it.
When he was six, Alfalla’s family left Cuba to immigrate to Miami and start a life in the United States. A country where racing is deeply rooted in the culture. A perfect match for an upcoming driver like Ray.
Booted from Racing
Growing up, Ray Alfalla was interested in a lot of things. Besides his passion for baseball and keen following of the TV show CSI Miami, which brought him to study forensics, the things Ray loved most were racing and games. Starting with NASCAR 2003, Alfalla was one of the leading forces in the scene of the game that later became iRacing.
It’s 4 am on a Saturday and Ray loads up the PC. The reason is not an overdue school project but much rather the European Stock Car Online Racing Series (ESCORS). A league from Germany, which was filled with both amateurs and willing competitors. Many times, Ray raced in Series across NASCAR 2003 and had his fair share of success. Thanks to a lot of practice he quickly found himself at the top of the leader board in the second division of the ESCORS. But some found that to be a problem.
Back when cheating was still a thing, teenage Ray was regularly booted out of online leagues because of his driving prowess. He was accused of manipulating game mechanics and was therefore excluded. As it turns out, he was simply better than others. The competition might not have been the most challenging, but nevertheless Ray seemed to cause sour grapes among the others. A frustrating aspect that could have unfairly tainted Alfalla’s reputation.
“All those 45-year old dudes did not like the 15-year old kid beating them” Ray says.
This is when he met Richard Towler. A British sim racer six years his senior, who was set to keep an eye out for Ray in the European Stock Cars series and inspect whether he is cheating. As Towler found out, nothing was different from his and Ray’s game other than the people operating it. He became Alfalla’s friend and mentor. Richard is the more experienced and well-versed in driving at the time. He helped Ray change his driving style and adds composure to his already existing pace.
A good four years later, Towler becomes the first champion of the eNASCAR pro series, which is featured on iRacing by then. Ray Alfalla remembers watching the ceremony at Homestead Speedway:
“I thought to myself it was not at all surprising that Richard would win this. I hoped that one day I might win one of these. Next year I was the one on stage.”
That wouldn’t be the last time as well, as he would enjoy the spotlight a lot more often.
From hero to zero and back
Four trophies by his feet. The latest says, “eNASCAR champion 2018.” He has done it. That’s what they call him now. “4-time.” Homestead Speedway sets the scene again as Ray kneels down and the photographer says: “That’s perfect.”. He has brought home four championships and was the runner up in three other seasons.
Blood, sweat and tears, as they say, went into full seasons of setup and testing. Hard training sessions to test limits and optimize pace. A full college degree and work to keep him occupied, and still Ray finds time to practice. From college, Alfalla goes on to work for the postal service. Although being demanding, the job is structured enough for Ray to continue testing in sim racing after work. In 2018, Alfalla is on top of the sim racing world. By 2019, he is not.
Is that supposed to be it? That was a question Ray Alfalla asked himself for sure after a horrendous result in the 2019 season of the eNASCAR Coca-Cola iRacing Series. At the end of the last race, Alfalla only managed 21st place. To put that into perspective, Alfalla had never finished outside the top 10 at the end of the previous season. This came as a shock to many after Ray regained his title only a year prior.
A major change in mandatory setup tightened up the field and a string of bad luck made it impossible to recover. By the time he was up to speed, the season was done for him. Alfalla was forced to requalify for the first class by driving in a relegation series, which he won. Nevertheless, this was the low point of Ray’s sim racing career and not at all what he hoped to achieve, especially now.
Ray Alfalla has already engraved his name into the record books of sim racing. But that was never supposed to be it.
Too old for the big leagues
Inside Ray Alfalla, something burns. A flame of never-ending hunger to one day feel the thrill of driving in a real NASCAR series. No sim racing trophy could make that dream disappear. But for the record champ, a continuation of past dominance might be the only chance the 31-year old has.
“It’s not a matter of how good you are but rather how much money you have and how many people you know. It’s being in the right place at the right time.”
That’s what Ray Alfalla says about people getting into real NASCAR. “Bridging the gap” as it is so gracefully called. With Ray now in his 30s, he definitely won’t be on top of watch lists of head-hunters looking for new blood.
“If I was in my 20s, I would be more hopeful of getting a seat one day. I know I’m in my 30s and if the opportunity to race in the real world for one of us in the series comes up, more than likely they will look at who is 20 years or younger. But I won’t give up hope.”
As it stands, Alfalla is looking to move to North Carolina. The NASCAR capital of the United States. Just to be closer to whatever the world of racing might hold for him in the future. You can’t help but wonder how it would be if Ray raced on the Homestead Speedway. A circuit he has been to every year for the past two decades to watch NASCAR.
Deep breath. It’s on. Green light. Car to your right. Full focus. No mistakes. Throttle and brake. Perfect balance. Hold your line.
“Ray Alfalla cruising past his opposition” the caster might say. The door says, “5-time”. The race is on and Ray is in the zone.
“I think of nothing. My head is clear. I don’t have any deep thoughts outside the race because then you will make mistakes.”
And as Ray turns left and races across Homestead Miami, he can almost see the bay in Cuba. Almost see where it all started when boats whizzed past on the screen. Maybe this will never come true, but Ray Alfalla was never one to not try.