Exclusive Interview with
Tony is a former employee of Papyrus and is the original founder of IWCCCARS.
He now has his own Graphics Design and Writing company:
Thunderbird Creative Media, L.L.C.
and writes for an online racing magazine:
Q: Please tell us a bit about your background that eventually led you to IWCCCARS?
A: It wasn't really a matter of background in anything, except being a racing fan. I
was born in Indianapolis on race weekend, and so naturally the day Indianapolis 500: The
Simulation came out, I was one of the first to buy it. Likewise, when IndyCar Racing came
out, I bought a copy as quickly as I could -- and then waited in frustration until the Indy
Track Pack came out!
Anyway, I "discovered" NASCAR racing in 1993. I had seen Daytona, obviously, since I was a
little kid. But in 1993 I found that stock cars raced at lots of other tracks, and after
watching a few races I was hooked. I latched onto Mark Martin as my favorite NASCAR driver
because of all the good things the announcers said about him, as well as the fact that he was
sponsored by Valvoline, just like Al Unser, Jr.
That was when the whole car painting thing came into play. I had IndyCar Racing on my
computer, and I wanted to drive a Valvoline car like Mark Martin's in the game. So I painted
Mark's paint scheme onto my ICR player car. Then I thought, "Hey, why don't I just do the
whole field?" At the time, there were plenty of Indy car sets out there from guys like Peter
Burke and Earl Ma, but no NASCAR paint jobs. Thus was born ICRNAS, the first NASCAR-based
ICR car set, which quickly became a pretty popular download.
About that time offline racing series were the big thing. So I thought I'd join the club and
I started the IWCC series, based on my NASCAR paint schemes and the oval tracks in ICR. IWCC
initially stood for Internet Winston Cup Championship, but eventually -- after NASCAR Racing
came out and Tim Wortman's NASSCAR series was forced by NASCAR to change its name -- it
became the Internet Winner's Circle Championship.
So, to bring this long-winded explanation to a close, The IWCCCARS Project began as the
continual update of IWCC's CARS.DAT updates with the latest Winston Cup paint schemes. I
maintained IWCCCARS until I went to work for Papyrus in 1997.
Q: What was simulation/online racing like in those early days?
A: In the very early days, it was largely based on imagination. Until Papyrus'
HAWAII servers came online, it was all offline league-based racing or racing against the
AI. Consequently, there was a lot of imagination that you had to use to make it feel
real. So we instituted newspaper-style race reports and role-playing aspects into IWCC
that you see a lot these days in the current leagues (e.g. fictional winnings, etc.). We
didn't have any tools to speak of to tally points or anything, so it was all done by
hand. The League Admins these days are spoiled!
But to be honest, there are challenges with leagues these days that we didn't have to face
back "in the day." I much prefer the current leagues when they're done right. Nim Cross'
VRW series is probably the most immersive evolution of what we were trying to do back in
Q: How difficult was it to paint in the old days (N1, N2) to paint realistic cars compared to today (N4, 2002, 2003, etc.)?
A: It was tough, especially before I discovered Photoshop. Believe it or not, I did
most of my painting until N3 in the NASCAR Racing paintkit, pixel by maddening pixel. Even
when Paint Shop Pro was around, it was tough to be accurate or realistic because of the
limitations both of the color palette and the tiny low-res templates.
These high-res templates that are out now are taken for granted by a lot of painters, but I
continuously am amazed at how detailed you can be -- with the car viewers and 3D Studio Max,
you can get photo-realistic cars! Add to that the Russian logo pirates who have those online
databases of vector logos and the proliferation of racing image sites, and the painters today
are literally on cruise control. I can paint a car from scratch in less than an hour.
Contrast this with ICRNAS and the first IWCCCARS car sets, where I had to watch and videotape
each NASCAR race to catch the changes to paint schemes using my pause button, then
approximate what I saw with a handful of colored pixels (the B- and C-pillar graphics were
usually just blobs of color). A car set could take weeks to put together. Add to that, you
only had certain panels on the car that you could detail -- the rest had to be block-colored
in the paintkit to match. I laugh when today's painters quibble over single-pixel
inconsistencies or minor warping or other little things like that... stuff like that gets
me going in my "walking uphill both ways in the snow" mode!
If we're lucky, racing sims five to ten years from now will have today's painters being just
as curmudgeoned and brittle as I am now!
Q: Tell us about your job at Sierra Online/Papyrus.
A: When I graduated from college, I was still beta-testing Papy simulations, so I
had a lot of contact with Adam Levesque, who was the GM of Papyrus at the time. One day,
I shot him a joking e-mail telling him I was available if he wanted me to come work for him,
and he shocked me by asking if I wanted to relocate to Massachusetts. Within a month, I had
packed my wife and kid up and moved to Waltham, Mass. and taken over Rich Yasi's old job as
primary test driver.
Working for Papyrus was an interesting situation. Those were the days when Ed Martin was
still trying to build the NROS, when guys like Dave Matson were chatting up the
rec.autos.simulators newsgroup, and when Dave Kaemmer was struggling to get his magnum
opus -- Grand Prix Legends -- out the door. It was like a dream working there. I had so
much fun at the beginning -- I can hardly describe it.
I worked as primary tester for a year, and then I was "promoted" to associate producer on
the stillborn NASCAR Manager product. Then I rather foolishly agreed to be made the designer
for NASCAR Racing 3. I say foolishly because I was taking on more responsibility than I
could handle at the time, but I didn't want to admit it. As a result, I reacted badly to
the situation -- I let myself get overwhelmed with unimportant details, I got caught up in
politics, and eventually fell out of favor with the wrong people. When Papyrus went through
a huge round of layoffs in 1998, I was one of the ones let go -- and for good reason, I now
believe. But at the time it was a real body blow for me.
But hindsight clarifies things a lot, and I think it was for the best. I've moved on and
grown up a lot since then. I still have lots of friends at Papy that I keep in touch with,
and of course I'll always be a dedicated customer. And, of course, if they ever need
One of the nice things I've seen in the past few years, though, is seeing some of the stuff
I designed into NASCAR Racing 3 when I was working on it finally being put into the
production game. One of the hardest parts of designing those games (and Rich Yasi will
concur with me on this) is that you can design the coolest game out there, but you'll rarely
get to see what you put on paper fully committed to the production game. I think NASCAR
Racing: The Final Edition will be as close as Papy ever gets to building the kind of NASCAR
game Rich Yasi and I envisioned years ago.
Q: What real-life racing experience have you had?
A: While at Papy I got to go to the Buck Baker Racing School -- the three-day
course. That's the most time I've spent in a real race car right there, although I've
done some karting and local stuff since. I've had several offers from some of the people I
work with nowadays to try their cars out, but so far my wife hasn't let me take them up on it!
Q: Do you feel there are any correlations between real life racing and sim-racing?
A: There is one thing that sim-racing will never, ever be able to simulate -- and
that is the seat-of-the-pants feel that a driver has in a race car. You never get the
sensations you do in the cockpit. You also don't have the self-preservation instinct at
work when you're racing on a computer.
That said, I think that Papyrus has come the closest to providing as real a racing experience
you can have without getting in a race car. You notice the similarities especially when you
race online in a league -- the art of racecraft, of taking care of your equipment, of being
patient and making moves when you know you can do them without incident, of balancing your
aggression with patience, and so forth.
I have said before, and I will continue to say, that Papyrus' stock car simulations DO have
a real-world application outside of sheer entertainment. I still think track designers could
use the Papyrus tracks and physics engine to do "pre-development" on new circuits to
establish feasible layouts. I think that serious racing schools should include a day of
simulation driving via a few networked computers before putting the drivers out onto the
real track driving laps in anger. Maybe someday someone will take those ideas and run with
Q: What do you envision as the future of sim-racing?
A: I think the future of sim-racing depends on the future of racing sims. Much rests
on what Papyrus' ultimate direction will be. They are developing a cross-platform policy
again to stay viable in the market. Whether that means the days of racing SIMULATIONS is
dead and gone is a matter of time.
I think, though, that moving away from simulation to a wider audience of platform-weaned
gamers is not necessary. What should happen, in my opinion, is that the simulations need to
get more immersive than the simple on-track experience. NASCAR Manager was a great idea, and
you will see hints of that kind of paradigm in the new NASCAR Heat: From Dirt To Daytona sim
coming out this year. Racing fans all know that there is more to oval racing than just
driving in circles -- it's that set of intangible elements that needs to be represented in
Q: Do you think you'll ever become an active member of IWCCCARS again?
A: I never say never. But my skills are no longer nearly as unique as they once
were. There are so many talented painters out there that there is more supply than
demand. Plus, some of these guys don't have lives and consequently can come up with brilliant
and enormously detailed templates and paint schemes that an old fart like myself with three
kids can't spend time on!
I guess if people signed a petition or something I'd have to think about it. But I think my
time in the sim-racing spotlight was over years ago.
Q: Lastly, what are you up to these days?
A: After I left Papyrus, I went back to school -- first, I went for my MCSE
certification with Microsoft, and then I REALLY regressed and went to a community college
to get an associate's degree in graphic design. I worked briefly for Action Performance
Companies in Phoenix, and then I started my own graphics design and writing company,
Thunderbird Creative Media, L.L.C.
I am currently running the gamut of graphic design work, but I still get the chance to work
with race teams and sponsors, which is my driving passion (no pun intended).
I also publish and write for an online racing magazine, Racing Press
Since I started publishing it in 1997, Racing Press has won several awards (more on the way
in 2003, I hope) and I am extremely proud of what we've built the site into in five
years. We just finished a big expose article on the Red Bull F1 Driver Search that is
still stirring up controversy, which of course is a great thing!
And, of course, I'm still sim-racing once a week with my online league... and as long
as Papy makes racing sims, I'll continue to race them!