I'm dating myself terribly, but I can remember playing some Talladega game on Commodore 64, and either driving as Richard Petty or always shaking my fist at the screen when he would beat me. Either way, I learned to love NASCAR through videogames way before I ever saw the sport on television, and way before it became the live spectacle it is today. And, I have to say I probably still enjoy the NASCAR experience more as a participant, virtually, than a trackside spectator. Dirt to Daytona
is the real deal, no matter how you appreciate the sport. It's the game NASCAR fans would play just because they'll probably never get in a real car or drive on a sloped track once in their lives, but love the idea of mixing it up with Jeff Gordon and the other high profile racers. Beginning the game, you get to create a profile that takes everything into account from your birthday to birthplace. As you build your reputation through the game, you'll get offers from sponsors and if you can meet their finishing conditions during each race you'll earn cool hard cash. The Garage Mode in Dirt to Daytona
gives you a chance to shop for parts, customize the paint job on your prize vehicle and learn one hell of a lot about NASCAR racing along the way. The manual is written better than almost any I've seen, and not only speaks in plain language about the way your modifications will affect the car, but also relates the way things work to 'why' they work. You learn a lot about the history of the sport, in other words. It's good reading, but feeling
the difference is the best part.
Racing games are quickly turning into the equivalent of RPGs as far as replay and time spent playing goes. Dirt to Daytona isn't messing around in this regard, and you'll find an obscene number of modes playable in both Single Player and with up to 4 simultaneous drivers. You can enter a quick race, filed under 'Fast Action,' and compete in one of four modes. The best of these, apart from the usual timed race and championship, is called 'Race the Pro.' Here, you get a brief tutorial on how a driver approaches his favorite track before going out and racing against a ghost car to see if you can pare your time down to beat the pro. Sounds easier than it is... Beat the Heat Mode is also a very interesting addition, similar to 'scenario' modes in other games. This mode alone has over 30 different unique scenarios to race, and it's just one of the four choices in Fast Action! The Career part of Dirt to Daytona can take all your time, as you progress through a full calendar of events, build sponsors, decorate your car, and learn the nuances of racing. Oh, and if you thought this was just the standard NASCAR Classic event, wait until you get a load of all the categories you can compete in! The NASCAR Weekly Racing, Featherlite Modified, Craftsman Truck and NASCAR Cup Series are all playable through Career Mode, making for quadruple the fun. I didn't even realize there was a truck division of NASCAR, since it is the newest of the NASCAR entries. Everything that's here to do makes Dirt to Daytona the richest NASCAR experience on the planet, and one of the deepest racing experiences you can have on a console. The catch to all this is that the racing style is fairly limited, being that you're constantly doing 'turn left' driving. Rally, F1 and 'in the cracks' type racing games like Test Drive and Midnight Club will always have a special appeal for the variety they offer, but they could still learn a thing or two about depth from Dirt to Daytona.