HERMANTOWN, Minn. (WCCO) — For most of us, the closest we’ve ever come to driving a race car is on a video game.

But for one Minnesota man, that is serious stuff.

In a quiet neighborhood in Hermantown, it’s here, every Sunday night, that a banker becomes a race car driver.

Yes, Vladimir Skirda is playing video games in his socks in his living room. But while anybody can go play Gran Turismo in a public lobby online, this is different.

This is SNAIL — the Sunday Night American Interactive League. It’s a worldwide, virtual online racing league unlike any other.

“They’re up there with the best in the world,” Skirda said.

That, of course, would make Skirda one of the best in the world. How does one become one of the best video game race car drivers in the world?

“To become one of the best in the world,” Skirda said, “You just have to have the desire to do it, to actually put in time and practice a lot.”

Every Sunday night, SNAIL convenes for six league races. Stats and points standings are kept, a set of rules are strictly followed and prizes are awarded. It’s as organized as the real-life racing leagues it emulates.

As the popularity of eSports continues to grow exponentially, there’s another reason Skirda takes it so seriously.

“Definitely,” he said, “This helps to be faster in real life.”

That’s right, what started virtual is now reality. In addition to the Sunday night league online, he regularly competes in a real car, on a real track, in real life.

“Honestly, racing in current simulators can teach you a lot about real life racing,” Skirda said. “It is so realistic, to the point that the only thing you don’t get are the negative things — probably just crashing your car so you don’t have to pay for it.”

At this point, it’s just a hobby. But last year, it nearly became much more than that — an online driver’s dream come true.

“Yeah the experience of GT Academy was definitely once in a lifetime,” Skirda said.

GT Academy is a yearly competition put on by Sony and Nissan that takes people who are good at video games and gives them a chance to win a contract as an actual real-life race car driver.

“And I just practiced my behind off,” Skirda said.

He beat out 30,000 fellow online gamers in a virtual time trial just to land one of the just 20 spots at the academy in Nashville, where drivers are tested both virtually and in real life.

He made it all the way to the final stage in Silverstone, England — one of only six Americans to do so. But another driver won the contract.

“However, just making it out of the whole United States and even the finals in Nashville, was just an incredible experience,” Skirda said.

The talent level of the SNAIL league was on full display in Nashville. Of the 20 Americans there, at least half were from the league, Skirda said.

“Maybe even more than that,” he added.

His dream of being a pro driver is still very much alive. So every Sunday night, he’ll continue to be here — in his socks in his living room, battling it out to be the best in the world.

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