Racing Simulator Hardware on the Cheap

Jun 04, 2020 at 01:56 pm by Warlord720

Budget Racing Sim Hardware

Back in the early '90s, when graphics were much simpler, I remember getting into Papyrus Design Groups NASCAR Racing to such a degree I would be exhausted after a race.  The computers back then were slow, but Papyrus managed to put together a racing game that just… felt fast.

This was the first time I had ever become immersed in a racing game and this was with a simple game port driven steering wheel.  I don’t remember having pedals. Just knowing it was connected to a game port is enough to date it.  I don’t remember a stick shifter either.

I do remember having a great time with the combination. As soon as I had any free time it was spent on that racing simulator as it was much more than a simple arcade game. I also remember finding the graphics for the cars and manually changing the paint scheme to my own design with WarLord displayed prominently on the hood and rear spoiler.

My non-technical game-playing friends thought it was cool and cool was always the goal back in the day. Soon I was creating custom car skins for our game playing sessions. While it was fun, life and a family eventually got in the way and the steering wheel along with the racing games fell off my radar.  Until recently that is, when I got a chance to try out a feedback-driven steering wheel with paddlewheel shifters.

The fun factor was too good to pass up even though it was an Xbox/PC Thrustmaster that debuted in 2015/16. Cost was the reason. Average price was $199 US. While there are cheaper wheels out there none had the positive reviews at the price point of the Thrustmaster with feedback. It also came with a two-pedal controller which is fine for me as I do not want to mess with a clutch. The pedals are a cheap lot with no feedback, but they get the job done.

This steering wheel combo will work on a table or desk. That was important coming from the premise of doing this on the cheap. Not everyone would want, need or have the budget to get a stand but I didn’t want a controller taking up my actual desk space, so I opted for a lower end Smarketbuy (Amazon) racing wheel simulator cockpit stand. It also came with a shifter stand that attaches to either side though I wouldn’t be needing it with the paddle wheel shifters. The price was reasonable at $119.99 and assembly was quick and easy.

Now I know what some of you are thinking. $199 for the wheel, $119 for the stand is cheap? Considering you can spend thousands of dollars on a racing wheel then yes… the combined price is cheap for a stand and steering wheel. Again, there are cheaper stands and it’s not necessary to have one but damn it… they look cool… even the cheap ones.

Racing Sim Hardware on the CheapSmarketbuy Stand and Thrustmaster Feedback Wheel

The stand seemed to be a little short but in the long run, it was just fine. All I had to do was lower my chair bit and I fit snuggly into the little stand down to the pedals. I couldn’t find anything to complain about at this point and it was more comfortable than the tabletop.

The wheel itself, the Xbox/PC Thrustmaster, cannot be mounted to the stand but it does come with a clamp that squeezes down firmly with no shake, rattle, or roll. It remained tightly clamped during testing. Setup was easy. Plug in the USB then plugs in the electric power chord which triggers a reset of the steering wheel. You don’t want to be “hands-on” during the power plug-in as the wheel will rotate the full extent one direction then the other before stopping at center.

The feedback system was… awesome. I had never tried feedback in a steering wheel and it sure made things interesting as you could feel the pound of the pavement, losing grip and drifting while fighting the suspension into bumpy corners.

The wheel literally fought back in the turns and down the rough straightaways jerking sideways, spinning partially around all the while doing everything it can to keep you from being anything but smooth.

For the record, I used the Assetto Corsa Competizione simulator and the original Dirt Rally which I had downloaded as a free game. On the flat 2D monitor it was awesome and lots of fun but… when I put on a VR headset… I was in the racecar barreling down the track having a blast until I got up to speed and starting diving into corners and grabbing the break.

VR motion sickness hit bigtime. I mean big time! All was well until my speed reached a point that sudden deceleration for a hairpin turn became a woozy, possible vomit fest. I pushed it a little too much thinking I could handle a VR racing sim because VR dogfights and aerobatics are no problem for me. That however is another story for another time as I sought out advice and worked out being able to race in VR with the unpleasant side effects.

Even without VR, I love the racing sims more than I ever would have thought possible and for under $320 dollars I was able to get a stand that fits in a closet with a feedback enhanced racing wheel and pedals attached. This was a win/win.

M.D. McCallum, aka WarLord, is an international award-winning commercial graphics artist, 3D animator, published author, project director, and webmaster with a freelance career that spans over 20 years.  Now retired, M.D. is currently working part-time on writing and select character development projects. You can learn more about MD on his website

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