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The race is on

A pair of racing games excel in different areas. Games hed: The race is on dek: a pair of racing games excel in different areas.

Remember “Pole Position”? Many’s the quarter I–and probably you–spent guiding that dinky little race car around a grainy low-resolution track back during the golden age of Duran Duran. Like every other aspect of gaming, racing games have shown vast improvement since the early ’80s, and modern-day racing sims for the PC are plentiful and powerful.

At the top of the list of new racing games is “NASCAR Racing 4” from Sierra Studios group and Papyrus Design Fully endorsed by NASCAR, the game puts players into the prestigious Winston Cup racing series. You can pick among 76 drivers and cars, including such NASCAR superstars as Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte, and Dale Earnhardt, who was included in the game prior to his death last spring. “NASCAR 4” includes the entire 21-track roster from the 2000 racing season, including Indianapolis, Daytona, and Pocono.

Even putting aside the realism that comes with the NASCAR seal of approval, the game is fantastic. The distinguishing factor is Papyrus’s attention to detail, and a graphics engine that will make your stomach flip during hairpin turns. Other improvements over version 3 of the same game include a improved artificial-intelligence capability and a handy menu interface. The crashes are realistic (though not especially fiery), and novices can get into the action with a minimum of setup.

One great new feature is the ability to choose a playing point of view from the hood of your car. It offers a first-person view without the distraction of the dashboard. It’s one of four viewpoints the game offers, but the hood is where I kept returning.

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