NASCAR drivers discover power of social media
By RICK MINTER / Universal Uclick
Throughout its history, NASCAR in general has been relatively slow to embrace new technology. It was only this year that Sprint Cup cars were equipped with electronic fuel injection, something that has been standard equipment on passenger cars for decades.
The engines still have push rods to work the engine valves, a primitive system in today’s automotive world.
But when it comes to communication, the sport and its drivers are at the forefront, especially when it comes to social media outlets like Facebook and Twitter.
When Facebook became the social media rage a few years back, most drivers soon had pages, but in truth, most postings were done by the drivers’ publicists and administrative assistants.
But when Twitter came along, drivers jumped onto the new medium as quickly as they would the latest shock absorber technology.
Whether it’s because Twitter is quick, something that naturally appeals to professional speed merchants, or because it’s so effective, drivers have become regular posters on Twitter.com. After all, one can only post 140 characters at a time.
Twitter was created in March of 2006 by Jack Dorsey and launched later that summer. As of earlier this year it had more than 500 million active users and they were posting 340 million tweets a day. It’s one of the top 10 sites on the Net in attracting visitors.
NASCAR, its drivers, fans and the media got a real taste of the power of Twitter back in February when Brad Keselowski pulled his phone out of his pocket and started posting on Twitter during a delay in the Daytona 500 caused when Juan Pablo Montoya crashed into a jet dryer and ignited a fire.
Although some questioned the in-race communication by a driver, NASCAR officials seemed fine with his tweets.
The tweets from Daytona, shown on the FOX TV broadcast, led to an additional 100,000 Twitter followers for Keselowski, who now is generally regarded as having something akin to a cult following when it comes to the Twitter world, where he is known as @Keselowski.
“It’s a good cult to be a part of,” said Keselowski, who traces his interest in Twitter to getting an iPad from Nationwide Insurance when he won the Nationwide Series title. “It’s a group of people that enjoy having some of the further access that the sport has the capability of providing.”
He said social media has great potential for NASCAR, and he’s proud to be out front in its development.
“I feel very fortunate to have a role as a leader in the sports integration of social media, specifically through Twitter,” he said.
Other drivers have begun to use Twitter. Even old-timers like Mark Martin are enthusiastic participants.
And they’ve found that it works both as a way to disseminate information and as a way to get feedback.
When officials at Bristol Motor Speedway were contemplating changing the racing surface at their track, Jeff Gordon polled his Twitter followers to gauge fan response.
His followers told him that there were bigger issues than the configuration of the track.
“My Twitter poll was that gas prices and hotel prices and the economy are the biggest reason why people are saving their money to come to the night race there and not able to travel as much as they used to and be able to incur some of the expenses that they used to,” he said.
Gordon also used his Twitter account, @JeffGordonWeb, to let fans know he was keeping his promise to bring back his mustache if he made the Chase.
This is what he posted Sunday morning after the regular season finale at Richmond: “So as many of u may have heard, I made a statement that if we made the Chase I wud bring back the stache. I’m a man of my word.”
Earlier this year, Twitter itself recently teamed up with NASCAR in the social network’s first partnership with a sporting league.
Omid Ashtari, who heads Twitter’s sports and entertainment practice, said Keselowski’s tweets from Daytona as well as one in which Jimmie Johnson shared a photo of Dale Earnhardt Jr. trying to tie his tie as they were headed to the White House, show how social media can give fans access they ordinarily wouldn’t have.
A key part of the new partnership is promoting the hashtag of #NASCAR, which makes it easier for fans to find NASCAR-related postings.
Keselowski said the most important aspect of his Twitter activity is that it allows him to meet fans he otherwise would never have any contact with.
“It’s amazing the type of connections that you can have,” he said.