Cyber Monday meets NASCAR: The year of the Tweet

by SM Staff On Sun, Nov. 25, 2012

NASCAR drivers were once thought of as elusive figures. Heroes who were more likely to be seen instead of heard; behind pit walls, in the garage or through the television screen. [media-credit name=”” align=”alignright” width=”150″][/media-credit]

But, just as the good ‘ole days of dirt tracking, the Intimidator and the King, pre-COT days and when rubbing was racing and no one complained about it, times of drivers being out reach are gone. Now, drivers are too accessible, at times too open and honest. Yet, it’s not a bad thing, it’s what we’ve all longed for, but my, how times have changed.

With another Thanksgiving again gone, Black Friday happily behind us, we’ve reached what’s become known as Cyber Monday. However, shopping is the furthest thing from mind. NASCAR has changed all beliefs when it came to cyberspace with a 2012 for the digital ages.

The advantages and disadvantages of social networking, specifically Twitter, are well known. The ways in which NASCAR drivers, teams, the media and fans use the tool to connect and offer behind the scenes and up to the minute information, has exploded over the last year.

No longer is it that drivers are only available on the weekends and for a price. Everything is now at the tip of our fingertips. In 2012 NASCAR and Twitter became both synonymous and media worthy. Drivers are now taking their feuds and frustrations to the Internet, a place they’ll last forever.

Brad Keselowski will be remembered not just for his first career Sprint Cup Series championship, but the way he changed NASCAR’s use of Twitter – just look at how many were waiting to see not what Keselowski said on TV after winning the championship, but his first tweets.

And he ended the year doing the same thing he started it with: tweeting a picture from inside his racecar. In February it was during a red flag in the Daytona 500. He simply blew up Twitter in doing so because only here can you see drivers sharing that type of access

LeBron James certainly can’t tweet a picture of himself dunking during an NBA Finals game. What if Ben Roethlisberger tried to snap a shot of the end zone celebration of the Steelers after they scored a touchdown? Keselowski showed drivers – and NASCAR – that this is the new age and it’s time to get onboard and have fun with it.

Twitter handles are now on rear bumpers and driver firesuits. In March, Kenny Wallace tweeted from Phoenix about his sponsorships woes with RAB Racing, claiming that he was watching wealthy fathers come to his hauler to try and get their kids a ride.

Wallace continued to tweet and tweet, upsetting his team owner. But Wallace claimed, he wasn’t embarrassed to ask for help. Throughout the season he continued to send updates about his racing status and how fans could help.

That was just the tip of the iceberg though. Drivers seemed unafraid to tweet this year, so long as they didn’t criticize NASCAR, they’d be OK. As such, they’d turn their attention towards each other. The climax coming when the Twitter war between Kevin Harvick and Cope sisters Angela and Amber, broke out.

At New Hampshire in July Harvick was leading when the lapped and considerably slower Amber Cope found herself in front of him. It slowed Harvick down enough that Keselowski cruised by for the win and afterwards Harvick let Cope know that she shouldn’t be racing. Except, it didn’t end there.

Both Harvick and the Cope twins took to Twitter for weeks and traded barbs. After a while, Harvick stopped responding but the Copes continued to criticize Harvick and the fans who were criticizing them. Taking it a step further, the two seemed to use all attention as good attention. They created a website where fans could donate money in order to help them race in October at Charlotte, writing on the site “to put your money where your mouth is.”

The idea was to help raise money to “even the playing field,” in order to get an upgrade in tires, motors or perhaps a test session before the race. Angela Cope did race in Charlotte, but it lasted only one lap.

For the ugliness that Twitter can bring out in everyone, there have been plenty of lite moments in 2012. Jimmie Johnson used his page to show his quest for a sixth championship, hashtagging six-pack after many tweets. Keselowski may have been the one to gain much attention for his Twitter use, but Johnson’s was just as big.

After every race weekend he’d give away his hat in a contest. He even became quite the cameraman, uploading pictures from the garage, the airplane and everywhere in between. The artsy aspect of his photos were what made them popular.

Johnson’s teammate Jeff Gordon turned into a prolific Twitter user this season. A quick study in Twitter ways, he was soon engaging fans and sharing his disappointment with how his season was progressing. Gordon’s two children, Leo and Ella, constantly make an appearance through pictures posted by both himself and wife Ingrid, seemingly growing up right online.

Delana and Kevin Harvick did the same with new son Keelan. He was introduced to the world via Twitter, before making an appearance on pit road in front of the cameras. Now the Harvick’s can’t resist showing pictures of Keelan, after initially hesitating on the idea of sharing him with the world.

Cyberspace has become a way for NASCAR fans to see their drivers as human. Not just the superstars and heroes they idolize and cheer so hard for on the weekends. But it’s also become a place that NASCAR is continually trying to take advantage of, getting involved with and hoping to reach out to new fans.

How far that will go, only time will tell. For as much as it was embraced in 2012 and with how much came from it – breaking news, etc. – how it affects the sport next year or years to come will be the bigger story. There are already rules for drivers using Twitter, Keselowski might have gained NASCAR some attention through his behind the wheel tweeting, but he didn’t get off easy with it.

It was a fun and memorable season, one made more so by the way in which we enjoyed it. There was the experiment of the NASCAR hashtag page, as well as tweets on TV during the summer months when TNT read fan and driver comments on air. ESPN then had the “tweet your seat” feature for fans. Even commercials were made about using Twitter.

As we move forward and get ready to begin a new year, it is with the hope that things will get bigger and better. Cyberspace isn’t going anywhere anytime soon; it’s only going to become more a part of things. NASCAR has already shown great interest in being right there with it.

But it will mean nothing if the opportunity lying ahead isn’t met with optimism and preparation. That being to continue to grow the current fan base and their access while reaching out and bringing in new fans and new media attention.

So, tweet on drivers, teams, media and fans. Who knew that cyberspace would be so much fun?

A few other memorable NASCAR tweets from 2012:

  • Mark Martin putting “Epic Swag” above the door of the No. 55 after his account was hacked and Twitter named was changed to that.
  • Kenny Wallace vs. Ryan Truex on sponsorship and money. Wallace was taken out of his car at Texas and Truex was put in because he had a sponsor, Wallace claimed he bought the ride.
  • Elliott Sadler’s numerous tweets after Indianapolis, when he was black-flagged from the lead when NASCAR declared he jumped the restart.
  • Denny Hamlin calling his shot before New Hampshire. Then making good on it.
  • Anything Clint Bowyer tweeted
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