Opinion: Baseless lawsuit of parody Twitter account by former NASCAR CEO sets unnecessary precedent

I do not know what has been injected in the NASCAR Twitter world as of late…but can I have some? There’s been Gragson vs. Snider, Ruch vs. Kligerman, Portnoy vs. Utter and now France vs. a parody Twitter account.

Former NASCAR CEO Brian France filed a lawsuit against John Steele (operator of the wildly popular parody Twitter account @DrunkBrianF) citing in a Connecticut state court that Steele has impersonated and targeted him through the account’s actions. The lawsuit further implies that the tweets on this account could be viewed as coming from the actual Brian France, and that use of the account was intended to deceive everyone into thinking that the actual Brian France could be credited for the account’s use.

Keep in mind that the former CEO of NASCAR, who was arrested in New York following a DWI and drug possession with a .019 BAC at the time of his arrest and was found to be in possession of a criminal substance (oxycodone pills) and allegedly acted belligerent with the arresting officers. Yet he finds that a parody account (it even says parody in the account bio) is the cause of his emotional distress.


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Now, there’s an aspect of this where I want to reach out to Mr. Steele and encourage him to counter the lawsuit, saying that the Plaintiff of the initial lawsuit getting arrested for a DWI only served to damage his account’s reputation (@DrunkBrianF on Twitter has been around since 2014) and has caused irreparable emotional damage to Steele and his family.

In turn, that lawsuit could get thrown out with the initial lawsuit since both are baseless, pointless, and unnecessary. France has a lot more to concern himself with right now, most importantly his very public issues with substance abuse and alcohol issues, both of which are serious, life-threatening issues. It seems desperate to instead get upset over an openly satirical Twitter account instead.

Not to mention, going after the account, in turn, is a violation of Steele’s First Amendment right as an American. “Congress shall make no law respecting an establishment of religion, or prohibiting the free exercise thereof; or abridging the freedom of speech, or of the press; or the right of the people peaceably to assemble, and to petition the Government for a redress of grievances”

Granted, the First Amendment doesn’t necessarily protect against repercussions from others regarding free speech, but France’s lawsuit is aiming to censor an otherwise harmless account. Steele is open on the fact that his account is a parody. He’s even posted pictures of himself at events on this parody account.

Steele also uses the account’s popularity to shine a light on up-and-coming drivers and smaller teams. That action alone is something that has been lacking in regular NASCAR media, and Steele using his account’s popularity goes a long way in getting those teams recognized (Steele has even provided some limited sponsorship to some of these regional race teams).

There’s no reason this lawsuit should even be occurring given France’s criminal record, and in a way, it reminds me of the beef between Alec Baldwin and Donald Trump following Baldwin’s impersonation of Trump on Saturday Night Live. Obviously Trump didn’t appreciate it, but given the popularity as well as the fact that the whole thing was satire, there was no reason to follow through with any kind of ramification.

If someone cannot check that the account is in fact a parody, then they’re beyond help. Steele’s account is goofy, good for a few chuckles, and in some cases has really good insight on stuff that we might not say but are most definitely thinking. It might be crude in some instances, brash in others, but on the whole, it does serve as a bit of levity for the NASCAR Twitter gang.

But to snuff that out would be detrimental to NASCAR’s social media followers, many of whom are also parody NASCAR accounts. A lot of them are also good for laughs and a few chuckles, taking into consideration that it’s okay to not take oneself too seriously. And as with Steele, they’re also there to provide a few laughs and to say what everyone else is thinking. To take that away is to take away some of the freedom of speech of the NASCAR community and if there’s one thing that’s a big no-no, it’s not allowing the fans any form of discourse or dissent.

It’s a good thing there are laws in effect to dismiss baseless lawsuits such as France’s. Anti-SLAPP (Strategic Lawsuit Against Public Participation) laws are designed to provide for early dismissal of meritless lawsuits filed against people for the exercise of First Amendment rights. They’re intended to prevent people from using courts and potential threats of a lawsuit, to intimidate people who are exercising their First Amendment rights.

So with that being said, whether or not the lawsuit was just an exercise in trying to remain relevant or exercising clout, there’s no way it lasts long. And while it’s providing for excellent Twitter material, there’s a point in the story where everyone is just happy to get back to racing. Here’s to hoping that point is near.

The views and opinions expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect the official policy or position of SpeedwayMedia.com.

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