Wednesday, July 26, 2017

How Social Media Changed NASCAR

There was a time when racing wasn't mainstream. It didn't make every newspaper and headline. To talk with a driver, you joined their Fanclub or met them at the track. You didn't just log on to Twitter or Facebook Live, you went to the racetrack!

Social media has changed how we view racing in this day and age, it has changed the fan as well as how we view drivers. Let's talk the good old days for a moment. I have gathered some of the most loyal fans, some who have watched since the early days and we talked about what it was like to be a fan in the 60s, 70s, 80s and 90s. Jump in your time machine and let's take a road trip through the early days.

One of the best racing magazines in it's day. 
What did fans do before you could see a replay on twitter or Facebook? How did they get their news before NASCAR was popular everywhere? Let's talk to a few fans and see what they had to say, but first I would like to give a shout out to Facebook group Winston Cup History  1971-2003 for their great members who made this article possible.

Chris Murray, a fan since the 1979 Daytona 500 remembers those days well."I would make sure that I TAPED every race that I could. I didn't get ESPN until '86, so the CBS and other network races were great. After '86 it was great to hardly ever miss a race (taped or live). Of course I would check the newspaper on Monday mornings. Of course, Tuesday night meant NASCAR Live on the local MRN affiliate. "
Aaron Rosser, a fan since 1991 remembers the pre-social media days like this, "Tony Stewart was a little late to the game as far as social media is concerned, but I was able to use other mediums (message boards, Twitter and Facebook groups, team and sponsor accounts, etc). Before I started using the internet though, which was in the spring of 2000, it was pretty difficult to show the support without having their t-shirt on your back, at least from my experience."

Paul Eheander remembers some of the great ways of getting his news in magazines such as "Speedway Scene, Winston Cup Scene and National Speedsport news."

It was magazines such as these and Winston Cup Illustrated that made me dream of being a racing journalist as well. So much so that in 2001 I packed everything I had of value, took my last paycheck and moved to Charlotte, NC. I hoped I would be great and maybe I could have been if I had stuck it out a little longer but I knew very few people there and I had to decide if I should take the rest of my money and come home to Indiana or stick it out. Then tragedy struck on February 18, 2001 and I felt I had my answers. It was time to give up my dream and come home. Who would have guessed then how easy social media would make such dreams come true a decade and a half later?

So has social media changed racing and the way fans view it? I believe it has. We no longer wait for our news, instead, it's a mere click away. Facebook live and Twitter has given us an all access ass into the life of the drivers like nothing we ever had before. I grew up cheering for Michael Waltrip and later Jeremy Mayfield in a time where his only mentions were wrecks or his ever growing loss streak. It was rare to find his merchandise or read stories on him because it was all Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Sr in those days. The magazines covered winners, as did the news shows. Those of us pulling for underdogs took what tidbits we could find and read them over and over again! Now. with a few clicks I have all the accesSI want to my favorite drivers  even the underdogs such as Matt Dibenedetto, a guy's name that, without having is saved in my spell check, I would still be spelling wrong!!

Christopher Krul believes it's a good thing. "You can converse with other fans. I would not say it effects attendance too much. Its no different then talking to someone on the phone or watching a race at a sports bar and conversing"

Murray says "I don't think social media has changed my viewing habits or attendance habits. However, it is fun to post on a buddy's page who I know is a race fan on the other side of the country, and we will comment all the way through the race."

Bill Bradley, who has been a fan since the 1980's says, "It was certainly different to follow any drivers back then. There was no internet, never mind social media. Living outside Boston, we didn't have the greatest NASCAR coverage. I really relied on subscriptions to Speedway Scene that covered NASCAR and New England racing, and Winston Cup Scene. You really had to rely on a few writers and the race broadcasters to learn about your drivers. To show my support I'd write letters to my favorite drivers. I wrote letters and got responses from Richard and Kyle Petty, Geoff Bodine, Bud Moore. Getting that return letter in the mail was quite the feeling. I had a friend in school whose Uncle worked at Hendrick back in the mid 80's. So I had quite the collection of Geoff Bodine merchandise. It was tough to buy any merchandise in this part of the country."

Rosser says. "For me, it is a supplement to the TV broadcast. Particularly during commercials or caution flag periods but sometimes during green flag action as well, I can skim through Twitter and get reports on how my favorite drivers' cars are handling before TV can report the information (they're human, after all, and it takes time) or juicy radio chatter that isn't fit for television. I feel like it has enhanced my viewing experience. These days I feel lost if I'm watching a race without Twitter to help me know what's going on that the TV broadcast hasn't reported yet. As for track attendance, I'm sure it has helped diminish attention spans enough for fringe race fans that they may not want to spend four-plus hours at the race track, but I don't think it is a reason that the more true fans have had to stay behind, unless we're counting the constant negative chatter. If you keep telling someone something is bad, bit by bit they will start to believe it. Which is unfortunate because what we have is not bad. Is it perfect? No, and it is hat never-ending pursuit of perfection continues to drive the sport forward." But the personal look into driver's lives isn't always a good thing as Rosser points out in this comment "There's two sides to every coin. I think it is overwhelmingly positive, but the negative often comes from we ourselves, the ones being given that access. There's a lot of unnecessary ugliness that comes with that access. For instance, look at an Instagram post by Danica Patrick when she is showing off a yoga move or something. Most of the comments are relevant to the video but you'll always have a few idiots chiming in about how she needs to quit worrying about that and focus on the race car. It's frustrating when that privileged "behind the scenes" access is abused like that. It doesn't cost a dime to be nice."

1994 Brickyard 400 where there is barely room to stand!
And not a single smart phone in the crowd!
So Yes, there is both a good and bad side to every story though. While Social Media has made the inside look into racer's lives easier, I believe it has also affected attendance not only at the race track but also for television viewing. Now there are smart phone apps and websites on the computer where you can watch for free. You can get NASCAR Twitter updates sent right to your phone or even just join a conversation in a Facebook group such as NASCAR History 2003 - current. With these options, fewer and fewer people are attending the races in person. And with tracks like Indianapolis Motor Speedway where ticket prices are high, the sun is hot and you can't see all of the track, well sometimes it is easier just to follow along online so you don't miss anything.

Patrick Thomson believes Social Media has "made more fair weather bandwagon know it all fans who think because they've been following sine Chase Elliot's rookie year that they know everything "

Michael Stinson isn't a fan either! "I hate it as I DVR the race when it's on Sunday afternoon as I usually have something to do . I live up north so not finding out who the winner was is easy . Now as soon as that race is over ... it's my fault for not staying off social media though .. spoiler alerts are a thing of the past ".

Bradley says. "I don't believe Social Media itself has effects attendance. Technology has a whole has effected attendance in all sports. It's so much more convenient to watch the race on a 60" HD TV in my air conditioned living room. My food is free, no traffic, no crowds, my own clean bathroom. Pause the race when I have to step away. Where I think it can effect attendance is in people's attitude. If you are in a group where everyone complains about NASCAR, it is only human nature to join in and make decisions based on peer pressure. I'm not saying that's everyone, but I think there are some. I've run into "fans" on social media who haven't been to or watched a race in years, but are online every week passing on opinions based on "fake news" and people are following their lead."

2017 Brickyard 400 captured on my cell phone
 and immediately uploaded to Facebook
John Conner says, "Before 2007 if you wanted to keep up with a race you either had to go or watch it on television. Once the cell phone came along people had a third option. I think fans today would rather do their thing on Sunday and wait for updates on their phone. Maybe that's why Indy looked like it did with I'm guessing 40,000 people."

And what changes would fans like to see made as far as social media? 

Bradley sums it up best, "The only real change I'd like to see as far as Social Media is more fan interaction with the higher ups within NASCAR. I think one of NASCAR's biggest issues is the top guy is a ghost. He doesn't go to many races, he doesn't seem to have a feel of what fans want. Maybe making an appearance on social media once in awhile it may help. Let the fans know what you're working on, why you made a decision. Listen to the fans and get a feel of whats going on."

Now it's your turn. Do you believe social media has changed the way race fans view racing? Leave me a comment below and don't forget to follow Fast Lane Race News on Facebook, like us on Twitter and you can always email your thoughts to Chanda.

Next week we will talk about the fans themselves and how they have changed. Don't miss it! 

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