One of NASCAR’s most bizarre accidents, an iPhone and a young driver who has a unique perspective of the sport became a catalyst that launched stock-car racing headfirst into the groundbreaking platforms of digital and social media.
Brad Keselowski gained 100,000 Twitter followers during a long delay created by Juan Pablo Montoya’s 2012 crash with a jet dryer that ignited a tank of jet fuel. He used his cellphone to snap pictures of the fire while the field sat parked on the backstretch.
In a matter of minutes, a star was born on social media. And while social media was used before the fiery explosion, the sport changed its emphasis on how its message will be delivered in the future.
“Consumption is changing in all of sports,” said Steve Phelps, NASCAR executive vice president and chief global sales and marketing officer. “Digital and social media is the new currency, the new signature.”
Along with its drivers, teams and partners, NASCAR has found an instantaneous way to keep everyone connected.
Since NASCAR embarked down a modern avenue of information technology, there have been more than four billion impressions — and more than 2.4 billion this year alone — through social media channels.
According to NASCAR, there are 1.2 million new followers to its social platform since the season started in February; there have been 98 million NASCAR videos shared on Twitter and Facebook this year; and there’s been a 73 percent increase in social engagements since the start of the 2015 season.
Additionally, there have been 598 million page requests at NASCAR Digital Media.
“We use it to connect our drivers to our fans,” Phelps said. “It is a perfect medium for us. And one of the reasons why it’s been so successful is the productt of racing has been fantastic this year.”
A way to reach more fans
Social and digital media also has become a perfect way to reach a new generation of younger fans the sport desperately needs to grow.
“And all the things that we’ve got to do, reaching millennials, the social media,” car owner Joe Gibbs said. “We’re blowing it out pretty good in social media.”
Twitter, Facebook, Instagram, Snapchat and the Internet now are the most productive way NASCAR to deliver its message, Phelps said.
Dale Earnhardt Jr. caught the Twitter bug after winning the 2014 Daytona 500. Since then, he’s posted tweets and created podcasts to keep his fans informed of his recovery from concussion-like symptoms, as well as his engagement to Amy Reimann. He now has 1.62 million followers on Twitter.
Jimmie Johnson had the most fans following him at 2.11 million. He’s also a big fan of Snapchat. Other favorite drivers include Danica Patrick (1.44 million), Jeff Gordon (963,000), Harvick (708,000), Keselowski (678,000), Kyle Busch (672,000), Denny Hamlin (615,000), Tony Stewart (554,000), Joey Logano (350,000) and Kyle Larson (162,000).
NASCAR has 2.92 million Twitter followers.
Much like it monitors television, radio and print interviews, NASCAR keeps an eye on social media conversations. Even with 140 or fewer characters, some drivers still have
found a way to get in trouble.
Darrell “Bubba” Wallace was fined $15,000 for tweeting his anger about how NASCAR reacted to a multi-car crash on the final lap of the Xfinity Series race last month at Daytona International Speedway.
And in 2010, Hamlin was hit with a $50,000 penalty for implying NASCAR creates phantom cautions to create artificial excitement.
But Keselowski’s — “Fire. My View,” along with a photo of the burning jet dryer — became as big as the race itself, especially because he answered fans’ questions during the red-flag delay.
“Are you sitting in the car right now tweeting?” one fan asked.
“Yup,” Keselowski tweeted. “At least I’m not in the Port-a-Jon.”
Keselowski sent more pictures and comments a week later at Phoenix. That time, however, he was fined $25,000.
“Brad’s tweeting at the Daytona 500 was really our first introduction to the magnitude of the social media phenomenon at the racetrack, especially how we saw it unfold that evening,” NASCAR spokesman Kerry Tharp said. “We encourage our drivers to participate in social media.”
“But we also have rules that pertain to competition that need to be enforced and abided by. Once the 500 took place, and in the days and weeks following the 500, NASCAR communicated to the drivers and teams that while social media was encouraged and we promoted it, the language in the rulebook was clear and that drivers couldn’t carry onboard their cars electronic devices, like a phone.”
By then, the phenomenon already was on a roll.
And it’s been gaining speed ever since.