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NASCAR big fan of social networking
[June 07, 2009]

NASCAR big fan of social networking


Jun 07, 2009 (The Times-Tribune - McClatchy-Tribune Information Services via COMTEX) -- David Ragan is doing an interview outside his hauler in the garage area at Dover International Speedway.

Off to the side, Alexis Kinch, Ragan's public relations assistant for UPS Racing, is typing something on her Blackberry. Moments later, the message appears on Twitter: "Interview with Scranton Times-Tribune." More and more, drivers, teams and tracks are using social networking to connect with race fans. Breaking news, updates, photos, videos and blogs are posted on a daily basis on places such as Twitter, Facebook and YouTube.

"The fans of NASCAR want a little something extra besides what they see on TV," Ragan said. "They want something a little more in-depth; inside things they don't get to see everyday. By having blogs and Twitter accounts, they can have those tidbits that they want. It draws a pretty good connection between the fans and the teams and drivers." Throughout its history, NASCAR has always tried to be fan-friendly.

According to Andrew Giangola, NASCAR director of business communication, these social networks allow the organization to continue that mission.


"Many years ago, the gate by the flagstand would open up after the race and fans could pour down to Victory Lane, hang out, get autographs from Lee Roy Yarborough, Lee Petty, Fireball Roberts, Richard Petty and Bobby Allison," Giangola said in a telephone interview. "As the sport's gotten much bigger, that's just not possible. But what you're seeing now is the use of technology to really bring the drivers closer to the fans." NASCAR has an official fan page on Facebook where fans can post pictures, videos and messages. It also has a blog, "NASCAR Says," that can be found on the community page of NASCAR.com.

"It represents the sanctioning body's take on the day's news," Giangola said. "If there's a controversial call or something needs to be explained from our viewpoint about something going on in the sport or at the track, we'll use 'NASCAR Says' as a direct vehicle for communicating with the fans." Recently, NASCAR launched www.d4d.tv, a micro-network where fans can follow the young drivers participating in NASCAR's Drive for Diversity, a developmental program for minority and female drivers.

Speaking of drivers, many in the Sprint Cup Series are using social networks.

In January, Kevin Harvick launched "Kevin Harvick Fan Central" that allows fans of the No. 29 Chevrolet driver to interact.

Brian Vickers has created a Web site called Club V. What makes this site is unique in that its fan comments section is uncensored. The site is self-policing, but if someone does use an obscenity, a feature built into the site will change the word.

M&Ms Racing uses blogs and Twitter to keep fans informed about its driver, Kyle Busch. Also, at every race, M&Ms has two "fanvocates" -- Right Turn Ryan and Left Turn Lindsey -- on the lookout for colorful race fans and will post pictures and videos of them.

Because it was sponsoring a new driver and a new team this season, UPS Racing thought it was the perfect opportunity to become heavily involved with social networking.

"We sponsored Dale (Jarrett) since 2001 and he came to us as an established driver," UPS spokesman Mark Dickens said in a telephone interview. "We've sort of started over this year with David. The fact he's a younger driver and not really an established driver at this point in his career lent itself well to us using social media to reach out to existing UPS Racing fans while at the same time cultivating a new fan base for David." Ragan said he enjoys writing his blog on www.racing.ups.com, interacting with the fans and reading their comments.

Obviously, when he's busy on the track, one of his public relations persons will take over and "tweet" messages like "Running 10th in practice" or "In pits for four tires and fuel." But during the week at home or during some down time at the track, Ragan will log in and share his thoughts.

"There's a level of intimacy with NASCAR fans and their drivers that you don't really see in a lot of other sports," Dickens said. "The NASCAR fan is interested in every mundane detail of their driver's life. So we try to incorporate a lot of David's personal background into it." There is a limit, however, to how personal Ragan gets with his messages.

"I won't tell them when I'm going to sleep, what time I'm leaving my house or where I leave my hide-a-key for the front door," Ragan said. "But it's cool to give them information about the UPS team and the NASCAR scene.

"I think the fans just really want that insight on what you're thinking, good or bad. That's how they can relate to you. I think that's how you attract more fans once they see you're a normal guy, a lot like they are, with a great job." As the technology continues to grow, the possibilities are endless with what NASCAR, its drivers and teams can do with social networking.

"When big Bill France and the partners he worked with developed a vision for the sport and started promoting the first races, they saw the attraction wasn't the cars; it was the people driving the cars," Giangola said. "That's always been important in promoting the sport and developing a fan base. So if you create access and allow people to connect to the drivers through new technology, it's going to help the sport continue to grow." Contact the writer: swalsh@timesshamrock.com To see more of The Times-Tribune or to subscribe to the newspaper, go to http://www.thetimes-tribune.com/. Copyright (c) 2009, The Times-Tribune, Scranton, Pa. Distributed by McClatchy-Tribune Information Services. For reprints, email tmsreprints@permissionsgroup.com, call 800-374-7985 or 847-635-6550, send a fax to 847-635-6968, or write to The Permissions Group Inc., 1247 Milwaukee Ave., Suite 303, Glenview, IL 60025, USA.

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