Well, I did my tour of duty in the Social Media Garage at the Super Weekend at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Met some great people, had a few laughs, got caught in the rain, and saw “the other side” of racing. I have attended 44 Indianapolis 500’s; this was my first Crown Royal Presents the Curtiss Shaver 400 at the Brickyard Powered by BigMachineRecords.com. OK, I copied and pasted the name of the race because GOOD GOD, THAT’S A LONG NAME AND WHO THE HELL IS BIGMACHINERECORDS.COM, ANYWAY. With that said, I will refer to the race as the Brickyard 400 from now on. You’re welcome. Here is the tale of an innocent IndyCar blogger/social media neophyte as he observes and reports on the monolith we call NASCAR. These are the WO’s (worthless opinions) on his experience.
1. I thought I had at least a working knowledge of the power of social media. Untrue. I am a babe in the woods compared to Jessica Northey, Jenny DeVaughn, the myth that is nascarcasm, and the Idaho weatherman known as Brian Neudorff. At the Indy 500, my Social Media Garage brothers and I merrily tweeted and blogged our way through the month of May, never once saying the word “impressions.” It seems that this word is a vital component to judging just how valuable a Twitter account or blog is to someone. The names listed above have MILLIONS of impressions. Jessica Northey already has business plans to make these impressions pay. The two bright things I did this weekend were to shut up when they were explaining the power of social media to me and to ask questions after they stopped talking. I know nothing, but I’m interested in this stuff. I suggest all users of Twitter start tracking their metrics. And by the way, I would LOVE for you all to re-tweet my idiotic comments on Twitter. It seems that is of value.
2. People are always ragging on the yellow shirts at IMS. They yell, blow whistles, and generally brook no argument. When alcohol induced stupidity by the fans is not involved, I have found the majority of these men and women to be friendly and helpful. The rest, of course, are petty tyrants and martinets. Do the workers at IMS really have a sense of humor? Check out this sign I saw as I entered the track on Sunday.
Love it, right? Good stuff.
3. I knew I wasn’t in Kansas anymore when I walked down the merchandise trailer row. I counted over 30 trailers hawking hats, shirts, baby apparel, models, scanners, and various and sundry cheaply made and overpriced items that a person does not need. EVERY name driver has a trailer. IndyCar cannot compete. I continued my tour and came to a trailer that had a giant picture of Jeff Gordon wearing camouflage posing with what appears to be a large, dead elk.
This trailer was selling nothing but camouflaged team and driver gear. I have never seen this merchandise at an IndyCar race. I think we are appealing to a different demographic. Of course I now have a Tony Stewart camouflage hat to wear golfing. Stylish. When in Rome…
4. The Continental Tire Series, with its production based cars and “gentlemen drivers,” and the Rolex Series both put on damn good shows on Friday. They run in the rain! I consider myself an Indy guy, but I have no problem with Indy hosting other series. It’s their track and their business. Make some money so the IndyCar series stays strong. Keep these races.
5. The Indy 500 has its share of drinkers, tattoos, mullets, and boorish behavior, but I’m pretty sure the per capita on these belongs to NASCAR. I’d bet the 500 leads in total arrests, but I’ll have to go the over on NASCAR with concealed weapons. It’s a different crowd. A strong need to root against someone seems to exist in stock car racing. You not only rabidly pull for someone, you just as rabidly pull against an opponent you perceive to have done your driver wrong. I’m convinced you could get shanked in the lavatory for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt if he had just wrecked Junior. Or maybe just for wearing a Juan Pablo Montoya shirt. And I’m just talking about the women’s lavatory. It’s a rough crowd, particularly for my refined tastes.
6. How about that race? Be honest with me. You took a nap, didn’t you? In a race to race comparison, the Indy 500 laps the Brickyard 400. Indy had lead changes, charges through the pack, and a last lap dive bomb in Turn One that THRILLED the crowd. I get it that NASCAR has more pit strategy with 2 or 4 tires and all the adjustments you can make during a race. In my opinion, it’s a product of a relatively low-tech series that is just coming to grips with its “shade tree mechanic” past. Still figuring that fuel injection out, huh?
7. Give credit where credit is due, though. The traveling carnival that is NASCAR dwarfs the IndyCar show. NASCAR is BIG. They have a mass of haulers just for the series gear. The downside to that is NASCAR has a very high overhead as a series in a very bad economy. IndyCar’s more streamlined product may be in better shape to weather the economic storm. IndyCar is lean. NASCAR has to feed the bulldog EVERY week.
8. Traffic in the Brickyard 400 Social Media Garage was much stronger than the Indy 500 traffic. Even though the room was hidden this week, a good number of NASCAR fans came in to check it out. This second iteration of the SMG was also better suited to move people from entrance to exit. Also, the Brickyard 400 brings the local Indy 500 fans. It was good to see so many of my social media friends, especially those that had Fuzzy’s Premium in a chilled flask. Cheers, friends. I was hoping people were stopping in to see me, but I have a suspicion the air conditioning was the main attraction.
9. One of the highlights of the Social Media Garage was when Chevrolet brought Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon, and Tony Stewart in for special wristband interviews. Doug Boles, VP of Communications conducted a very professional Q and A. The drivers were relaxed, engaged, and funny. When I asked Gordon if he ever wanted to get back in the sprints and midgets, he said he gets the itch every time he sees a race, and he plans to attend the Knoxville Nationals this year. Loved that answer. When Tony Stewart was asked what he does when it rains, he said, “I try to get somewhere out of the rain.” He said it with a smile. When I asked him what car or formula had the steepest learning curve, he said the winged sprint cars he’s racing now are the hardest to learn because the left side digs in going through the corner, not the right like the non-wings. The guy is a flat racer. Johnson talked about moving from bikes to buggies to stock cars. Basically, he has been in a stock car since his teens. It’s all he knows. All three love Indy, and it shows.
10. NASCAR drivers are rock stars. They can’t walk anywhere without a crowd forming. One thing I like about the 500 is that the fans respect the drivers as they walk from place to place. If they stop, then of course the fans will ask for autographs, but it’s not a free-for-all with drivers ducking for cover. I like the more mature reaction of the IndyCar fans.
Let me just give credit where credit is due. Cassie Conklin is the IMS person in charge of new media. The social media people who come in (like me) are pains in the neck. Cassie’s a saint. Pippa Mann stopped in and was her usual friendly and professional self. What an ambassador for IndyCar. Jarrett Peyton, the son of Walter Payton, stopped in with his amazingly positive personality to just hang out and talk. Ashley Stremme, wife of NASCAR driver David Stremme, stopped by to chat with Jessica Northey and stayed to talk racing. She grew up in a racing family and drove dirt modifieds. She had interesting comments on being a one car team struggling to find sponsorship. I’m now a fan. Last, but not least, Todd and Cary Bettenhausen, the twin sons of Gary Bettenhausen, were in all three days helping visitors to the SMG experience iRacing. Every kid that needed it got positive and friendly instruction. And the boys had some racing stories to tell. IMS history was right there next to me. My opinions may be worthless, but the experiences I’ve had this year through IMS, Twitter, and this blog have been far from that. Sometimes that stranger mentioned in the title finds a home.