Monday, February 25, 2013

NASCAR’s Anti-Social Media Creates Uproar

Well NASCAR finally got its wish.

For several years the organization has been trying to make a mark in the world of social media.  It created a special department to lead the efforts, built a Facebook page which now has more than three million “friends” and setup a YouTube channel.  It created a twitter account – with nearly a million followers – and encouraged drivers to do the same.  NASCAR, which has seen its at-track attendance and television viewership decline in recent years, was trying to attract new and younger fans who rely primarily on social media channels for news and information.  

And for a time this past weekend, NASCAR was at the center of the social media world – but for all the wrong reasons.  It was in the eye of the storm.

Following Saturday’s last lap crash in the Nationwide race, a spectator in the stands posted a video he took with his cell phone on YouTube.  He was just a few feet away from where the tire came to rest.  It was a short clip, not particularly graphic or “horrific” to my eyes, although some have referenced it that way.   It immediately generated comments, mostly concern for those possibly injured and respect for those who rushed to aid them.  I didn’t see a single anti-NASCAR comment.  Most were similar to the following:
“All I saw was a great bunch of people trying to help someone who was injured.   Hats off to all of those great folks!” was a typical comment.
The guy who took off his shirt to aid one of the more seriously injured received a lot of attention.
“A real redneck will take the shirt off his back to help anyone out in need,” one person wrote.
Shortly after it was posted, however, the video was gone, replaced by a black screen, YouTube’s frown face and “This video contains content from NASCAR, who has blocked it on copyright grounds.”
And just like that, the social media world exploded.  Whatever limited progress NASCAR may have been making on the social media front suffered a serious setback.  Social media sites and pundits who have probably never watched a NASCAR race were suddenly attacking the organization for what they saw as censorship of a news story.
Now NASCAR, like most professional sporting organizations, has long claimed copyrights on the video and even still photos at events it sanctions.  Tickets and passes read:  “NASCAR owns the rights to all images, sounds and data from this NASCAR event … The bearer of this ticket agrees not to take any action, or cause others to take any action, which would infringe on NASCAR’s rights.” 

For the most part, however, the organization has not tried to stop fans from taking videos and pictures, for their personal use.  But if you’re walking around the garage area or on pit road with a professional looking photo rig and without a NASCAR or track issued press photo vest, you’re going to attract the attention of the NASCAR’s copyright police.  It’s about money, as usual.  If you’re a sponsor, a manufacturer or just someone who wants to take photos or video of cars on the track for marketing or advertising use or personal profit, you’re gonna have to pay NASCAR first for the right.
But by invoking the copyright clause in pulling down the YouTube video, NASCAR moved into uncharted territory.  It was a foolish move by NASCAR that showed a complete lack of understanding of what social media is all about.
YouTube realized its integrity also was being challenged and quickly reacted.  It issued a statement saying: “Our partners and users do not have the right to take down videos from YouTube unless they contain content which is copyright infringing, which is why we have reinstated the videos.”  Obviously YouTube saw the video as news, not a copyright situation.
NASCAR, in full damage control mode on several fronts, tried to defuse the situation with a statement of its own.
"The fan video of the wreck on the final lap of today's NASCAR Nationwide Series race was blocked on YouTube out of respect for those injured in today's accident.  Information on the status of those fans was unclear and the decision was made to err on the side of caution with this very serious incident."
Okay, not a bad response.  Too bad NASCAR didn’t say that from the start.  Tyler Alexander, the teenager who originally posted the video (just the target audience for NASCAR's social media initiative), tweeted that he understood and accepted NASCAR’s decision.  Later he tweeted that he was overwhelmed by all the attention and his only concern was for those injured.
While all this was going on, the lamestream media wasn’t exactly covering itself in glory.  ESPN, which originally broadcast the race, actually led a SportsCenter broadcast shortly after the wreck with an update on Danica Patrick, before moving into accident coverage.  On the other extreme, the Associated Press was on Twitter, looking for additional fan footage and photos. 
Only Speed was making a commendable effort to cover the story.  Adam Alexander did an excellent job coordinating reports.  Kyle Petty was the star of the evening.  He shared the story of a race in which his father, Richard Petty, crashed and lost a wheel that went into the stands and killed a fan. He talked about the death of his son Adam, in a racing accident, and tried to provide insight on what makes drivers tick.  More Kyle Petty please.
Online, back at ESPN, they were doing their best NASCAR impersonation, deleting negative comments about the two organizations as quickly as they were posted.  NASCAR itself withdrew from the Twitter universe, shutting down for several hours after a tweet from Mike Helton expressing concern about those injured.
It was a tough, difficult situation.  Everyone acknowledges that.  But it also was a critical test of NASCAR's understanding of social media and its commitment to the medium and the organization failed miserably.

Monday, February 18, 2013

Calling Danica

“Hello.  Danica?”
“Yes, who’s this?”
“Sorry, I can’t tell you.  Just call me a friend.”
“Well friend, what can I do for you?”
“Actually Danica, it’s what I can do for you.”
“Yeah right.  I’ve heard that before.  I give, what can you do for me?”
“Just a little friendly advice.  Make a good show of your qualifying attempt.  Start high on the warm-up lap just like everybody else and then hug the white line, keep your foot in it and hold that wheel steady.  The rest will take care of itself.”
“Uh, thanks a lot.  But what else am I gonna do?”
“Wait a second.  Richard, is that you?  Sorry I don’t recognize your voice yet.  But stop messing around and get your butt over to my motorhome.”
“Ah, no Danica, it’s not Ricky.  And as much as I’d like to come over to you motorhome, I’d better not.
“Tony?  Okay, I know it’s you Tony.    Weren’t you the one who said that any monkey could qualify at Daytona?  And we already talked about this after practice.  Cut back on those double cheeseburgers, drop a few pounds – like maybe a hundred – and you might be able to run around Daytona a fast as I can.  But don’t even think about grabbing my butt.”
“No Danica, it’s not Tony either. “
“Well then friend, quit talking in riddles.”
“Danica, this is The Call.”
“Who is this really?”
The Call Danica.  The Call.  We want you on the pole for the 500.  It’s like Rick Hendrick said, you’re magical. Everyone is gonna be talking about you – and talking about the Daytona 500.  And it doesn’t hurt that you have one of his engines in your car.”
“Now I've got it.  This is Jessie Heiman.  Right?  Is that you Jessie?  Well forgetaboutit.  I don’t care what those folks from GoDaddy say, I am not going to kiss you.
“Oh just forget it Danica.  Nevermind.” 
“Well thanks for the advice friend, but we got this qualifying thing under control.  But how about leaving me your number?  I might want to talk with you next Saturday night.”
“Sorry Danica.  No can do.  Already got a call in to Dale Junior about that.”

Monday, February 11, 2013

Vote No on Prop 3

It’s started again.  Richard Childress is talking about bringing the No. 3 back to Cup.

The reason?  He says the fans want it.

Well here’s one fan that doesn’t.  And if you don’t either, better let Richard know now before it’s too late.

Of course the number hasn’t been run in a Cup race since Dale Earnhardt was killed driving the car in the 2001 Daytona 500.  The next time the team ran, it was a white No. 29 car, which Kevin Harvick soon drove to victory at Atlanta in one of the most emotional races in NASCAR history.   At the time Childress doubted he would ever run the No. 3 again and said if he did – it wouldn’t be on a black car.

Childress first floated the proposition of returning the No. 3 to the Sprint Cup ranks more than a year ago.  He pointed out the number belonged to Richard Childress Racing and that he had run the No. 3 himself, keeping the number when he became a car owner and hiring Earnhardt.  He’s also been running the No. 3 in the Camping World Truck series and Nationwide series for his grandsons – Austin and Ty Dillon.  He proposed bringing it back when one of them reached the Cup ranks, saying it would only be used for family – his and Earnhardt’s.  His statements caused a flurry of reaction at the time and nothing much more was said. 

Jump ahead to 2013.  Ty will run a No. 3 truck for the entire series and a few races in the No. 33 Nationwide car.  Austin will run the No. 3 car in the Nationwide series.    He’ll also compete in a handful of Cup races, with an eye on running for Cup rookie of the year in 2014.  He’s entered in the No. 33 RCR car for the Daytona 500.  During the recent NASCAR media tour, Childress said he’d heard from a large number of fans who wanted to see the No. 3 back on the track in Cup and that he’s considering it.  Of those reaching out to Childress, he said about 85 percent were in favor of bringing the number back.

“Right now we don’t have any plans of running the 3 anytime in the future,” Childress said.  “But who knows what may happen between now and the next few months.  If it’s in the family with Austin and Ty or a young Earnhardt someday, who knows?

As a grandfather, seems like a lot of pressure to put on a grandson.  Tough enough breaking into Sprint Cup, let alone trying to live up to Dale Earnhardt’s legacy.  Austin says he’s open to it, but hopefully not until next year when he runs the full Cup schedule.

Sorry, I’d rather not see it happen at all.

I know that NASCAR doesn’t retire numbers.  I wish it did.  I know Richard Petty brought back the No. 43.  I wish he hadn't.  But it was his number and it’s his team.  Petty supports bringing back the No. 3.  So does Dale Junior. 

I know there’s a long list of great drivers who drove the No. 3 prior to Earnhardt.  In fact you could build a Hall of Fame around those who drove the No. 3: Junior Johnson, Paul Goldsmith, David Pearson, Buddy and Buck Baker, Ricky Rudd, Dick Rathmann, Charlie Glotzbach, LeeRoy Yarbrough, Cale Yarborough, Bobby Johns, Fireball Roberts, Marvin Panch, Bobby Isaac and Fred Lorenzen, just to name a few.  The list of car owners is almost as impressive, including Ray Nichols and Ray Fox.  And I know Earnhardt won his first NASCAR title driving the No. 2.

But to me -- and I suspect many others -- the No. 3 will always be Earnhardt.  No one else had the success he did in that car, nor the dominating personality that accounted for so much of the growth in the sport.  The Yankees had some pretty good ballplayers wear No. 7, but to me No. 7 will always be Mickey Mantle. 

There’s another reason for RCR to bring back the No. 3. 


The team went from four to three cars last year after losing sponsorship.  Kevin Harvick has already announced he’s moving to Stewart-Haas Racing in 2014 and there’s a possibility he could take sponsor Budweiser with him.  Paul Menard’s three-year family sponsorship at RCR is up at the end of this season and he’s shown a tendency for jumping from team to team.  Jeff Burton’s contract also is up at the end of 2013, as is Caterpillar, his primary sponsor.  Burton hasn’t won in four years and unless things change drastically, I can’t see why either side would want to continue the relationship next year.  So at moment, RCR has no veteran drivers and no sponsors under contract for 2014.  Not a very good situation for a team that didn’t show much in 2012.

Now add the No. 3 into the mix.  What sponsor wouldn’t want to be on the side of the car?  It’s why ESPN featured the No. 3 car last year in its promotions for the Nationwide Series.  Sure there might be some sponsor backlash from diehard Earnhardt fans, but it would certainly be the most photographed car on the track and receive substantial television coverage.  The No. 3 also remains number one in die cast sales and a new No. 3 would only add to that margin,.  From a sponsor's standpont, it’s a no brainer.

What sponsor?  Goodwrench?  Nope.  General Motors has done away with the brand.  AdvoCare is currently on the black No. 3 for the full Nationwide season.  What’s AdvoCare?  Good question.  According to its web site, “A premier health and wellness company offering world-class energy, weight-loss, nutrition, and sports performance products along with a rewarding business opportunity.”  Not exactly what I would have in mind for the return of the No. 3.

I’m sure the No. 3 means more to Childress than anyone else, including the Earnhardt family.  I don't believe the decision will come down solely to money.  I'm sure he will consider it carefully before making a decision.  But if it really is the fans that has Childress considering bringing back the No. 3, than those of us who disagree need to make our voices heard.  

There's no ballot box, but vote No on Prop No. 3 at

Monday, February 4, 2013

NASCAR Rules on Concussion Baselines: No Rules

Sunday’s Super Bowl turned out to be a pretty good game.  But the days leading up to it were a major headache for the National Football League as everyone from former players, to Bob Costas, to President Obama questioned the safety of the sport and ultimately, its future.

More than 2,000 former players have joined a suit against the league over concussions and other head injuries suffered while playing football.  Desperate to stem the rising chorus of criticism, the NFL, which began requiring concussion baseline testing a few years back, announced in New Orleans that next year independent neurologists will be on the sidelines during games to help diagnose and possibly treat concussions. 
Brian France and Mike Helton answer questions
 during NASCAR's recent media week
Meanwhile NASCAR, which faced a concussion crisis of its own last season, has decided to do nothing. The issue first made headlines when Dale Earnhardt, Jr., admitted continuing to drive after suffering a concussion.  It wasn’t until he got his bell rung a second time that he went to a doctor, eventually sitting out for two races.   

At the time NASCAR said it would study its procedures.  There were calls for mandatory concussion baseline testing, something already required by every other major professional sports organization in th U.S. – including IndyCar and ALMS – along with most college sports and even many high school and little league programs.  Several NASCAR teams, including Richard Childress Racing, already required such testing of its drivers.

The baseline test is just what it sounds like.  It is used to set an athlete’s base in areas such as reaction time and information processing.  If the athlete then suffers a blow to the head, the same tests are conducted and compared to the original results.  The tests can be conducted quickly by a trained technician, on the sideline of a football game or in the pits of an auto race.

But NASCAR has decided to punt for now and put the responsibility on the drivers.

“I think in '13 our goal is to explain more to drivers what's out there in regards to advance information, in regards to elements that can be used by them," said Mike Helton, NASCAR president, when asked about baseline testing during NASCAR’s recent media week.  “Our most current issue is to take what we've learned from Dale's experience and make sure the other drivers know what's out there to collect data.  Then it's an opportunity for us to look at what we might institute going forward."
Translation:  NASCAR is leaving it up to the drivers to police themselves.  Even though Earnhardt admitted to driving with a concussion and many other drivers have said, given the same situation, they would too.  It is a situation the NFL was all too familiar with.

“The culture of the athlete is still too much of a play-through-it, rather than a player-safety mentality,” NFL Commissioner Roger Goodell told the Harvard School of Public Health last year.  “Many players have publicly admitted to hiding concussions and other head injuries.  This is unfortunate, but we are working with players, team doctors and coaches to change that culture.  It is changing, but will take more time, resolve, patience and determination.

The head injury crisis had forced the NFL to take additional steps.  Let's hope it doesn't take another crisis for NASCAR to start using its head.