Holding A Pretty Wheel · Amy Henderson · Thursday March 29, 2012
From drivers Tweeting during rain delays to huge NASCAR discussion groups on Facebook, there is no doubt that the social media have found a permanent place in the heart of our sport and our world. It’s well documented that drivers have used the social media, Twitter in particular, to connect with their fans in a new, more personal way. Some have made headlines with their online activity, like when Kasey Kahne commented on Twitter about a woman breastfeeding, or when Brad Keselowski Tweeted from his car during a red flag at Daytona. Fans, media, and drivers alike thrive on the instant information at their fingertips. That’s a good thing, right?
Yes, it is a good thing. Mostly. Sort of.
Don’t get me wrong, I think it’s great how fans, drivers, and media can interact on the Interwebz these days. But it’s also taken a little of the excitement out of the sport.
But, you say, just look at how quickly we get news these days! Race results are instantly at our fingertips! If a driver gets new shoes, we know it in five minutes!
Maybe it’s just me, but sometimes that instant gratification takes the luster off the sport. It’s hard to anticipate announcements when everyone knows what they’re going to be three days in advance. Once upon a time, there were certain times of the year when fans and media awaited the big news with bated breath. The fall race at Charlotte once featured announcements from sponsors, teams, and drivers. Fans looked forward to the January media tour as sort of an unofficial start to the season, with even more announcements.
Those press conferences and announcements still happen, but very few are a surprise anymore. Generally, we all know what’s going to be said before a word is spoken. When a big story breaks, we have not only instant news of the story itself, but instant reaction from drivers and media as well. Again, that’s not a bad thing, but it’s been the downfall of the traditional media. After all, why buy a newspaper or magazine when you can read the story online now instead of tomorrow or next week? By the time the six o’clock news comes on the air, the story has been reported and analyzed and everybody is waiting on the next big thing. As much as race fans and media alike mourned the death of the weekly NASCAR Scene, the fact is that with the onset of the Internet, much of the substance of a weekly paper has been rendered obsolete.
NASCAR Nation is so accustomed now to instant gratification that we don’t have the chance to look forward to very much.
It used to be a little like a kid in December. As Christmas day approached, you felt like you would burst wondering what those colorful packages might contain. The anticipation was all-consuming and delicious. Would that big one be the toy you had circled in the Sears Wish Book months before and then left in a conspicuous place, where Mom and Dad just had to notice it? Would your haul be better than your kid sister’s? You couldn’t sleep for the excitement! The promise of what was to come was almost the best part.
Now, it’s more like the year your older brother found the stash two weeks early and told you everything you were getting. While on one level, you could still be excited to actually have the items in question, the sheer magnitude of speculation that has been taken away means that the big day, no matter how special the gifts are, has lost some of its shine. It’s not as much fun to rip the paper off a package when you already know what’s inside. Even if you thought you wanted to know, it ruins part of the experience. It ruins the best part of the experience.
(For the record, I found out exactly once before Christmas what the big gift would be. I found out by accident. And on one level, though the gift was exactly what I wanted, that was the worst holiday of my childhood, because I knew what was in that box already.)
It feels the same in NASCAR sometimes. We know the news before it’s news. If you missed a race and want to enjoy it after the fact, it’s come to the point where you can’t turn on your computer before you watch or you’ll know the outcome along with who wrecked whom, who’s mad at the crew chief, and who was complaining at halfway because he needed to pee. By the time you find out that there will be an announcement at the track on Friday, someone has leaked what it is.
Two weeks from now, when the Cup Series heads to Texas, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. owner Bruton Smith would have had the perfect opportunity to promote the changes at his Bristol Motor Speedway. Instead, Smith made the announcement in the middle of a week when the series heads to a track owned by SMI’s direct competition. But what choice did he have? From the moment Smith announced he was considering resurfacing Bristol and created a poll for fans to weigh in, the stage was set. Everyone was all over the story like flies on honey, and even if Smith had held off and scheduled the press conference at Texas, we’d all have known what the news would be before the race weekend even began. So, in the end, there was no reason to wait, to let the anticipation build.
It wasn’t wrong of Smith to put his ideas out there. Actually, it was refreshing to see someone in the sport actually ask the fans’ opinion and mean it. But it did take away some of the old wondering: What would Smith be announcing at Texas? Is he redoing Bristol? Maybe he’s buying Pocono or Dover, that’s been rumored for years, after all. Is he doing something new and exciting to allow fans more access? In years past, we might have wondered. Now, that’s gone, everybody has weighed in with his or her opinions, and we’re bobbing along in the wake of the news, whether we like it or not.
Again, this is the world we live in now. It isn’t wrong to put a story out there before anyone else, even before it’s official; it’s the nature of the game, and as media, our job. Having a story first means ratings; it means hits on a website, and ratings and hits drive the advertisers who pay for the broadcasts and the websites to be in existence. In prehistoric times (i.e. before the Internet took over our lives) it’s what sold those newspapers and magazines. Nobody is doing anything wrong. It’s the nature of the beast.
It just seems that sometimes, that beast has taken away our fun. It’s erased the need to speculate on anything for very long, because it’s very likely that you will have the answer before you even thought of all the possibilities. And within that lies that little voice that tells you it would have been nice to have the time to think about those possibilities, to mull them over and play them all out in your head and decide on the one that you hope-oh, you hope so much-is the one you’re going to hear come to fruition in that big announcement.
You don’t get to be a kid at Christmas in this world, waiting for the media blitz to satisfy that deep hunger for racing you’ve had for weeks during a long, cold winter. You haven’t gone hungry long enough for that anymore; because there isn’t an offseason anymore during which to build that old familiar feeling of excitement for what’s soon to come. Instead, you get your fill and think of other things on those January days when racing once took over your very soul. We live in a world where everything is instantaneous…you know the minute-the second-anyone knows. You no longer have to wait for tidbits of news or your favorite driver’s opinion on something.
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And you know what? I kind of miss that.
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