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Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. Up this week: Regan Smith, who is running a partial schedule in the Camping World Truck Series this season.
You’ve been on Twitter for a long time. But did you ever have a MySpace page before that?
Admittedly, I did not have a MySpace page. I do still have an AOL email account, though, and I feel that thing’s gonna be valuable at some point as (AOL Instant) Messenger just went away. They’re actually going to come to me and that thing is gonna be the modern-day antique. If somebody wants that email, we can trade that as an antique.
Wait, is it not just an email address that you have but one you actually use? Do you give that out to people?
I’m slowly trying to use my me.com account more, but I can say that within the past week, I have given that address out, yes.
Oh my God. I don’t think you should have admitted that. That’s embarrassing.
I don’t hold nothing back, man! Come on, I’m not scared.
That is something I want to talk about, because I feel like earlier in your driving career, there were times where you felt like, “I can’t be this outspoken.” And I see you on social media now, you’re one of the first people to put your opinions out there. Like the Martinsville situation, you’re live-tweeting and analyzing the race, saying “This is what should happen, this is what they should do, this is what this means.” When did you start to feel more comfortable with being so opinionated in a public manner?
I don’t know when that really changed. It started changing a little bit during the (JR Motorsports) days for me. But it took until then to even remotely feel comfortable with that. And then even then, I didn’t fully understand how to be opinionated.
The one thing I couldn’t handle was the backlash when people didn’t agree with you or they got mad at you. I used the block button a lot — and I still use it a lot now — but I couldn’t absorb that very well. And I started to learn how to sort of absorb that.
Last year, after my JRM time, I started doing a lot more of the TV stuff and doing a lot more on (FS1’s) Race Hub and different shows like that. And you have to give an opinion there, and a lot of that is off the cusp. We might talk about what we’re going to say on the show before we do it, but then when you do it live on the show, it’s completely unrehearsed and basically, “This is what I’m thinking,” in the (spur) of the moment and you’re basing it off what someone else is saying and how you’re going to make your point based on that.
I like the sport, I love this sport and I care about it. It’s almost to the point where we’ve been so PC for so long — drivers, anybody down the list — that we’ve forgotten how to not be PC. It’s kind of been refreshing to not have to be PC after a long time and be able to say what I want to say and say what I’m thinking. And if I’m wrong, I’ll tell you I’m wrong. I’ll admit to it and say, “Hey, I was wrong about this.” And if I’m right, then I will make sure I tell you I was right and stuff that in your face, too. (Smiles)
So how do people in the NASCAR world get drivers to not be PC? Because you can see some of these younger guys coming up, they don’t want to say anything controversial.
You bring up a good point. So the younger guys coming up right now, they don’t want to say anything controversial, they don’t want to do anything that’s gonna shake the apple cart and cause them any trouble. We lost an entire generation already, in my eyes, because of that.
We all watched those guys (like Jimmie Johnson and Jeff Gordon) — myself included — and we saw how to they act with sponsors and we saw how important that was and the sponsors were really driving the sport back then. And they still are right now — don’t get me wrong — but naturally we’re seeing some declining numbers. That’s an obvious thing to point out at the moment, is teams are really scrambling on how to figure out new ways to market and have more partners.
As that happened, we lost an era of drivers who said, “This is how we have to act.” Do you know how hard it is? If you’re brought up through a sport, through a business industry and this is how you’re taught to act, and then (try to) flip a switch overnight and act a different way and say, “Hey, show your personality. Hey, be yourself. Go out there and let people know how you act when the cameras are off and the mic’s not in your face and when you’re sitting with buddies from high school, just hanging out around the campfire.” Like that’s almost impossible.
So kind of tying in to this new generation, these guys have an opportunity. I think you kind of see a mix of Ryan Blaney at times, he shows his personality — and he has an absolutely incredible personality — but there are also times where he doesn’t show it and to where he’s kind of muted up a little bit and kind of just tries to be a little bit polished. Chase Elliott feels like he’s very polished in terms of a driver. And I can keep on going down the list. Bubba Wallace, he’s got a lot of personality. He shows that through social media, but even Bubba, they still have to answer to their partners and to their sponsors.
I don’t think we’re ever going to get away from drivers having to be polished to a certain extent because of the fact we have to have partners to get race cars to go around the racetrack. That’s just the fact of what we do. But what I would love to see happen, and I think Monster in my opinion has really helped us out, is kind of letting these guys open back up just a little bit. Kurt Busch, I mean he says what he’s thinking. Dale Jr. — given he’s retiring this year, and that might be the best thing that’s ever happened, because he’s just letting it go. That’s what we need, and he’s in a different situation, he can get away with that more than other guys.
But I’m concerned that we need to get those guys to show off their personalities so we can learn the personalities. In order to do that, we can’t be handcuffed by the partners that are on the race cars. The partners on the race cars have to buy into it and have to allow it to happen.
Obviously that’s probably one of the biggest reasons why these guys don’t speak out, is because of the sponsor element — they’re afraid to piss off their sponsors, lose their sponsors. But you touched on something else that I think: They don’t like the backlash, when fans get mad at them, fans boo them or disagree with them, yell at them on social media. You mentioned earlier that you’ve learned how to absorb some of that criticism better. So how do you do that? What’s your secret aside from just blocking people?
I think I probably blocked most of them that say anything bad so I don’t see it anymore. (Laughs) All the ones that are left just agree with me.
In all seriousness, since I’m not driving anymore — well, I shouldn’t say not driving, but I’m not driving full time in anything currently — it’s easier to accept (the Twitter arguments). Some of the stuff’s nasty. It’s just pure nastiness out there. You’ve gotta understand that on social media.
The ones I like are the ones that give an opinion, they’re not nasty about it, and they can put me in my place. I’m fine with that, or I can fire back. Those are the ones that I enjoy, so I’ve kind of learned to read those ones and give those ones credit. And if I’m gonna say something back to somebody, say something back to somebody that’s doing it in a way that I would do it, and that’s respectfully.
Outside of that, I think it just comes with time and maybe understanding the social media side of things. I mean, everybody within this business for the most part wants to be liked by not only their peers, but other people on the outside, the people watching, the fans, the folks that are buying the tickets to come see us do what we do. So you’ve got to be conscious of that and I guess everybody just at certain stages in their career finds different ways to handle it. My tolerance has gone up for it, and who knows? I might go unblock some people after this and really see what happens.
So it sounds like Twitter and Instagram are you main forms of social media. Do you use any other forms?
Well I’ve got my Twitter linked to my Facebook, as is my Instagram. I’m liking Instagram right now. I’m really into that, but the problem for me is that I don’t have as many people on Instagram. Instagram is more putting pictures out there and videos, and I haven’t quite figured out the videos aspect of it yet, how to make them look good. I always feel like I look cheesy and corny when I do them. That’s just human instinct, where you’re like, “That’s just cheesy and corny” and then I’ll watch somebody that’s really good at it. Like Lewis Hamilton — I think is one of the best of it, like, “Wow, he just looks cool at everything he’s doing.” Which he probably is just cool at everything he’s doing. That’s just his personality.
But I really enjoy Instagram. And Twitter’s always gonna be there — well, five years from now it might not be there. But Twitter for me is the quickest one to just pop off something and say it, just get it out there right away. Those are really the only ones I mess with. I don’t even look at the Facebook. I don’t have a personal Facebook account, believe it or not. I literally don’t have one other than the one that’s linked to my racing thing.
So Snapchat’s not a thing for you?
I’ve tried it and I know that the kids now, they keep saying, “Oh you’re on Twitter? Nobody gets on Twitter anymore. Everybody uses Instagram and Snapchat.” Well, I just don’t get Snapchat. I have tried, I have used it some, and I know everybody says how great it is. I don’t get it.
What don’t you get about it?
I just don’t get what’s so good about something that’s there and then it’s gone. It’s hard enough for me to look at my phone and remember to video something that I think is really cool. And it’s even harder if I’m going to video one quick snip and send it to one person or two people or pick and choose who I’m gonna send it to or send it out to everybody. Like it’s a lot of work almost, and I guess to Instagram’s credit, the one thing I like about that is, it’s just a little more natural for me.
You have two young kids and eventually they’re going to grow up in a social media age. Have you thought at all about how you’re going to handle your kids being on social media eventually?
I’m gonna build lead walls in my house that block everything out and therefore if they get on the Internet, I’m gonna dictate it. I’m gonna be the dictator of my house, and that’s how it’s just gonna have to be. (Laughs)
I mean, I joke about that. You’re not gonna avoid that. Kids are going grow up and watch computers. My wife’s brothers are younger than me — like 10, 12 years younger than me — and they grew up more in that computer era moreso than me. They spend a lot of time on their computers, they both work in the computer industry, and the things that they’re saying, the conversations that I have with them, I can’t even being to understand. And I’m afraid that it’s going to be the same with my kids, that the things they’re gonna see and know and understand, I’m not going to have a way to fully comprehend that and it’s not going to make sense to me necessarily.
With that said, I’ll pay attention to what they’re doing and pay attention to the places and the things they’re doing online without being too much of an invasive parent, if you want to call it that. And I think as a parent, it’s important to teach them right from wrong, and if I do my job teaching them right from wrong, they’re going to do the right things on social media and try to not let them make a fool out of themselves when they’re on there at some point or another. Don’t do something that you’re gonna regret five years from now. And I try.
This also a challenge for parents right now: When you post a picture of your kid on social media, it’s still gonna be there in 10 or 15 years from now. Someone’s going to be able to find that. So you want to be a little cautious about that. It’s not like a family photo album, like “Oh little Timmy’s in the bathtub, it’s so cute, haha, it’s funny.” Well if little Timmy’s in the bathtub and 100,000 people can see him and they can have access to that same picture you just popped up there, what’s going to happen when little Timmy is 18 years old and he realizes that picture is still floating around there? So you’ve gotta be a little conscious of that stuff. I try to be conscious of it, but at the same time, I’m gonna brag a little bit and say I have two damn cute kids, so I like showing them off.
Some day, if I have kids, they’re going to look at my accounts and tweets. I’m thinking some of the tweets I have now, I don’t want my kids to see that. I get mad about something on social media and if they’re a teenager, they’re going be like, “Dad, why did you say this about this race?” You can search tweets and things like that. Do you ever worry about your kids coming across something you’ve said online some day?
I try not to say anything that I’m gonna regret later. Sometimes you’ll pop off of your mouth and just put something out there quick, and there’s that rare occasion where I’ll go back and delete something and then I’m gonna have to delete it on this account and that account and then that account and then I know it’s still out there.
Other times, I’ll sit there and type something and I’ll read it and then I’ll delete it, then I’ll type something else. Like if I put everything that I typed out there, then I would have a problem with that. I don’t think I put too much out there that I’m not willing to answer for later or down the road, but I’m sure there’s going be questions. And to your point, it’s something I think about every day: How do I answer to them? What do I say to them if they ask me this question about this or about that?
I guess the other way I handle it is I’ll hand my phone to somebody sitting next to me. I do this more than anything if I’m using my phone for whatever social media it is — whether it’s my wife or a friend or whoever’s close by — I’ll say, “Hey, read this. Does this make sense?” or “Hey, read this. Is this funny?” So I’ll try and screen them before I put them out there. Is this offensive? I think sometimes when you’re worried about, “Is this going piss this guy off or make this guy mad?” you also gotta take into account that this is somebody who’s my friend, so they’re going to understand that I’m giving them a hard time. They’re going to understand this is what I’m doing here. And I think that goes for most situations.
What is something NASCAR can do better on social media to have an impact with today’s audience that they desperately need to attract?
I think to answer that correctly, you have to think about where social media’s going to be five years from now and how invasive it’s going be. We’ve got to be less reactionary and be a little more ahead of the curve on a lot of things. I feel like a lot of the times we do something as a reaction of something else that’s happened — and we’ve gotten better about that stuff — but originality (is important).
And I’m guilty of this. I have a hard time being original on there, but there are some things that are very original. Some of the stuff Bubba’s been doing lately, I think, is very original and I’ll give him credit where credit’s due on that stuff. So finding new ways to be original.
Social media is evolving so quickly. I don’t wanna call it an organism, but it’s almost what it feels like as it’s evolving and changing by the day, and it’s tough to keep up with. You’ve got people, companies with hundreds of thousands of people working for them trying to keep up with it and even they can’t. So I wouldn’t necessarily expect us as an industry to keep up with it every day.
But just continuing to be fresh and new. What those fresh and new ideas are? I don’t know — how far do we want to take it? Do we want to be social media-ing while we’re in the race cars? I mean, maybe we need to. I think as a general guideline, I think the more we can get fans (engaged), the better it’s going to be. Whether that’s heart rate monitors in the race car, whether that’s letting them see tire pressures real time and letting them feel like they’re making the same decisions as a crew chief. There’s a section of the fanbase that would love that stuff. Then there’s a section of the fanbase that doesn’t care about that stuff, that just wants to be here for the event and it just so happens that there’s a race going on in the background, then that’s cool. If we can find ways through social media to kind of tailor to each of those individual groups, I think that would be good.