Twitter can be a nasty, no-fun, soul-draining place sometimes. What used to be a place of civil debate and common sense can feel overrun by trolls and haters these days.
So what’s a tweeter to do? Denny Hamlin said he’s taken a new approach this year: “Not replying to mean people.” And now he’s advising others in NASCAR to do the same.
“I’m making a (point) right now to every driver, every team owner, every NASCAR executive and every media member — stop replying to people who make nonsense comments,” Hamlin said. “They have 16 followers! Don’t give them your 100,000 and your stage. No one will ever see their comment. Just brush it by. Talk about the positives — and I’m not a positive guy!”
It sounds good in theory, but…how exactly are people supposed to do that? How does Hamlin ignore the needling comments that have the ability to slice through thick skin?
“You just scroll by it,” he said. “Forget it. That person doesn’t exist. They’re an admirer who has lost their way.”
This is the latest in a weekly feature called “How I Got Here,” where I ask people in NASCAR about the journeys to their current jobs. Each interview is recorded as a podcast but is also transcribed on JeffGluck.com. Up next: Kristine Curley, communications coordinator for Toyota Racing.
Before we trace your career path, what is your current role with Toyota? What do you do?
I help coordinate all our social media — with help from our partners — across a bunch of series. Not just NASCAR, but also NHRA, Formula Drift, POWRi, some of the lower series, ARCA. So there’s a lot, and it’s a lot to coordinate all that.
Then I also kind of serve as a liaison, because I’m on the marketing side now with corporate communications and the PR, make sure we’re all working in lockstep. I always say social media has a marketing and a PR presence, and it’s melding those two and making sure they’re all working together. So we’ve got a great team, and I’m super proud working with some people that I’ve known in the garage for a long time. So that makes things easy. Relationships are 100 percent key in this sport, as you know.
You mentioned that you’ve known people in the garage for a long time…
Are you saying I’m old, Jeff?
No, you mentioned that! But that’s a good place to start, because you were already very established by the time I got to know you and came into this career. So I really don’t know that much of your background or how you got to NASCAR in the first place.
It’s a tangled web of a story.
Well let’s get into it. How did the web begin?
So I graduated from the University of Kansas — Rock Chalk — with a journalism degree. My sisters always say, “You were lucky. You knew exactly what you wanted to do when you went to college.” And I did. I was in was the magazine sequence, which back then, was not really a sequence in journalism school. We were one of the first universities that had it. I really wanted to do broadcast journalism.
I graduated from KU, and then I wasn’t ready to go into the real world, as I like to say, so I went to be a ski bum for a year. Well that year turned into three and a half years. And so while I was there working five jobs — including adjusting people’s ski boots in the ski shop and working in a restaurant at night — I figured I’d better keep my skill sharp with writing.
That’s one thing I will say: Writing is important. I don’t care what you’re doing, you have to write, and you have to be able to communicate. And so I think that is the best advice I’d give everyone: Read and write and keep your writing as sharp as you can. Because whether it’s social media or whether you’re writing a press release or whether you’re writing talking points for someone, you have to know how to speak.
So anyway, I went to work in the ski resort town in Crested Butte and I thought, “I’d better do something so that at the end of this, when I’m looking for a job, I’ve got something to show for it.” So I basically started the sports page of the local little Crested Butte paper. We used to have the extreme skiing competition there, so I’d do that and I’d find little things to cover.
Then I fancied myself a columnist. I’ll never forget, (former Florida State football/basketball star) Charlie Ward was coming out (of college) and trying to decide what sport he wanted to play. So I wrote that he should be a football player. And I remember my dad was like, “What in the world? Why would he be a football player?” That was my first taste of writing a column and having someone not agree with me — my father! Is there anyone that’s gonna bring you down to earth than your dad or your mom?
(Being in Crested Butte) had forced me to get out there and hustle and do things. I also got some odd jobs writing for like the Chamber of Commerce and things like that, so at the end of the day, when I went to the real world, I had something. So I went back to the real world and I wanted to get into television.
Wait, so you just said, “I want to go back and I’m just gonna try and go to a TV station?”
That sounds tough.
And I didn’t have a broadcast degree, I had a magazine degree. So I went back to Kansas City where I’m from, and I’m like, “I guess I better start calling around to the TV stations.” I didn’t have a tape, didn’t have anything. So I called around to the TV stations and got ahold of a gentleman in the sports department at a place where at that time they were the number one TV station. And (former quarterback) Len Dawson was the head sports guy.
Anyway, the producer there (John Crumley) was just the most amazing man. To this day, he is still one of my mentors. I don’t remember what I said to him, but I basically talked my way into the sports department and basically said, “I’ll carry cable for free.” And in the meantime, I was also writing for the Kansas City Star — very poorly, I will say — but the gentleman who was there (Tom Ibarra) was also a mentor of mine and to this day we still talk.
And you had your clips from Crested Butte? You just said, “Hey, let me do some stuff, I’m from here?”
Correct. They didn’t have a position. Again, talked my way into it. Covered (future UCLA star) JaRon Rush; I would cover local high school sports. I’d go in and write my stories. And in the meantime, I wanted to break into television, so again, talked my way into the sports department there. I would go cover the games, go get sound afterwards, so I’d have to go into the locker rooms.
So you just had a microphone and camera or something and they’re like, “Hey, go get us stuff?”
So for the Chiefs games, I would go and we’d cover the game and I would write down time codes like, “Touchdown at this time,” and then we’d go get sound in the locker rooms. Same with college sports. Sometimes we didn’t have a camera to go cover it.
I remember that Tim Duncan, who is one of my favorite basketball players, they were playing at Mizzou, and no one would get a camera. There was this old cameraman who no one got along with. Well, I loved him. He was the nicest guy. I said, “Hey, listen, I know you’re off. We don’t have a camera, but it’s Tim Duncan. Can you go? Let’s cover it, and we’ll get sound.” He’s like, “Yeah.”
So we go up to the game and Tim was a superstar then at Wake Forest. The only reason you went to the game was to get sound from Tim Duncan, right? Well, we’re waiting around, waiting around — and in college, you weren’t allowed to go in the locker rooms. So I’m like, “Where is everyone? Why am I the only one standing out here?” Finally I looked at my photographer. I’m like, “Do you think he’s in the locker room and everyone’s in there getting him?” He’s like, “Well, it looks like it.” I’m like, “I don’t know what to do.”
I was scared to death. Am I just gonna walk in? What if I do — will I get in trouble? But I’m like, “If he’s in there and I don’t get the sound, then that’s on me.” So I said, “Alright, we’re going in. I’ll go in first and if someone stops me, we’ll just be like, ‘I’m so sorry. We thought everyone was in here.'”
Sure enough, everyone was in there. So I was like, “Gosh darn it.” At this point there’s a mob (of media around Duncan). Well, I was so mad that I wormed my way to the front, got down in front of Tim on one knee. I remember I was balancing because I had to get down low enough, I remember he looked down at me and laughed, but I just looked up at him and asked questions, got my microphone in there, got the sound and we left. I was petrified, you know what I mean? But I was just like, “You’ve gotta carry yourself, you’ve got to know what you’re doing,” and at the end of the day we got sound.
Back during that time — not to make it sound like it was ancient times — but werewomen in the locker room as accepted as they are now? Did you have any obstacles that way?
I wouldn’t say there were obstacles. Actually, one of the other anchors at the station was a woman and she was one of the first ones. But whenever I got those opportunities, I looked at it this way: Someone gave me a chance, and the last thing I’m gonna do is make them look bad by giving me this chance. So for my friend John Crumley at the station, the only thing that would make me feel worse about what I was doing is if I disappointed him. And so I knew that I had to go carry myself in that locker room in a certain way. I was there to get sound, and it’s intimidating.
I remember Jason Whitlock at that time a columnist for the Kansas City Star, and he’s like, “Why do you walk in these locker rooms (with) your nose always in the air?” And I said, “Exactly. I have to walk in here like I belong, I have to conduct myself professionally, I have to get my sound and I’m getting out of here.” It’s not a very friendly place to come, and it is intimidating, but at the end of the day, I have a job to do and I’m gonna do it the best that I can and do it professionally.
At the end of the day, the guy who is the head publicist for the Chiefs was on my resume. He was one of those guys that was really hard to get to know, but at the end of the day, making those right relationships and Bob Moore was certainly someone to this day who helped open some doors by just having his name on my resume.
How did you go from that point to the PR side and into racing?
That’s an interesting question. So I’m at the TV station and at this point I’m just gonna say, I wasn’t gonna make it on the air. I should have gone to broadcast school. I was at a crossroads.
I was producing, and one of the things that I really enjoyed was producing a live football show that aired right before Monday Night Football for us. I was actually nominated for a local Emmy for it.
I remember one of the shows, I had to sit in the booth — and I am deaf in one ear. So when you’re in the booth, you have to have your headphones on so you can hear back … to the station and still be talking to your people on air. Well I couldn’t, because I can’t hear out of one ear, so I’d have to switch (the headset) over to talk to people. But I loved it. You had to come up with stories.
All of that led me to do a better job as a PR person. (In the racing world) I always looked at things from a producer side when (TV people) would come to me for story ideas. Like I would know, “You know what, if we got this, this is gonna be a good sound bite” or “This is good B-roll,” because I really enjoy producing. I like coming up with the stories.
People make fun of me, but I love to watch pregame. Like last week, we were at our (Kansas) alumni association watch party and they didn’t have the pregame sound up. I was like, “Can we turn the sound up?” Because I love to see the stories. That’s what gets you excited about sports — you can identify with the athletes.
I was at a crossroads, and so it was like, “Do you want to go be a producer?” I was working at the ABC affiliate, which is obviously associated with ESPN, and my mentor’s like, “Do you really wanna do that?” I’m like, “I don’t know.”
So I took a little one-year break, and that one-year break…I kind of got lucky, let’s put it that way. I decided I didn’t want to do television producing as a career, so I was still kind of looking around. In the meantime, one of our friends owned a company, which to this day is brilliant. She managed a bunch of non-profits — because if you work for a non-profit, you usually are short-staffed. But she’d come up with this model where you would move people around from the different charities to help with the other charities’ events.
So they wouldn’t have to go big on staff.
Correct. And so the charity that I was in charge of, I wrote grants and I did the newsletter and PR and all that stuff, was the ALS Association. And the ALS Association in Kansas City was one Kansas City athlete’s charity of choice.
Think back — who is probably the biggest athlete to come out of Kansas City?
Oh, duh. Now that I think of George Brett, I think of ALS stuff too. That connection sounds familiar.
Anyway, it just so happened to be the year he got elected to the Hall of Fame (1999). And when he did, the city wanted to do something for him and he had said, “I want it to benefit a charity.”
So we did a week of events that were amazing. One of the big events was a roast of George with (former Dodgers manager) Tommy Lasorda, Larry King and Bo Jackson. Chris Berman and Bob Costas were the emcees.
It wasn’t my event to run, but I helped. And one of the things I did was help Berman and Costas with their script and the setup of how we were gonna do it. And I was like, “You know what? I really like working with athletes and talent.” I came out of that and I said, “Now I know what I think I should do.”
So that’s when it hit you. You were like, “I really enjoy the star part of this and helping them do something.”
Right. And I’ve been lucky to meet a lot of people, but at the end of the day, they’re just people like us and we all have a job to do. But I really enjoy it because of all of that experience.
So I was like, “OK, what am I gonna do?” Enter my mentor at the TV station, and the assistant news director he was friends with had gone to one of the big advertisement firms in Kansas City. One of their new clients was Sprint, and they were getting in racing.
I remember I was in the middle of all of this stuff with George Brett. I had an interview, I remember he asked me, “Can you handle death?”
(Gets choked up and pauses to collect herself.)
And I was like, “Yeah. This sounds exciting.”
In the interview, they asked you, “Can you handle death?”
Yeah, and I didn’t know what he meant by that. He’s like, “Can you travel and all that stuff” and I said, “Love to travel.” I didn’t quite get what he meant. And so I started working with Adam Petty. (Speaking through tears) And let’s just say I grew up a lot in the year that I worked with him. (Editor’s note: Petty was killed in a 2000 crash at New Hampshire at the age of 19.)
But what I learned is how this sport is a family. And so after Adam passed, I decided I wanted to stay in the sport just because of the people. Like if you’re not happy and you don’t work with good people, it’s not fun. So I made a decision that I wanted to stay in the sport, and there are amazing people. Again, relationships are 100 percent key.
Was that a hard decision for you, or was it sort of obvious at the time to stay in the sport?
A little bit. Kyle (Petty) finished out the year in Adam’s car, and so Kyle asked — I helped finish out the year with Kyle in the car. I think after that is when I was like, “What do I want to do?” And so an opportunity presented itself to stay in the sport, and I decided it was time for a change. I’d have to move to Charlotte for it, and I thought, “I’m gonna just try it. And if I don’t like it or it’s too hard, then I’ll get out of it.”
Seventeen years later of working with drivers, and it was good and I’ve worked with some amazing drivers.
Then I went to work with Bill Elliott and Ray Evernham.
That was immediately after the Pettys?
Yep. One of the things I was always intrigued with my father was a lawyer, and law always intrigued me. In fact, in journalism school, (law) was a weed-out class. It was a class everyone had trouble with. And I remember, one of my friends, she was straight A’s and had the hardest time with it, and I loved that class. Didn’t even really had to study for it. Like my mind just thought that way.
And I remember Cindy Elliott (Bill’s wife and Chase’s mom) was talking about, “Our sport needs some good agents.” And she was like, “Maybe we should send you to law school.” I told her that (recently) and she laughed, like, “Did I really say that?” I’m like, “Yes.” And to this day, I’m like, “Why didn’t I (become an agent)?” That is my one regret. My path certainly would have been different. But I didn’t do it, I stayed in PR and did that for a long long time.
So you were doing Bill Elliott’s stuff. How did it come to be that Jimmie Johnson was next?
So Bill retired. And I will say, working with Ray Evernham back then helped me prepare for the next step (with Chad Knaus). But anyway, yes, after that, Bill retired and again, it was, “Do I wanna stay in the sport?” A friend of mine who was doing Jimmie’s PR for the first two years was going to come off the road and work for Jimmie. He said, “We think you’d be great.”
I met with people from Lowe’s who become another mentor for me — the person who hired me. And I said, “Listen, here’s the deal: You can look at my resume, but at the end of the day, 90 percent of this job in this sport is through the relationship you have with the drivers. And they have to trust you that when you go to them and say, ‘I need you to do this AM radio station,’ or ‘I need you to do this’ that there’s a reason for it, and there’s a reason something’s on the schedule. That you vetted through it and talked through it and you give them the tools that you need to succeed on it.”
So I said, “Alright, give it a try, we’ll see.” This was a point in time where I was either gonna stay in the sport for a while or I’m gonna go try something else. So ended up staying with Jimmie for 10 years, and then went to work with Clint Bowyer, two totally (different personalities). (Laughs) But again I had to learn how each of them are very different.
And Bill was very different. An interesting thing — Bill back in the day would much rather do an interview one-on-one.
Instead of a big group session?
Correct. I think he’s just more comfortable that way. And he’d very much rather sit and talk like that. That’s just more his style. I think big groups were not his thing. Other drivers would just prefer to just get everyone there together, except for if it’s a special one-on-one request, but again, it’s knowing that and understanding what it is that is gonna set them up to succeed that’ll get you a good interview.
Can you just give us a sense of what it was like during the Jimmie years? You were there for his whole rise in some ways and were there for like six of the championships. So that had to be an unreal time in your life, experiencing all this and seeing all of it first-hand of what’s gonna go down as a legendary period in NASCAR history, I imagine.
Yeah, it was great. I will say this, and I don’t mean this to sound ungrateful. Winning is great; winning is absolutely why we are in sports. But I will say I would go back and work with Adam where I never won a race in a heartbeat. I’ve told Jimmie that, and he knows that. Because winning is important, but it’s the people that you work with who are important, and I’ve been lucky to work with some of the best, and I don’t know how I lucked into that.
Each of them to this day — Kyle Petty is still a dear friend, Jimmie is a dear friend, Clint is a dear friend. You can tell I’m a crier, but I shed a few tears for him (winning at Martinsville). Martin winning last year, amazing, both him and Sherry (Pollex).
Again, when you are surrounded and get to work with good people, what more could you ask for, right? And those people take a vested interest and care about you.
I always tell my family, if something ever happened and I needed to get home, it might not be the driver I work with, but there’s someone there in that garage that would get me on their plane and get me home. And I think that’s the thing that keeps people (in the sport).
It’s a grind. This sport is a grind, and it will tear you down and it will wear you down sometimes. But it’s also a family. Sometimes we’re a little dysfunctional, but at the end of the day, we care about people and we want to make sure that those people are taken care of.
So yes, it was certainly amazing to be able to win championships, and I’ve been lucky to win a few. You meet a lot of people, so that’s amazing. But again, I don’t mean to sound like it’s not a big deal, but I only have one picture hanging up of me with an athlete. And it was with Buck O’Neil, the old Negro Leagues player who passed away a few years ago. He was just an amazing, cool guy. And of all the people that I’ve been lucky enough to meet, and there have been a few, he’s the only one that I have a picture of myself with hanging up. Now if I met Willie Nelson, that picture might be up too.
So you talked about how other women might be listening to this and hoping to maybe do what you’ve done someday. It’s quite a path that you’ve had and so many people you’ve gotten to meet, like you’ve said. What’s some of your top advice that you’d give to somebody who’s just trying to make it on their own path?
My biggest advice is, you have to be professional and you have to carry yourself sometimes or carry yourself to a higher standard maybe than is expected. And that’s OK, right? One of the things, I was sitting next to a co-worker the other day and he heard me speaking to someone, and I got off the phone and he gave one of the nicest compliments anyone could ever give me. He’s like, “I want my daughters to meet you, because the way you talked to that person, I could tell that they were being disrespectful to you, but the way you held your ground and the way you spoke back to him, I want my daughters to feel empowered that they can do that, too.”
And of course, anyone that’s listening to this knows I cry, so of course I cried at work. I’m like, “Well thank you. There is no higher compliment that you could give me as a woman than to say that.”
But it’s hard. It’s not easy. Back when I was doing stuff at the TV station, I was covering the Chiefs, and we’d be out sometimes — my friends and I — and some of the Chiefs players would be out. My friends would be like, “Let’s go over and say hi.” I’m like, “No, because they’re out on their personal time and they don’t need to see me and I don’t need to see them because when I go into that locker room, they need to know I’m there doing business.” And sometimes that’s not fun, sometimes you want to go.
In my head, I always had to keep things very scheduled, very professional. Like for Jimmie, there’s always so many things we had to do, right? Sometimes we had to be down to the minute, like, “You’ve got seven minutes (for an interview)” — but at least I’m giving you seven minutes, right? I’d come to you: “What are your questions? What do we need to prepare them for so when we get into the interview, you’re getting what you want and Jimmie or whatever driver it is are expressing their true selves?” So again, it’s setting everyone up to succeed.
Thank you so much for being willing to do this.
I don’t think I’m worthy of a podcast, but if there’s one little girl or high school, college, whatever someone who’s struggling — just don’t give up. Keep calling, keep after it, be professional when you do it. But all it was was me picking up the phone and asking someone to give me a chance.
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.
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their social media usage. Up next: Parker Kligerman, the driver and NBC Sports pit reporter who won last week’s Truck Series race at Talladega Superspeedway. (Note: This interview was conducted before the race.)
You have a pretty nice hauler here. (Sarcasm)
That stain over there that’s growing? We call it “The Stain” in the ceiling. If people could see this hauler, it’s pretty incredible we’re the team that finished one spot behind Kyle Busch at Kentucky. Here’s the thing: We spend our money on the race truck, and we’ve got a fast race truck this weekend. So this hauler doesn’t say much about our team.
Maybe The Stain needs its own parody account on Twitter.
No. No more parody accounts. I can’t. No, no.
You’ve reached your limit on NASCAR parody accounts?
By far. I think the parody account thing was cool, what, five years ago? And it’s kind of run its course. Sorry, @TheOrangeCone — maybe everyone knows who you are, so just put your name on there.
You try to stay up on the cutting edge. Like you know that parody accounts are out of style. But something that is in style more and more is YouTube and being a YouTuber. So one thing I just saw you launched this week is this channel called…Parker’s Parking Lot?
That’s what I do great is branding, because obviously that rolled right off the tongue. (Smiles) My sister always makes fun of me because whenever I come up with a new idea like, “I’m gonna brand it this!” It’ll be like seven words, and she’s like, “No one is gonna say that. It needs to be catchier.” So I’ve never been good at that.
But yeah, YouTube. My girlfriend (Shannon) has always been into YouTube and she had her vlogging channel and still does. But that’s not my thing. No offense to that kind of thing, but I kind of find that repulsive. It’s like a reality show, just filmed yourself. (Shannon) does a great job with them — I love watching hers — but it’s not like I would ever go on the Internet to watch someone else’s vlog.
Repulsive is a strong word.
Well, I just don’t like reality TV. I find it the lowest common denominator form of anything on the planet. At times I’d rather just drill my left toe out than watch reality TV.
And vlogging, it’s cool, but then it’s always the dubstep music and this thing and…I don’t know. It’s not my thing. But I do love car stuff and I’ve been trying forever to get into more and more car stuff, and I’ve done a lot of work for Jalopnik, which is an automotive website. They just launched a TV show. I’ve been trying to do more and more of that stuff, breaking into that world. And finally, I just said not many people are giving me that opportunity, so I’ve got time, I’ve got the ability to do this financially, so let’s just go do it and see what happens and have some fun.
It’s terrible — I say it’s aggressively average or massively underwhelming, and that’s basically how I’ve done everything in my life. I’ll always stay incredibly ambitious but aggressively average, and this YouTube channel is no different. So it’s my parking lot because everyone always talks about garages and things but no one gives love to parking lots. So I had to give love to the parking lot.
So Parker’s Parking Lot, which is an aggressively average YouTube channel, massively underwhelming, the video I saw is you’re talking about your Porsche and why it’s different than other ones and why it’s cheaper and it’s working and things like that. That’s your car, so what else is in your parking lot that you’re gonna be able to talk about to keep this YouTube channel going beyond this one video?
Oh, so you wanna know! We’ve got all sorts of things. We’ve got my girlfriend’s 2009 Jetta — nah, I’m kidding. (Laughs)
I got some of my friends that have high-end, nice sports cars that they’ve agreed to let me do some things with, which is cool. So like Car YouTube is kind of funny because it’s essentially a start up — friends and family, that’s how you get funding — but that’s how you get your cars, right? And then eventually if you get enough of a following, you eventually get press cars (for car reviews).
So I’ve done a little bit of press car stuff with Jalopnik, and seeing how that all works is pretty cool, but you’ve got to get to a solid following to be able to do that sort of car reviewing. My hope with it — although as I say, it’s never gonna reach this because I’m not really good at anything — is that it would be a different form of car reviewing and car understanding, something you’ve never seen from a race car driver. I think there’s a small void, a small niche maybe, that I’ve noticed that involved someone that can drive but also understand the greater understanding of what’s actually happening in the world.
How do you even go about building a YouTube channel? That seems pretty difficult to me. Unless something goes viral or takes off somehow, how do you build the subscriber thing? What’s your plan?
If you go to my bio on YouTube, it says, “Don’t call me a YouTuber; I have a job.” So that gives you an idea of my understanding of YouTube. I have no idea. If you figure it out, I’d like to know. I don’t know. (Laughs)
So my thing is, I think you just need to have content. With anything, content is king. So if you wanna be on TV, content is king. That’s why TV channels exist. Why NASCAR’s on TV, you need content, right? So you just gotta create great content and continually push it and hope that you’re making something that’s unique enough to interest people and from there, to interest them for two minutes, five minutes, 10 minutes. You just have to create something that hopefully people like. Or, on the flip side, you just do it for fun and if no one likes it, then screw them. (Laughs) It’s for you.
So I think right now we’re in the “for me” stage. We’re not getting those crazy views, but we’ll see where it goes. And maybe as we get rolling and get to do more of the concepts I want to do, we’ll take a little more of people who understand what we’re trying to do, we’ll see if people like it or not, and we’ll just keep doing it.
You’re already on TV, but you’d love for somebody to give you the opportunity to do a car show. But if that’s not happening immediately, you have the ability to go out and do your own thing. We’re sort of living in an amazing time that way.
So it is and it isn’t. I’ve kind of lamented that a little bit. It’s funny you bring that up because having been someone who in the TV world understands the value of production and the value of doing things right, the value of having incredible, talented people that are behind the camera, that run the cameras, that write the script, that do everything that you don’t see, I get a little bit torn when I create these videos and it’s just me and a friend. (There are) those amazing cameras and stuff that they have out there, and it gets to a level where people find it acceptable, right? Which OK, that’s fine that the appetite is there for it, but I don’t think it replaces the ultimate end goal of what a real TV production is, if that makes sense.
What’s funny is that you see these big YouTubers, big Instagrammers, hashtag #influencers, they eventually go to where they have a TV show and it’s this huge thing. And it’s like well wait a second, you have 10 million subscribers and I thought that was the end all be all, but it’s not, because no one on YouTube is tuning in for the production value of what an actual TV show is.
And though it might not be coming through your cable subscription — it might be through a streaming service — that’s considered a TV show that takes real production, real effort, real writing. All those things. It’s not like walking out of the bed with a camera and being like, “Hey world, you can do it, too. Anyone can be famous. Wooo.” Hashtag #everyoneisgreat.
So we know that you don’t like parody accounts, we know that you don’t like vloggers, and we know that you—
Well except my girlfriend’s vlogging. And Brennan Poole, he does a little vlogging, he’s cool too.
So Brennan Poole is cool and your girlfriend is cool but other than that you don’t like vloggers and you also don’t like influencer, basically.
Basically, the Internet. (Laughs)
So what about social media do you enjoy and find valuable these days as we’re here in 2017?
I was trying to think about that, since I knew going into this interview that this was the path that it was going to take, because I have some very dark views of social media at times.
So you’ve got Twitter, which is basically for the media, for you and I to go and talk to other media members about how bad the world is at times with all the crazy stuff happening. And then some NASCAR drivers to reach out to other people. But that’s basically all you have on Twitter.
So you don’t view Twitter as a mass thing for the fans, it’s just, influencers — sorry, you don’t like that term — but basically influencers talking to other influencers.
Well Twitter is for people who are actually famous to be interactive with their fans. So what I mean by that is that you see a YouTuber that has a bajillion million followers on YouTube and they have zero followers on Twitter. And no one interacts with them, right?
So I have a theory that there’s actual famous people in the world: Dale Earnhardt Jr. — actually famous. He creates an Instagram, he creates a YouTube, it’s got millions of followers instantly. But Mr. YouTuber who starts a TV show, there’s no guarantee it’s gonna survive, because he might only have his niche viewers on YouTube, that group that likes YouTube. So I think that’s what’s interesting there.
Sorry, back to Twitter. You’ve got the actual famous people and the media and we all interact, I love it. It’s the modern-day newspaper respect that you get you can use that way.
Instagram is basically Playboy on the Internet. Think about it: All any guy has on their following list is naked girls, travel places, cars and race cars and then occasionally food. So everything that was in Playboy magazine for the last 50 years is on Instagram. That’s all that is.
And then you have YouTube, which is like your video replacement sort of feeling for people who want to put their life out there in a different way, a reality show, vlogging sort of thing. So I think you have your niche markets for each of them.
The last one you have to mention is Snapchat, right? And when you did this interview with Jenna Fryer’s daughter (Sydnee), she talked about how her friends had fake Instagrams and that sort of thing, and they didn’t have Facebook. I’ve always had this theory that 20 years from now, it’s gonna be more about disconnecting than connecting.
So Facebook’s gonna be gone other than just being able to watch their content, because they’ll become a TV channel eventually. Twitter will most likely be interactions then, but things that keep you hidden and allow you to observe the world like watch a YouTube channel and not have an account, that sort of stuff is gonna be more successful. That’s my thought.
As you mentioned, Sydnee Fryer was talking about how she’s trying to not put herself out there and she and her friends are deleting things they put out there and having fake accounts so people can’t track them. It’s almost like this next generation that’s coming along has seen what the first generation on social media has done and been like, “Nah.”
One hundred percent. How creepy is it if you go on the Internet and you’ve been looking at something on your phone and then you go on your computer and the first ad is all the things you’ve been looking at or a competitor to what you’ve been looking at? Like that’s gotten so creepy that you’ve got Google, who basically announced recently they’re gonna allow you to tell them if things are too creepy.
I think that as a whole, now that’s not connected to just having a Facebook, but all the data they’re collecting, I really think that in years to come, it’ll be cooler to Google yourself and see nothing.
When I was growing up in high school, people called me “dot com” because I had ParkerKligerman.com — because I was a race car driver — and if you Googled my name, there was tons of results. That was cool. Fast forward to now, that’s probably not cool.
That’s true. It’ll be like, “What’s up, bro? How many search results do you have about you?” “Dude, you can’t find me at all, man.”
Completely dark on the Internet. Sweet.
Before we go any further, is this the most opposite to my co-worker Rutledge Wood’s interview? I read that whole thing because that is so Rut, and I love him to death. He’s the funniest dude. But we couldn’t be more polar opposites. Like I love that he does it, that’s him, and the thing about him is that it’s so genuine that he’s about hugging people ad spreading love in the world and all that sort of thing, and he’s completely genuine about it.
But I do make fun of him constantly, like I was saying earlier with the YouTube guys and Instagram. It’s like, “You too can follow your dreams! Go get it! Wednesday, positivity!” And I’m just like, oh my gosh. I literally want to drill a hole in my left toe. Again. So I don’t know. Anyway.
I feel terrible for your left toe. Your left toe seems to be the one getting —
It’s because it’s the braking foot, so as a race car driver, I need the right one to work better.
Let’s say that all of this is happening with the next generation. NASCAR and even the media are struggling to find an audience and a foothold in the generations coming up. As a writer, what do I do? As a TV person, what do you do? Or as a race car driver, I don’t want to discount that, sorry.
That’s OK, most people do. I’m not much of one, am I?
But what does NASCAR do and what does this industry do to latch onto a very changing dynamic in social media?
It’s been the same thought for me forever, since I heard this incredible quote from this champion Cup Series driver talking to another race car driver that wanted to come try NASCAR and he said, “Stay in your niche.” And I think racing, motorsports, cars, YouTubing, everything is going to continually find its niche.
There’s more and more options. Just think about the streaming entertainment cable game, right? You have traditional cable with traditional players like NBCSN, NBC, and they put out amazingly great content. That’s what we do, we bring the sports to you. But then we have people like Twitter and Amazon and Netflix and eventually Facebook, they’re all gonna want to enter the streaming game because they believe video is the way forward, right? Someone’s gonna win that game, and it might as well be them.
The thing is, not everyone’s going to win, and secondly, it’s just gonna continually fracture the market. So there’s going to be more and more options and therefore there’s going to be less eyes on each and every product because people are going to have more choice of network. So I think as the entertainment world as a whole, you’re just going to continually have to understand your niche and you’re going to have to become more understanding of a lower number.
So I wrote a thing a couple months ago, it was about Seinfeld and how in 2004 Friends had the highest-rated scripted TV show. It was like 66 million people watched the finale. Fast forward, and the most watched show on TV right now gets like 15 million, 18 million, and that’s Big Bang Theory. That’s just scripted shows, not counting sports. Obviously, NFL is the most watched show on TV.
Nonetheless, the point was that only in the span of 12 or 13 years, you’ve lost essentially 40 million people watching because there’s that much more options, and that’s the deal. It’s just going to continue to fracture and continue to find new normals of what is acceptable and what is considered big. In 10 years, the biggest thing on TV streaming might only get 10 million people watching, which 20 years ago was unacceptable and now it might be the biggest thing there is.
That’s interesting because the general philosophy means maybe it’s best to stop chasing an audience. Make the audience you currently have the best it can be, and you can sort of build from there. Because no matter how popular it is, it’s never gonna be that Friends finale. So you have to sort of be content in some ways with what you have. Brands and everybody, whether it’s a reporter or whoever need to refocus on how they present their content that way.
Yeah, you’re doing the new Patreon thing and you’re on the cutting edge of all that. Obviously, no one has the answer. Otherwise, we’d do it. I saw a new form of idea of journalism, a buddy of mine showed me this, it’s called “Purple” where it’s kind of like Patreon, but you could be like, “I’m an expert in journalism.” And people could pay $8 a month to have you on tap through cell phone, through writing, through anything, to ask questions and therefore become more educated in journalism. Or cell phones. Or cars. Whatever is it. Car buying advice, that sort of thing. So that’s an interesting thing and it was for basically writers and journalists who are so involved in their field, they’re experts in it.
I think there’s all sorts of different things, but that goes back to that you have a niche. You have a niche, you have a Patreon deal for NASCAR journalism and that’s your niche. That’s how you’re funding this deal, you have a group that really identifies with your content, identifies with what you’re doing, and is therefore willing it fund it. And that’s what it comes down to: people willing to fund it. Is it gonna be advertising, is it gonna be people paying for it? That’s the two models there is. So as long as advertisers can find value in what you’re doing, you probably have a future. If they don’t, you’ll end up like Parker Kligerman. (Laughs)
You’ve talked about drilling through your left toe and the things that irritate you. So with all that said and this view of social media, why are you still on it? Why do you continue to be on it? What value do you personally see in it for yourself?
One, you have traditional advertising sponsorship race team stuff that you just gotta have a following these days. It’s your ability to rank your social value to them and your advertising value. It really is. You have that show Black Mirror which takes a really draconian view on all futuristic things, and they did one on Instagram. You’re rating people constantly, but what social media is for people who are trying to prove, “Hey, I have a following.”
And then I do enjoy a lot of aspects of it. I love Twitter, I’m on it 24/7. I love great journalism like you produce and great writing. I do love to write. I’m great at the older things maybe, sadly. But then YouTube, this kind of came about and I’ve never had more fun in my life than filming these videos and editing them and doing that sort of thing. I think there’s definitely great, positive things. It’s amazing, as you said, even when you hit a roadblock in life, you’re trying to do something, it allows you to have an avenue to pursue that in a way that didn’t exist 20 years ago. But there’s obviously the dark side to it, too.
So I don’t know what it is I enjoy when I think about this more further, like what is one thing I could point out. … I enjoy comedy. I enjoy really well thought out comedic stuff and if you’re creating that, then I’m definitely going to respect you in all ways. Like I can’t do that. I know it for a fact. So when I see that sort of thing, I’m like, “Damn, that’s cool. Well done.”
No one knows who the hot dog is. That’s the point. Who knows if he’s my friend?
I just assumed he was.
No, see. “Assume” makes a what out of you and me?
I assumed that in order to get somebody to dress up as a hot dog and prance around in your YouTube video to co-star with you that it would have to be a pretty close friend.
No. Who knows who he is? He’s just a hot dog. And he has an interesting car. He’s a hot dog. That’s become apparent. I’m not exactly sure how he and I met or where, but we have. I don’t even know where he lives. I don’t even know what he does when we’re not filming. He just sort of pops up when I’m filming and then finds a way to be in the video and just disappears. So if anyone knows where he his, his number or anything, I would like to get that.
Basically the hot dog is The Stig of your YouTube video?
I don’t think he know what The Stig is. I don’t know anything about him. He doesn’t speak. He has no use of words. None whatsoever.
I’m fascinated to see where this aggressively average YouTube channel evolves, along with the hot dog. Thank for you joining us and for sharing your dark thoughts on social media future.
I know, I hate that it’s so dark. Was it too dark? (Laughs) Was it?
One good thing that we have going on is that on my Truck for Talladega, we have a sticker from Peggy Miller, who had breast cancer for 23 years, and she’s actually my crew chief’s mother-in-law. She just recently passed away, but since getting breast cancer, she started a self-help group in the Abington, Virginia area, the Bristol, Virginia area, and it rose to have 100 people that were attending at times. And so it’s a really cool thing, because we do a lot for survivors of cancer and people who are helping at times, but not for the unsung heroes who are trying to help others cope with cancer, and so we have that all over our truck this week. And that’s a positive thing, so that’s another Rutledge Wood positive story. We’re bringing light to that, and we hope to get her in victory lane because that’d be a really cool story.
I don’t think the interview was that dark.
I was being more facetious with most of my things. I think you should, as Rutledge Wood would say, chase your dream and you can do it, too. Hug the next person next to you. Love. Peace. Send love. Hashtag #love.
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community to shed some light on their social media usage. This week: Paige Keselowski, wife of Brad Keselowski. Note: This interview is not available in podcast form this week due to a microphone malfunction. Apologies.
One thing that you’ve been part of over the last year are these Facebook Live visits that Brad has been doing, where you and Brad will go out to the campgrounds and surprise people and bring them goodies. You’re usually the camera person. So how did that all get started?
It started in Watkins Glen over a year ago. We didn’t have the baby for the weekend and we were like, “Oh, let’s do something, because it’s too late to go anywhere.” So Brad was like, “Why don’t we just ride around the campgrounds?” I said, “Oh, that sounds fun.” I’ve always liked to ride through with the scene and see everyone having a good time, especially at night, chilling here. It’s a good time.
Brad said, “We’ll take a few gifts and maybe we’ll see some 2 fans and we’ll surprise them.” I said, “OK, that sounds good.” And he said, “Why don’t we try it on this new Facebook Live?”
So that’s really how it got started and it was really a successful thing. There were like thousands and thousands of views, a lot of people commenting. At the time, I used to try to read off questions so Brad would answer them. Because at first, the plan was, “Let’s turn on Facebook Live, drive around and if you see someone, then we’ll stop.” So we kind of searched people out as we were driving and we were able to just have a Q and A with Brad.
And then as it’s kind of evolved, we’ve done it a little differently. Brad will tweet out that we’re gonna head out to the campgrounds and fans will tweet us their locations. So now we try to choose someone and we literally go out and search for their campground. That makes it a little more exciting, trying to find them. Like at Bristol this year, we had a family tweet us and they had literally put up directions to their campsite. Like they would have signs in their campground area all the way to their little campsite. Unfortunately, we made a huge effort to go find them, but the track wouldn’t let us in their area with the golf cart, so we actually did not get to meet them.
Now, even like for weeks before, people are like, “I’ll be at Dover, I’ll be at campsite such and such. Here are my directions, please come see us.” They’ll like tweet us pictures. It’s evolved.
(The campers) are really cool because they’ve been at the same campgrounds for years and they know all their neighbors. So when you get there, it’s actually like their neighbors are benefiting, because they’re like, “This is my friend Joe! He’s been here with us for years. Can you get a picture with him?” It’s a really cool thing. They become family out there and they’re enjoying our sport, and that’s what really matters.
And I think for Brad, it means a lot to him to be able to go and have a personal conversation in a comfortable, relaxed, fun setting with his fans who appreciate him and want to tell him about who they are, and he gets to really know their families and people around them.
I will say that sometimes, it makes me a little anxious going out there just because it’s usually at night and everyone’s been drinking and it’s like a big party. You’re going out to this campsite and you don’t know these people and you have no idea who the people are around them. They’re either really excited or they’re really chill. You don’t know what you’re gonna get.
And then it’s like a domino effect. The whole campground finds out Brad is there and it’s just like bees — they start swarming. I’m like, “Oh no! How are we ever gonna get away?” But everyone has been so nice, so welcoming. It’s really kind of an exciting thing. I don’t really say a whole lot on the camera, I just like to video and I like to take in everyone’s reaction to Brad showing up.
So in general, how do you see your role with Brad’s fans? Do you consciously try to keep people informed, or are you just being yourself?
I guess maybe I’m trying to figure out a role — if there is a role. I don’t feel like I’m here to really inform them. I tweet out things when I want to about Scarlett or the three of us, just because I like it. I’ll like this picture, this video of her, and I just want everyone else to get a smile or laugh because of something that she’s done.
But other than that, I think Brad does a pretty good job himself of keeping his fans informed of who he is or what he cares about and what he thinks about things. I just feel like my role is to be a mom and support the Miller 2 Crew. So when I have to opportunity to put things out, I’ll do it. Other than that, I try to just enjoy social media myself. I don’t want to be part of the PR team.
So your Twitter is public. You have other private accounts as well, so obviously you don’t want to share out everything in the world. What is the balance? How do you manage privacy on social media with such a public platform?
It’s funny you say that, because we’ve been having these discussions lately with Instagram accounts, because I have Instagram and I do have Facebook, but both of those I basically keep private.
But I’ve been pushed lately — not in a bad way — to open my Instagram or to open an Instagram for our family that Brad and I would do together. Then I’ve had people ask me, “Why don’t you open your Instagram? You have so many good things on there and your (Instagram) Stories of Scarlett are so funny.”
I want to be able to post whenever I want to post and not have people going, “Ugh, you post all the time,” or, “Why is she posting that picture?” I feel like for Instagram, I hope it stays around for a long time so it’s like an album that I have of all my photos, you know? And if you want to follow them, fine; and if you don’t because I post too much, you don’t have to follow me.
But I guess that’s why I keep it private, it’s because I post so much on there and I enjoy it. I think Instagram is probably my favorite social media (platform).
You seem like an opinionated person, from what I know of you. Sometimes you may have an opinion of something that goes on during a race. Have you ever gotten in trouble from one of your tweets?
Yes, I did get in trouble for one of my tweets. And I didn’t even think it was that bad. The funny thing is, I feel like I barely tweet, and when I do tweet, it’s not about controversial things. It’s mainly of Scarlett or…what do I tweet? I don’t even know myself.
But yes, I got in trouble, and it was over the NASCAR app where you can listen to the scanners during the race. And I just said it was disappointing that (the app) was behind when we were trying to listen — and I got told that I need to shh and enjoy the sport. So I said, “OK.”
Listening to BK on the @Nascar app but it’s waaay behind-?? ????
And it’s stuff like that that makes you not want to be a part of social media and be involved with the fans, because when you’re involved with the fans, you want to be honest with the fans. You want to have authentic, real conversations with the fans. You don’t want to just tell them this because that’s what other people want to hear. You want to be open.
So a lot of times, that’s why I don’t tweet a lot, it’s because I feel if I tweet something and it’s not what other people want to hear, then you’ll get in trouble with it. And that doesn’t make social media enjoyable, if someone takes 140 characters that you type and they dissect it all to what they think it might mean. So I guess in that sense, it’s why I don’t tweet a lot and I just stay off of it; then I don’t have to get the tweets saying how I don’t know what I’m talking about.
It’s interesting that people would think you don’t know what you’re talking about, because you grew up in a racing family and your dad still races. You sometimes post about his victories and his races in eastern North Carolina. Do you feel like your history helps inform your opinions about racing?
My daddy’s been racing since well before I was born — dirt racing and now asphalt — and he still does it today. That’s basically his hobby and that’s what we did every weekend, even when I went to college. I felt like I needed to be there to support him. So you go on Saturday night, you watch your dad race, you drive back and then you go out with your friends or catch up. And I did that often, and even now Brad is good about getting me back to be able to see some of his races and bring Scarlett to share that with him. So since I know a lot about the sport, I know a lot about racing — I don’t know it all, and that’s OK, too. I just like to share and be a part of it.
Do you ever have moments where you see something that Brad has tweeted or shared, and you cringe and go, “Honey, why did you go there?”
Yes, I do that to him all the time. I’m like, “Oh, Brad.” And it’s not that I disagree with what he’s saying, I just know what’s coming behind it. I’m like, “Alright, let’s get through this.”
What happens when that negativity comes your way? At times when people are hateful or negative, how do you deal with that?
I block people.
You’re a blocker?
I’m a blocker. It’s funny, because we went out to dinner last night and I was telling Brad that I had with interview with you today, and I was like, “Yeah, I went to my Twitter to see how many people I have blocked.” It was 37, which is not a lot. I had 37 blocked, and two muted.
He was like, “Wow, let me see who they are!” So he started scrolling through and was like, “These are the same people I have blocked!” I’m like, “I wonder why?” (Laughs)
So I just block people. If you say something mean to me, if you say something to me about Brad, you have free right to say that. But whatever you want to say and you believe, I have just as much right to not want to read it. And I don’t. I don’t want my social media filled with negativity or mean remarks about my family, because that’s not fair to me, and so I’ll just block you.
That’s another reason why we’ve had the debate over Instagram, why I haven’t opened it: Because it’s going to be another opening of the floodgates to people who put negativity in your life, and that’s really sad, because you want to share these things. There are people out there who genuinely care or who are just interested in your life and watching Scarlett grow up, and they feel this connection to Brad because they’ve been a fan of his for years and now he has a family. And I don’t mind sharing those things; I’m happy to share those things. I love them.
But I don’t want to have to deal with the negativity, because that gets to wear on you. It’s like, come on. It just gets depressing at times, and you’re like, “Geez, is there nothing else in your life that you’re grateful for and you have to be negative towards someone else?”
I feel the same way. I’ve recently changed my philosophy, because I was just muting people, and now I’ve just decided, like you, to block them.
I don’t really know all the ins and outs about the mute, but definitely the block button. And Brad sat there last night as we were reading through them and he’s like, “I’m just gonna unblock some people tonight.” I’m like, “OK…” He says, “Everyone deserves a second chance. People change.” I’m like, “That’s why I love you.” (Laughs)
What’s the future for you on social media? As you navigate all this stuff, as Scarlett continues to grow up, do you feel like you’ll still want to continue to be on it or do you feel like you’re back off at some point? How do you think it’ll turn out for you?
I feel like in some ways, I have backed off. I’m less active, especially on Twitter. On race days, I’m here in the bus with Scarlett and I usually try to time it where she naps and I get to lay around and watch the race. So I’m definitely on Twitter during the race. Occasionally I’ll tweet my opinion, but I’ll probably cut back on that now since I got shushed.
I really rarely get on Facebook to look at things. Occasionally, I will post photos on an album. A lot of my Facebook is people from back home who don’t have Instagram or don’t follow me on Instagram. They always like to be in the know of what’s going on. But Facebook’s always out of order, and I can’t keep up. I’ll take time scrolling through and it’s like, “I’ve already seen these 10 posts.” So I’m not very active on there.
Now Instagram, I’m pretty active on it. I love to scroll through and look at pictures while Scarlett’s playing outside or whatever, taking a nap, and I love to follow her around. But I feel like from before she was born to now, I’ve been off of my social media a lot more.
But as far as Instagram, we’re still debating in the Keselowski household if we’re gonna open it or not. Brad wants me to, but we put out that poll a while back (asking fans whether they should make Brad’s account public) and everyone basically was like, “Just keep it closed.”
I was shocked at that. You ask people whether you should open a personal Instagram account to the public and people were like, “No, you have the right to privacy.” I was floored by that. I thought everyone would be like, “Yeah, we want to see more!”
We were, too. I was really shocked. I think Brad thought he was gonna win that because he’s like, “We’re gonna put a poll out, and if they say no, then we won’t, but if they say yes, we’re gonna open it.” I’m like, “OK.” And I thought I was gonna lose, honestly. But then we got back and we were just sitting there staring at it. We’re like, “Oh my gosh, I can’t believe this!” So I don’t know.
They said no, so that’s fine, but we still get pushed from different angles for us to open it. And I told him if we did open it, I wanted it be our family account –maybe with some stuff from the Checkered Flag Foundation to be posted up there — and for the two of us to run it. It’d be really who we are in our day-to-day lives.
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their social media usage. Up next: Justin Allgaier of JR Motorsports.
You’ve been on social media for a long time now. I feel like you’ve been through the ups and downs of it. How has your personal use evolved over the years to what it is now?
I think that there’s a fine balance of what you put out and what you choose to not put out. I was on social media before I had a child, and I think that having a child changes how you spend your time and how much time you have to devote to certain things. And just the stresses and the pressures and the time allotment of what we do here right now is a lot greater than what it was when I first got onto social media. So I’m probably not on it as much as I would like to be.
I take that back. I’m on a lot, I just don’t necessarily post a lot. I struggle because I love the interaction of it and I love being a part of it. To be honest with you, my wife (Ashley) is great at social media and I learn a lot from her on a daily basis. On the flip side, I’m kind of living in the moment of things instead of documenting them. In some ways that’s good, but in other ways it’s kind of bad. So I’ve struggled with social media on and off because there’s times where I wish I was better at it and then there’s other times when I wish I had never started it and just kept off of it.
But I love the interaction with the fans. My challenge is that 140 characters is just not necessarily enough to communicate with our fans, and that’s tough. At Chicagoland alone, I went through like 800 tweets of people just sending congratulations (after he won). Well I went through 250 text messages, so it’s like, there’s no way you can ever respond to every one of them and not get lost. I had people that were like, “Man, I texted you after Chicagoland,” and I’m like, “You did?” And one of them was one of my pit crew members, and I was like, “I didn’t even see it.” So I think that there’s a fine balance there and I kind of struggle with what that balance should be.
So you touched on this, but being a dad, how much does that take you off social media? Even if you wanted to be on it, how much less time do you have for it?
Now I find myself getting on and scrolling to the top (of the feed), right? Like “What’s going on right now?” If I have a few free minutes, I’m looking at what’s going on in the current moment.
The challenge of that is, I want to go through every tweet until I get to the top, or if it’s Instagram or if it’s Facebook. I’ve got to read all of them and see what’s going on, and I have to go in order and I have to go at my pace. So my wife gets so mad at me because she’s like, “You literally need to get off of Twitter without scrolling to the top, it’s not the end of the world.” I’m like, “No, because if I get off, I don’t know where (I left off). Like when you come back on, it refreshes, and I’m gonna lose all that.” I’ve kind of gotten into the habit of trying to get out of that and scrolling to the top and being done with it.
But on the flip side of it, especially Instagram, if you’re on Instagram, there’s a lot you miss because it doesn’t necessarily come in order, it comes in whatever it thinks you want to see. Like I’m missing a lot of things that would be things that I would want to see and usually seeing the crap that nobody wants to see on my feed.
So I struggle with that part of it. My wife posts a lot of videos and pictures of my daughter. And it’s not like I don’t want to post those pictures and videos, but she’s usually the one taking them, and then I’m gonna end up posting the same photo she posts, and more than likely most of my fans follow my wife anyway. So it’s easier to let her do that part of it.
But there isn’t a good way to do it. I’ll be honest with you, there’s not a good way to balance it. I’m typically reading Twitter at 10:30, 11 o’clock at night in bed or when I get up in the morning or when I’m out by myself and I’ve got five minutes — like if I get somewhere early, I’ll sit in my truck and scroll through. But I think that leaves me not posting as much because I’m typically not on whenever I would want to post something cool.
You touched on a few interesting things there. On Instagram, how arrogant is it on their part where they think that they know what’s best for you to see? I want to see all the posts, like you, in order — and yet you can’t do that! It’s so frustrating with Instagram.
That is the really frustrating part. I always get in that moment (where) I’ll think of somebody’s posts, and I’m like, “I haven’t seen them post in a while.” I’ll go to their page and they have five new posts that I haven’t looked at. So I’ll go through and look at them, but then you get in that moment of, “Do I like all five of them? Or do I not like them?” Because then their feed’s gonna be blown up with, “Justin Allgaier liked all your photos.” But on the flip side, if I don’t like the photos, then they’re like, “Justin Allgaier hasn’t been liking my photos lately.” Especially if they like my photos, then you’re like, “Man.” So to be honest with you, I’ve actually gone on a binge of not liking anything, because I don’t know when it’s from — whether it’s from four days ago or if it was 20 minutes ago. So I agree with you on that, I think for sure it can be done better.
That being said, on Instagram I follow 1,858 people, and on Twitter I follow 1,400 people. So in that regard, sometimes it can get a little bit challenging because you’re go on at times when nobody will post and you’re like, “Man, I gotta go search hashtags or search things” or I’ll go to the trending (section).
Then there’s other times where it seems like everybody wants to post at the exact same time, and you’re like scrolling up, scrolling up, scrolling up and I’ve only made it three minutes. So that’s the other challenge, too: People post in waves, companies come in waves, everybody does things on a different schedule and nine times out of 10 they all do it on the same schedule.
I also wish Facebook was a little bit more user-friendly as far as going back and seeing stuff, because I’ll go on, look at a page, and if I go through and approve a post on my (official) page, then when I go back to my main feed, it’ll be all the posts that I’ve just approved. And some of them might be from 10 days ago. So that doesn’t necessarily work, either.
So I’ve struggled with all of that, but at the end of the day, I guess it really doesn’t matter, as long as you have the people that you want to see and you get their stuff liked or commented on or retweeted or whatever you’re gonna do there. It makes it worth it.
A lot of drivers seem down on Facebook. They kind of ignore it, they have someone else manage it. It sounds like you are still managing your professional page yourself. What is the value there? How do you use that for your professional work?
I still look at everything, and I still try to do some of the official page. All of my personal accounts, I don’t let anyone else touch it. The only person who has access is my wife, and the only reason is if she wants to keep people updated when I’m in the car. She has done that before, but we typically don’t do that.
Now on my official Facebook page, my PR girl Megan (Johnson), she does do some of the posting on there, and the only reason for that is because it went dormant for a while. I got on there one day, I was checking stuff out, and the last post was eight months before that. I was like, “That kind of defeats the purpose of having an official page if there’s not going to be any posts on it.”
And then I went through a spell where it’s tied to my Instagram, and so I was posting on Instagram — you have the option to post on Twitter, post on Facebook — I didn’t know it wasn’t posting to it. There was a glitch between the two, and I went three or four months where I didn’t know the pictures that I was posting weren’t being posted onto it. So now I let her do some of the posts or some of the things that she thinks are important. I’ve given her access to be able to put stuff on it just so there’s at least content on there.
But I still go back through and reread all the comments and try to keep up with what’s going on, what people are saying. At the end of the day, I don’t know if what you post is most necessarily important, it’s more the interaction that I think is probably more important to people. So I think that’s how I’ve kind of gone with it. I’ll post as much as I can post on my own personal stuff but then on the official page, I let her do it.
It goes the same with the website (JustinAllgaier.com). It’s crazy how much websites have changed from years past. Mine now is more of kind of a news hub/ social media hub, so you get the news, the team’s gonna put out at a press release doing whatever, and then the rest of it, it’s all social media on the main page. Right now there’s obviously the tabs that you can go to other places, but keeping people updated on what’s going on on your social side of things is as important or more important than anything else.
I didn’t even think about that, actually.
When was the last time you went to a driver’s website?
That’s what just started going through my mind. The best way to keep it up to date is if you had your social feeds directly plugged into it, because that’s the most updated information you’re giving anyway. It makes a lot of sense, really.
I think so. We do all of our press releases and then right below that is all our social media, whether it’s Twitter or Facebook or Instagram, it’s got all of them tied to it.
YouTube is, for me, the easiest, and I keep wanting to do videos. I keep wanting to do more of YouTube. I’ve said that like 10 times. I bought a bunch of camera stuff and I was gonna do YouTube, and it’s hard. Like I don’t know how people get big YouTube followings.
We posted the video the other day of Harper giving me my helmet, and the story of it, and I had 800 likes between all three social medias that I run — and I had 40 views on the video. And I was like, “Well, the post on social media was to watch the video, and people liked it or commented on it — but I was only on 40 views.” That doesn’t add up in my mind. So I’m struggling with that.
What happens when the interaction turns negative? Like for instance the Indy thing (when he was criticized for mistakes that cost him a shot at the race), you posted a statement responding to everything. Do you go through all those comments on a bad day like that, or do you just have to turn it off after a while?
My wife gets so mad at me because I go through (the feed) good, bad, or indifferent. It doesn’t matter to me if it’s good or if it’s bad, I want to know what people are saying and I want to know what the interaction is.
And the hard part for me is, I get really aggravated when people don’t tag me. Like if you’re gonna subtweet or tweet about somebody, at least tag them so they know what you’re saying. I feel like that’s like going to high school and you’re at one table and you’re talking about someone sitting at another table, right? Be man or woman enough to stand up and say, “Hey, this is how I feel and this what I think.”
My statement from Indy was kind of a loaded statement. Steve Letarte called me after Indy, and we had this conversation about there were a lot of things that happened that day. Obviously, there wasn’t a lot of positives out of it. But there was a lot of the story that never got told, and I told Steve, “You buried me on TV, which led to a lot of what happened on social media. They took your comments and Jeff Burton’s comments and they turned those into headlines.”
And what they said (on TV) wasn’t necessarily as bad as what the headlines ended up reading, but it still caused things to snowball into something. I had people that wanted NASCAR to drug test me and all kinds of crazy stuff, and like it literally went from zero to 100 right now. So I felt like it was important to put out a statement.
At the end of the day it didn’t really matter, it didn’t change anybody’s perception, it didn’t fix what happened on the racetrack. But for me, I at least feel like all sides of the story should be heard at all times, so that’s where social media is at. Whether you like somebody’s opinion or not, you can at least post about it on social media so people know where you’re at and why you stand for what you stand for.
But it was great, because of social media, it caused the conversation between Steve and I. And I don’t know if it changes anything on how he did the TV side of things, but for sure we had a great dialogue out of it and I feel more comfortable with where he’s at as a broadcaster and his position on things and understanding some things, and I also think he understands some other things of where he felt I was at as a driver. So social media caused great dialogue that we would have never gotten had it not been for that.
Something you touched on at the start of that comment is very interesting to me is about tagging people. I personally struggle with that, because let’s say you’re going to say that “Justin Allgaier messed up right there” or something like that. If somebody tags you in it, it’s almost like they’re wanting you to read it. You said you want to read it because you want people to be a man about it when they say it, but at the same time, that could bring a ton of hate your way, like an avalanche of people saying, “That guy sucks!” or something. So what is the balance there? When do you tag somebody, when not?
Because I follow a volume of people, I see a lot of stuff where people aren’t tagged. … But the funny ones to me are the ones where I’ll see someone’s response with a tag of my name in it, but the original post didn’t tag me in it. So it’s like now I’m catching it secondhand. Now you’re reading back through it and you get fired up. Like I would feel better off to know what somebody said.
And at the end of the day, if we make a mistake, if we do something stupid — Indy for example — we already know what happened. We already know that it’s dumb. We already discussed it internally as much as anybody else externally is going to discuss it. That being said, for me personally, from your standpoint or whether it’s any other media member or fan, I think tagging somebody is appropriate. I want to at least know if you’re talking about me. Good, bad or indifferent, I at least want to know.
When it comes to being a dad and sharing your home life, you mentioned you let Ashley handle a lot of stuff because she’s used to being in that role. What is the balance there? Do you feel like fans want to see that part of your life and you feel comfortable sharing that part of your life?
I think I’m more comfortable sharing that part of my life than what fans would want to see of that part of my life. Being around the racetrack and talking to a lot of our fans, I get a lot more responses on the posts that I make about my daughter than I do on the posts that I make about whatever is going on in my life.
I still struggle with that, because I would post pictures of my daughter every day, right? I love my daughter and I’m super happy to watch her grow up and be a part of it. That being said, I feel like sometimes you find there’s enough and there’s too much — and I don’t ever want to hit that plateau. Because once you hit that number, it separates you out from everybody else.
You don’t want to go to work or to dinner or to whatever and one person is constantly, “Hey I got this new photo in my wallet,” or “I got this new photo on my phone,” and constantly showing people photos of their kids. I love that, but at the end of the day, I love it because she’s my daughter. Not everybody else loves it because that’s not their daughter. They could care less. So I don’t know. I struggle with that.
But I feel like the people that follow my wife are either really close friends of hers or they understand that (off-track look) is what they’re getting. I think sometimes as drivers or team members, you’re in a different role. If they watch me race on Saturday from the grandstands and they want to see what’s going on next week, they don’t necessarily know that they’re signing themselves up for a picture of my daughter or a picture of her at dance class or whatever.
I think there is a balance. I don’t know if I know what it is, but I try really hard to not over-incorporate one side or the other. I want people to understand that my social media pages are my own, and so if I post only info and commercial-type content, like race team-style content, people are gonna be like, “He doesn’t do any of his social media.” But then again, if I only post on my daughter, people will be like, “I can’t go there for information of what I want to find out.” So it’s trying to find that balance is really important for me.
Each week, I ask a member of the racing community about their social media usage. This week: Rutledge Wood from NBC Sports.
You have a really special ability to connect with people. That makes social media perfect for you in a lot of ways, because you have a very positive spirit. How do you feel like that comes through in your daily social media use?
This may surprise you a little bit, but I was a weird kid. (Smiles) I’ve always been weird, a little bit different, and I was really lucky that my parents were always there to support me and make sure that I knew it’s OK that I’m not like anybody else. That’s not a weakness, that’s your strength, so go be that person. I always believed in standing up for people who couldn’t stand up for themselves and that certainly has gotten into a few dust-ups in my life.
Social media is this funny place where — good, bad or indifferent — we have opened this thing that we call “social” that is in fact completely anti-social, and we’ve allowed people to have this influence on us. I’ve definitely seen over the years there are really positive influences on social media and there is the total opposite; in that range between is where you hope most of your stuff lies.
So for me, it’s not about following people that I believe everything that they do politically or on any kind of scope. I just try to follow a lot of people that bring joy to my life, bring joy to other people’s lives, and I think I will find those right things through there.
I’m a person who came from the fan base of this sport. I started at Speed channel in 2005 from a Craigslist ad. I had gone to school for marketing and they basically needed somebody for the marketing department who could do all their on-site marketing and be an MC. So I would ride around the campgrounds and go meet fans and say, “Come to the stage, we’re having this big party later, it’s called Trackside.”
And what they started to notice is that people started to hang out with me when there was nothing going on. So I would have a crowd there and they said, “Hey, we know you’re kind of different, but fans seem to really like you. We should do more.” And the more time I spent out there, (they) realized I come from this huge car background, I love cars, I love racing. I really came from a place where I didn’t know much about NASCAR in the beginning, but everything great that’s happened to my career has happened because the fans of this sport have supported me and supported it.
The way that Top Gear (the History Channel show that ran from 2010-16) found me was a race fan loaded something that I did for RaceDay at Atlanta Motor Speedway with John Schneider from the Dukes of Hazzard onto YouTube illegally. And because that person sat down and said, “This was fun to me, I want to share this with other people,” that person forever changed not just my life, but my wife’s life, my children’s lives — all the things I’ve gotten to do are because of moments like that. And that person didn’t have to.
So I try to use social media in a way to share joy, to have fun, to tell people, “This is what I’m doing, here’s where I am, these are the car projects I’m working on.”
Someone asked a long time ago, “Why do you post pictures of your kids?” because I certainly some people do, some people don’t. And for me, I did enough stuff during Top Gear and I’ve been on enough weird flights where I think everyone has those kinds of moments of, “What happens if I don’t make it out of X, Y, or Z?” And I wanted to make sure that people never had any doubt what was actually important to me. Because work is really fun, and I’m so fortunate to get to do stuff that I love — but life is what I love, and my wife and my daughters, that’s my heart. (Gets choked up.) That’s my world.
So I want to make sure people don’t ever wonder — if God forbid I don’t make it to 95 — “What was important to him?” “Let’s go back and look. Well he liked sneakers, he liked cars and he loved his family.” So I just try to put that hat on with social. And sometimes it works out well.
I also find out every time that we’re on big NBC for the races that it is like an all call for, “Hey, if anyone has anything negative to say, come on over!” And you just gotta roll with that stuff, too.
There’s a lot to unpack there. Let’s start with how you avoid getting sucked into the negativity, because as you touched on, you’re a positive person who loves life and you like to spread the positivity. How do you not get brought down by some of these people that are deciding to yell at you on social media?
The hard part is when you feel like someone has no idea of anything about you, and you know nothing about them because most of the time it’s just they signed up and there’s no information and they’re not real. That’s hard because you feel like, “Man, you don’t know the first thing about me.”
So when I remember, “This isn’t a real interaction. This isn’t somebody that sat down next to me at a restaurant and asked me about whether politics.” This is like a drive-by shooting, but the shot is a comment. And to me, it’s just not real. There’s no reality in that moment.
I used to block people on Twitter when I first got on, and I think there’s only a handful of people who I’ve ever blocked. Then I realized then you can just mute them. And if you mute them, you don’t give them the satisfaction of blocking them. Some people get excited, like “Yeah, he blocked me!” It’s like, “Cool. Way to go man.” But if you mute them, then they can still feel like, “This person is totally reading it.” So now we’re at the point where I can see something bad and I’ll just read the first two words and then I just mute them and roll on, because there is definitely an algorithm.
I have leaned on people before, because sometimes I just want people to know there’s a real person on the other side of this. I feel bad sometimes — my mom reads comments that people leave and I know that she gets upset because she’s my mom and she’s awesome and that’s what you do — but I always look at it like if I think they don’t know better, then I can’t waste any time or energy on them. Like they just don’t know better. And that’s OK; everybody is brought up differently and what people do every single day is far different than what we do. Cool. Just roll on.
But if I think they should know better, sometimes I think about, “What would I want to say?” One day, this guy said, ”You’re fat, you’re stupid, you’re ugly, you shouldn’t be on TV,” whatever else he said. I looked at his profile picture on Twitter and it was him and his daughter in a canoe. And I wrote back and said, “Hey man, I hope no one ever says to your daughter what you said to me, because this will be really hard for you to try to rationalize.” That’s all I said. I didn’t attack him, I didn’t say anything about it, I just said, “Hey, this is gonna be hard, because kids are mean.” And that guy just burned it down. He lost it. “How dare you! How dare you look at my picture!” He goes off on this whole thing. It’s like, “Whoa, whoa, whoa. You brought this to my doorstep! I just held the mirror up and asked if you liked what you saw.”
And that’s the tough thing. Let’s take NBC. I’m so lucky to work with the people I do and the people who are passionate about this sport. We have a ton of sponsors on every single side. And it’s tough because there are times where you feel like saying something, but I also don’t want to alienate anybody who wants to be a part of this great sport, the things that we’re doing. So sometimes, you just have to bite your tongue because there’s no other side to it, whether it’s people pointing the finger, whatever it is. At the end of the day, you just want to be like, “I love this sport. I think we all do. That’s why we’re here.”
And sometimes we have to remember that people like you, me, anybody who’s on PRN, MRN, every writer, every blogger, everyone who has come inside to be a part of this sport — we are definitely on the inside of the fun, the joy, the experience, everything else. And sometimes there are people who just can’t comprehend how much hard work it took to get here. And that lack of knowledge of understanding how much sacrifice, how much hard work, how many late nights you stay up transcribing a press release or what a driver said after the race, trying to load up your interviews so the fans who support you can see it — those people don’t understand what it took, and they believe that it’s all chance, that we all knew someone, that everything was handed to us.
So when they make comments, they’re coming from this place of confusion and hurt and feeling like, “Well I wanted to be a part of that and nobody found me.” Turns out I’m not related to the Wood Brothers and I’m not related to anybody that runs a network. I’m a guy that loved cars and I found a way to work with cars and TV, which is what I’ve always dreamed of. I’ve got one of my closest friends from college, a guy named Jason Millican, who said that I looked at him senior year in college while studying at the University of Georgia, and said, “I’m gonna get on TV for cars because that’s it. That’s what I love. I want to make people smile.”
For me, I thought I’m either gonna go back to school and be a youth minister — minus my terrible language — or a high school counselor if I can’t make TV work. Because trying to be on TV and make the most people smile was always my dream. That’s what I wanted to do. I felt like that’s what I was supposed to do with my life.
But if I couldn’t do that, then I wanted to have a really positive influence on people and target the time of life where it was always the most important for me. Watching Columbine and the insane amount of guns and stuff happening in school, that’s what breaks my heart the most, because those are the same kids that were at some point a lot like me. They were different, and all of the kids that weren’t different were afraid and they attacked them — just like social media. They went after the square peg that didn’t fit in the round hole.
But it’s really themselves that they’re worried about. It’s (the ones attacking). It has nothing to do with the other kid. And because I had these parents whole told me it’s OK and I should push through and that life is gonna be great, then I didn’t end up going through one of these other paths that so many of the kids end up going down, which is a really dark place.
I think we all have that choice everyday. You can get up and look for sunshine or you can look for clouds. And whichever one it is that you’re looking for, you can find it. So I think at the end of the day, I just try to do my best every day to get up and live my life like that.
And as you know, adulting is hard. Like this stuff is real, the sacrifice that it takes to be out here, to be a part of this. Sometimes (I try to) remember: I’m bringing joy to somebody right now that I don’t know. I’m in someone’s living room and I hope they enjoy learning that Jimmie Johnson has all these amazing layers to him and they’re fun and caring and funny.
And I hope that they know that and think about that, because I might be missing a friend’s wedding, or I might be missing playing the backyard with my kids or whatever it is. But it’s because I believe at the end of the day, it’s all gonna be worth it.
I don’t mean that in terms of financial gains. I know it’s tough in a sport where people have private planes, but you see me flying Southwest or Delta. I’m a Delta guy, but I met somebody on my Southwest flight the other night and they’re like, “What are you doing here? You’re on TV.” I’m not Ryan Seacrest! Like Ryan Seacrest is on TV! The rest of us are just on TV, that’s a totally different thing.
But it’s some of those moments where you get to educate people, like yeah, started from Craigslist, 13 years later I’m lucky to still be a part of this. You think about all the different sides.
You asked one question and this is a 15-minute answer. That’s my bad. But at the end of the day, I think that’s how you gotta do it: Just try to be the best you that you can, and I think at some point the trolls will get tired of not getting a response and they’ll just give up because they’re bored anyway. That’s why this whole thing started, because they were bored.
I guess in the manner of spreading joy and sunshine, how do you do that with individuals who are replying to you? How often do you write back to those people? At one time you would call random people from Twitter. So how much time and energy do you put into those interactions?
I think it’s a hugely important thing for me to do, because all these people that follow me and interact are the same people who watch the shows and help give me ideas. So what I try to do it sort of compartmentalize that as, “This is definitely part of my job,” and I try my best to get back to every person that reaches out. It’s sometimes impossible, and sometimes it will take me months. But I try to get back to Instagram messages, Facebook messages, tweets. I always feel like when I’m at an airport, it’s a great time to do that. If I’m sitting in a hotel room, it’s a great time to do that. I used to try and do it constantly and I realized that the time that it was taking out of me being in the moment, being home and being present with my family was not worth the benefit of that instant gratification for me or the other person.
So I said OK, I have to remember that this is time here (at home), and if I’m out of the house and when I’m out working, then that’s everybody’s time. Because like you, the same people that support me are the same reason that I get to go do it. So I want to try and devote as much time to them for that purpose as I can.
And that’s what Phone Call Friday came out of. My brother-in-law had ridden with me to Charlotte for something (in 2012), and we were coming home and I said, “Man, I wish there was a way that I could call people and just say thank you.” He said, “You should do that. Why don’t you?” It was like, “Oh, I never thought about that, maybe I should.” So I said, “All right, everybody tweet me your phone number and for the next two hours I’ll call as many people as I can.” I did a *67 to block my number because believe it or not, I didn’t want everybody in the world to get my number. But I would just go down the list and just call every single person. And some of them would not pick up, and I love leaving voicemails — it was really fun. But it was just a great interaction, like, “Hey! What are you doing? It’s Rutledge.” And the first half of each call was them being, “No it’s not. It’s not Rutledge.” I’d be like “No, it’s definitely me! What’s up?” “Oh, it is you! Hey!”
In my mind, things like Facebook Live and Periscope do that in a way that feels less intrusive than putting your phone number up. But I wish there was a way that we could say, “Hey, from 2 to 3 I’m gonna video live and pop in and say hi,” and there’s a way to see people back. I would love that sort of iMessage/FaceTime kind of app where people just come in and say hi.
That would be so cool, because those are ultimately the people that guys like you and I — and there’s plenty of females out there, too — that owe our placement of where we are to those people in the sport. So I do think it’s really really important.
I also try to remember that if somebody’s mad about something that I covered or mad because Junior is out of the race, whatever the moment is, it’s not worth it to waste the time on that person when personally you could be spending it on somebody that is asking a real question or wanting to know more. Like, “Hey, I really thought that was neat how you mentioned this thing about Jenna Fryer (in last week’s Social Spotlight). How can I see more of that? I want to learn.”
The stuff we have to keep in mind is, “OK, it’s all about the time we spend and how. So let’s make sure we do it in a good way.”
This is something that sort of drifts away from social media, but I’m really interested in knowing more about your instant warmth toward people. I feel like if people walk up to you and haven’t met you, they could probably give you a hug and it probably wouldn’t be that weird. So through interactions with people on social media or wherever it may be, what is the secret that I could learn or somebody else could learn in their daily life where you are able to express that? What can people do to be more like Rutledge?
That’s a really funny way to put that. First off, thanks, because I really appreciate the kind words. I think at the end of the day what you’re saying is, you enjoy the way that I love. And for me, the way I love people and share love and show love and express love is — not in a weird way — a pretty physical manner. I just think the world is a better place with a little more love. So when I see people, old friends — whether it’s (Jimmie Johnson spotter) Earl Barban, who many not look like a great hugger on the outside and may not seem like that kind of guy, or if it’s Clint Bowyer, I’ll hug whoever. I’ll let my friends know that I’m a hugger.
It’s funny, some of the things we talk about sometimes with family and friends. They’re like, “Why are you such a hugger?” I definitely think that if people aren’t into hugging and aren’t into expressing warmth and stuff like that in that way, I’m in no way implying that that means there’s something wrong or they aren’t built like everybody else. Like I’ve got some friends that are really uncomfortable when I try to hug them. I’m always like, “Just let me get it out of the way — just one good hug and we’ll just roll on.” And that’s just part of it.
I’m certainly not perfect, but I try to be real comfortable with myself because if I feel like I’m getting up every day and I’m trying to do the best I can with all of the things that this world has to throw in your face every day, if I can just get up and try to get the best job I can, I’m doing something right. And so I’m almost always real comfortable with that side of my life.
And look, we all have good days and we all have bad, but a hug can change that. You can have a bad day, and someone can see that in your eyes or in your face or whatever, and come up and give you a good squeeze and you can literally feel like that tension and that anger just be completely wiped away through one single little interaction there.
So yeah, race fans will see me — and it could be out in the garage, it could be in the campgrounds, it could be in the airport — and be like, “Can I just give you a hug?” Yeah! I’d love a hug! Yeah, let’s hug it out, because it’s this one moment that can change so much in a person’s day, and whether you see it or not, it has a very real effect.
My two oldest girls will get off the bus and they come running to me, and it is hug central. There is nothing that makes me feel better in the world than moments like that. But I do think that in a crazy world that we live in now, love is what has changed in the world. From colonial days — pick any time period to now — it’s harder to love people. We’ve created this great technology that does all these things, but all it does is put these constant restraints on your heart, on your time, on your placement with everything else.
I am most attracted to people who love like that, who can just be immediately warm and open and it creates great friendships. I think that’s honestly one of the reasons why Kyle Petty is one of the closest friends I have in the world, and I hug him almost every time I see him. I called him earlier and he’s not flying up until tomorrow, and I was like, “Aw, alright. Well I can’t wait to see you tomorrow.” And I know when I see him, I’m gonna give him a hug. And when I leave the track on Sunday, if we’re not on stage and one of us is running for an airplane or whatever, it’s always a hug and “I love you” because that’s really important.
So often we just miss those little opportunities to say something when you have the chance. If the last thing people remember is, “Man, he gave me a really good hug when I saw him,” that’s a really cool thing to leave people with. It’s kind of that How Full Is Your Bucket? kids book that was always about if you say something nice, if you give someone else a compliment, it will make them feel better and it’ll put a drop in your bucket.
I think hugs are a great way to do that — but I think high-fives are, too, or smiles, or sometimes I’ll just shout your name. Like when I see you in the garage, sometimes I’m just gonna shout, “Jeff! HEY!” I think that’s fun. People need it. But I think at the end of the day, they’re all just different ways to show enthusiasm and fun for life.
Because let’s be honest man, there’s some hard stuff out there. The more that we grow, the more that we learn, we’re also constantly faced with the things that are not what we thought, and they are way more difficult. And there are people with huge fights out there, and if we can put our best foot forward and be those people that we wanna be, it will make their day better.
At the end of the day, that’s what I strive for: What can I do to make that person (happy) who is sitting on the couch who doesn’t have a ton to be pumped about this week? They’ve got a 50-hour work week, they’re barely getting by, the car hopefully starts every day they go to work. And they’re just laying there and watching this moment. If I can bring a smile to them by something that I’m doing or sharing, and if you can bring a smile to them because they go, “Oh my gosh, I want to learn more about my favorite driver. This is great, I love this angle,” then we are making a difference. And at the end of the day, that’s all everybody really wants to do. I just want to make a difference.
With this new food show that I have (Southern and Hungry), that’s been such a cool thing to see. So many race fans and Top Gear fans and people who really watchfood shows and all those cooking channels, so many of them are the same people because they’re all the people that love. The reason why people like to go out and eat and love to do stuff like that is because they’re sharing with someone. That’s a moment of joy. The reason why people love to go to races together are because it’s with their friends, and they’re gonna go tailgate and they’re gonna watch people literally ride around in circles.
We are not saving the world, but we’re doing something really fun because this sport — like every other sport in the world — is a form of entertainment. We are taking our minds off of the very real things that lurk in the back of our heads all the time and we’re taking time away from that to live and to have fun, express joy and do all these things together as a group. So at the end of the day, if a hug is something that can change another person’s day, then I want to be that person who is first in line to give it out.
That’s not everybody’s cup of tea and it doesn’t have to do with me. It’s OK. If you’re a hugger and you need a hug, tell somebody. And if you’re not a hugger and you need a hug, then you should tell somebody. You’ll feel a lot better if you do. Or just throw a high-five out there.
But I’ve also learned in my life it’s not a weakness in saying that you need help with anything. If it’s, “Hey, I could really use a ride to the airport” or “Hey, I could use somebody to go to dinner with,” whatever it is, it’s truly a sign of strength.
And I’m telling you, there have been days where a person has come up and hugged me or I’ve seen someone else hug another person and change an entire week, a weekend, a moment in time, whatever it is, because of one action — and that’s a hug. So don’t be afraid to hug it out, people.
This is awesome. Well, where can somebody send you virtual hugs? You’re on Twitter, Facebook, Instagram — I know you dabbled in Snapchat at times. Where are all the places people can they find you?
Not Snapchat. I’m not a hater, but I went to school for marketing and it goes against everything I believe. If it’s worth doing, then it’s worth being around and people sharing it. I get why a lot of the younger folks like this whole idea, but you know what, let’s just send some real hugs. Let’s put a picture up on Instagram, let’s put it on Facebook, I’m on all of those. It’s just @RutledgeWood.
My new show comes out Oct. 9th on the Cooking Channel. It’s called Southern and Hungry, because anywhere I go, I am in fact Southern and hungry. It’s Damaris Phillips and I. I hope you’ll check it out, tell me what you think.
And of course, you can see me every week on NASCAR on NBC.
Adam Ferrara, Tanner Foust and I are gonna get the (Top Gear) band back together and go make some fun car show, and I can’t wait to tell you where that’s gonna be and when. We’re working very hard on that.
And I’m going to the Winter Olympics in South Korea in February.And if people want to send virtual hugs, just know that I’m just a little bit nervous, like a pinch Idiot Abroad meets a pinch of nervous about global war, and it’s really hard for me to be away from my family that long.
So that’s me in a nutshell. Just a guy who’s just hustling to make sure his wife and daughters can have a lot of fun and a roof over their heads and scooters under their feet. And bicycles.
But thanks for letting me do this, it was really fun. I thought it was gonna be a 10-minute thing and we’ve been hanging for half an hour, so thanks for listening. You guys are awesome out there! And if you ever see me at a racetrack, say hi. And if you have to shout, it’s probably because I have earphones in and I’m listening to a producer in a truck tell me what they think I should go do next. So if I don’t hear you, it’s no offense, OK? Let’s hug it out.
This interview was brought to you by Dover International Speedway. Thanks to Dover for sponsoring the Social Spotlight interviews for the past few months. It’s not too late to go, so here’s a link to buy tickets (and make sure to come say hi at the tweetup).