WALTZ: Is Social Media Hurting Racing?

Keith Waltz
Keith Waltz

HARRISBURG, N.C. — These days eight-time World of Outlaws Crafts­man Sprint Car Series champion Donny Schatz is as quick thinking and articulate off the race track as he is behind the wheel of the No. 15 Arctic Cat sprint car owned by Tony Stewart.

Early this year, we asked the North Dakota resident his thoughts on the hurdles facing the nomadic sprint car series moving forward, and his reply hit the nail on the head.

“I think probably the biggest hurdle you have in any business or sport today is social media. That’s something they didn’t have in Ted Johnson’s era,” Schatz said. “You didn’t have message boards where people got on and bashed things. There wasn’t Facebook, Twitter, Instagram, Snapchat and all these things that can sometimes turn things toward the negative. People aren’t held accountable. They can have a fake name and create a buzz or a fuss. It’s fun for them, but it’s derogatory to other people.

“Also, people don’t have to go to races anymore to find out results. They don’t have to buy their Speed Sport News every week to find out what’s going on,” Schatz added. “You can watch the races on Race Monitor and you don’t have to be there to know who wins and what goes on. In some sense, it’s changed the dynamic of what the sport really is.

“Maybe that makes me old-school, but I think those are the biggest hurdles we have in front of us.”

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We couldn’t agree more.

When presented properly, criticism voiced through the various electronic media outlets can be a useful tool for a promoter or sanctioning body to improve their product. But all too often, people hiding behind an anonymous screen name utilize the various online outlets to berate a promoter, competitor or sanctioning body official to the point that the entire conversation turns negative.

This negativity usually ends up spreading faster than a California wildfire and it downgrades the entire sport, especially among those who are only casual fans. Some become so disenchanted that they take their attention and entertainment dollars elsewhere.

So the next time something has you really fired up, stop and think before sounding off on social media. Consider whether or not your words will be perceived as tearing the sport down or building it up.

As for Schatz’s other point about using technology to know who wins and what happens at a race without actually being there, we consider this to be a major issue for the grassroots segment of our industry.

Unlike NASCAR’s premier series where television money now pays a large portion of bills, grassroots racing will always need butts on the boards to produce revenue. It is especially important during bigger races, like when the World of Outlaws Craftsman Sprint Car Series comes to town.

Technology has made it too easy to stay home at a time when grassroots racing is battling for every dollar it can get. The only solution we see to this issue is to go to the races. Take your family, take your friends, take your neighbors and enjoy an afternoon or evening of unplugged entertainment. There’s a good chance you’ll make memories that will last a lifetime.

– And speaking of memories, it was 50 years ago this month that a 7-year-old race fan heard nothing more than a swoosh as Parnelli Jones’ turbine-powered car went by his vantage point during practice for the Indianapolis 500.

It was certainly a long time ago, but we still remember being fascinated that this unique-looking creation — with giant STP decals — could go so fast, yet make such little noise.

On race day, we were glued to the radio as we followed Jones’ progress and were heartbroken when the announcers reported the lifeless turbine-powered machine had coasted to a stop, just four laps short of the checkered flag.

Mechanical innovations, such as the four-wheel-drive STP-Paxton Turbocar Andy Granatelli brought to the speedway in 1967, were once a key part of The Greatest Spectacle in Racing. We really do miss those days.