Some NASCAR Drivers and Their Fans Have Embraced Social Networking

????: J.P.Montoya
????: J.P.Montoya

The breakdown of his day comes fast and furious from Juan Pablo Montoya, much like you’d expect from a guy who’s used to living life at 200 mph.

Montoya has the day off from racing but keeps his fingers busy with posts on his Twitter account. Through a series of tweets, he shares the following details of his life with all who are interested:

It’s 7:15 on a cloudy July morning in Miami. Montoya’s already been up for a bit and takes a moment to wish everyone a «Feliz dia de la Independencia Colombia.» Mexican food is on the menu for lunch, followed by a trip to get a broken computer screen fixed.

He leaves the house at about 3:45 in the afternoon as his kids jam out to Rock Band on the Nintendo Wii. Montoya’s assessment of the video game: «Pretty cool.»

The evening includes a trip to the movies to see the Sandra Bullock romantic comedy, The Proposal. Montoya puts on his critic’s hat and praises it as «a really funny movie.» But not all is well in the life of one of Colombia’s favorite sons, who is feeling the onset of a cold.

NASCAR drivers, teams and racetracks are using social networking Web sites such as Twitter, Facebook and MySpace to communicate more directly than ever with fans, who use their cell phones and computers to follow along.

????: J.P.Montoya
????: J.P.Montoya
NASCAR’s top two racing series will be at Watkins Glen International this week for the Heluva Good! Sour Cream Dips at The Glen weekend, which will be highlighted by Sunday’s Sprint Cup race.

If you’re a fan with the technology and the devotion, it will be possible to find out when Montoya arrives in Schuyler County, learn what he’s eating for dinner and see how he’s keeping busy if The Glen gets hit with a rain delay.

It’s a win-win-win situation, with NASCAR getting added exposure for its sport, fans learning more about their favorite drivers, and drivers getting a chance to show their personal side to fans and sponsors.

«It’s been fun to connect with the fans,» said third-year Sprint Cup driver David Ragan. «You know people are out there and watching it and paying attention to what you’re doing. That makes it all worth it.

«They really respect you putting the extra effort into the program. They really enjoy finding out what happens in your everyday life; stuff they can’t see on TV.»

Montoya is closing in on 15,000 followers on Twitter, where «tweets» are limited to 140 characters and proper spelling and grammar are generally considered optional. Drivers use computers, cell phones or other personal handheld devices to make updates.

Ragan, who drives the No. 6 UPS Ford Fusion car, has nearly 1,000 Twitter followers to go along with his Facebook and MySpace pages. He also has a blog on the UPS Racing Web site that includes behind-the-scenes video footage.

During races, UPS keeps tabs on Ragan’s day through its own Twitter site, which has more than 2,000 followers. Ragan’s slick-looking video blogs, in particular, have gone over big on the UPS Web site.

????: J.P.Montoya
????: J.P.Montoya
«To be honest, we didn’t really know how it would be received as far as understanding racing fans’ demands and how many of them really connected through social media,» said Mark Dickens, public relations manager for UPS.

«We surpassed expectations as to how many people would be following us on Twitter. Just in terms of racing views, it’s been fantastic. … (Ragan’s) fans love that stuff and I think any NASCAR fan loves that intimacy. It helps develop a more personal relationship.»

Perhaps the big irony of the new technology is that in some ways it harkens back to the pre-Internet era of the 1960s and early 1970s, when fans had more of a chance to hang out with drivers such as Richard «The King» Petty, Cale Yarborough and Coo Coo Marlin.

As NASCAR grew bigger and demands on drivers’ time grew greater, that accessibility diminished.

«I think the vision and the goal of having accessibility like that now lives on through technology,» said Andrew Giangola, director of business communications for NASCAR.

Montoya goes into great detail on his Twitter site, tweeting several times a day. Ragan tweets less often and in less detail, and said he doesn’t post anything too private.

So what you get depends on the driver, and sometimes what you’re reading is actually coming from team members or family members.

Not every driver has embraced the technology, with Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. not yet part of the Twitter-archy, though you’ll find fake accounts for these drivers.

«The drivers get it,» Giangola said. «They understand it’s a great way to build a fan base.»

But not everyone is a fan.

Rusty Wallace, a two-time Sprint Cup winner at Watkins Glen and one of the sport’s biggest stars in the 1980s and 1990s, admits to being old-school in his relationship with technology.

«I sign every autograph I can. I love meeting people,» said Wallace, an ESPN analyst. «But there’s got to be a little bit of a private part in my life.»

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