Fan Perspective: NASCAR’s Fishbowl and Social Media’s Anonymity

By Susanne Bowyer

As I read through some fan reaction to NASCAR Sprint Cup Racing events the past few weeks, I realize how thankful I am to not live inside the NASCAR fishbowl. 

Earlier this season, an angry Kurt Busch sped through a competitor’s pitbox and was subsequently put on probation by NASCAR. In June, he was thrust into the spotlight again for saying some unflattering things to a reporter. Afterwards, twitter exploded with reaction, facebook went crazy and subsequently, Kurt was suspended for a week. Some of the public opinion comments that followed about Kurt seemed really hurtful. People were attacking his looks, his personal life, and his family – none of those comments were in direct relation to the infraction for which he was accused.

I’m not saying what Kurt did was right or wrong or whether he should have been suspended or put on probation. Those decisions are made by the sanctioning body after hearing both sides of the dispute. I’m also not implying that fans can’t have an opinion of him or his actions. 

What I am saying is, I didn’t see a whole lot of malicious difference in what Kurt said to the reporter and the backlash toward him afterward from anonymous, faceless social media fans around the nation. Why do some fans have to ‘one up’ his comments with hateful derogatory speech or personal stabs? Do they really think that paying back a lack of respect with more lack of respect will make a positive difference? What reaction does a vulger comment request? 
These drivers are in a fishbowl with fans, reporters, sponsors, and cameras stuffed in their face for sometimes four or five days a week. We’ve seen some fans get upset when drivers don’t pose for the 100th picture or autograph 20 hero cards that in some cases will only be sold on e-bay. Fans, have more one-on-one interaction with drivers than most stick and ball sports, sometimes, right up until minutes before they race. And when they get out of their car after a horrific wreck and asked the same question from multiple reporters, we hear their authentic immediate reaction. What happens if the reaction is not exciting enough? Some fans respond by calling them ‘vanilla’. They’re in a no-win situation with fans.

So why do so many social media fans, do this? Even one is too many. Why do some feel that because we are behind the anonymity of the internet, anyone has the freedom to attack another person in ways most would never do face-to-face? I wonder if it is because drivers have more money, or are in the public eye, that somehow grants a person the right to voice an opinion of them in a derogatory way? Does that really give anyone the right to answer unflattering behavior with a more unflattering response?

In the upcoming case with AJ Allmindinger, I worry that some fans will have him tried, convicted and villified before we know the truth. And even when the truth is out, what kind of comments or jokes will be told that will follow him for his entire life. Everyone has some part of their life that is broken and has sinned in some way – it’s the reality of being human. When a driver is at his lowest, is when the NASCAR community of fans should pull together to support them as humans first. Afterall, wouldn’t anyone want the support of others in our time of need – when we have a weak moment? 

My question is, where is the line drawn? I’m not talking about disagreeing with something a driver does or says, but rather when it goes from a thought out comment about the violation – which is everyone’s right to have an opinion – to something vial and personal – is that really the way any fan wants to personify themselves individually?  

Maybe practicing the Sri Sathya Sai Baba quote would be helpful…

“Before you speak, think—is it necessary? Is it true? Is it kind? Will it hurt anyone? Will it improve on the silence?”   
Ephesians 4:29 “Let no corrupting talk come out of your mouths, but only such as is good for building up, as fits the occasion, that it may give grace to those who hear.”