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What Makes a NASCAR Moment Go Viral?

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What’s Happening?

From bumper tosses to historically close finishes, several different NASCAR moments have captured the attention of the entire nation this season. So, that got us thinking. What is it that causes specific NASCAR moments to go viral?

  • When we talk about “Viral” we are going to focus on moments that capture the attention of those outside of NASCAR instead of those solely within NASCAR. Great moments that NASCAR fans love may not have necessarily gone “Viral”.
  • Predicting what can go “Viral” is next to impossible. However, there are some general trends with some of NASCAR’s most recent viral moments.
  • Fans always want to see NASCAR go viral because it gets NASCAR in front of the mainstream. This is how fans can watch for which NASCAR moments may go viral.

Conflict

One thing is for certain, conflict and fighting resonate with people. There’s a reason that sports like Mixed Martial Arts and Boxing are as popular as they are.

Conflict even played a role in the expansion of the sport of NASCAR. The 1979 Daytona 500 is forever remembered for “The Fight” that happened after the race, and the finish went the 1970s version of “Viral” across the country. NASCAR was never the same afterward.

Recently, two conflict-related sports stories went viral. One came from hockey, where a 5-on-5 fight broke out after the face-off between the New York Rangers and the New Jersey Devils.

There was also the NCAA Women’s College Basketball Tournament game between the Iowa Hawkeyes and the LSU Tigers. LSU head coach Kim Mulkey was under scrutiny thanks to a Washington Post article criticizing her coaching style and culture, featuring testimony from former players. This combined with her preemptive response to the article threatening to sue the Washington Post.

That played into a sort of heroes vs villains storyline heading into the game. The result was the most-watched Women’s College Basketball game on record with 12.3 million viewers.

Let’s circle back to Dawson Cram and Joey Gase, and right there, we have a conflict between the two. That’s what ultimately created the environment that gave Gase the incentive to throw a rear bumper at Dawson Cram.

However, conflict existing isn’t everything, even if it helps. The driver conflicts like Denny Hamlin vs. Ross Chastain, Denny Hamlin vs. Kyle Larson, and Denny Hamlin vs Alex Bowman, I think I’m detecting a pattern here. Regardless, the point is that one of these moments went viral, so, let’s dive deeper.

“WOW” Factor

Viral moments also need to have a “WOW” factor, and not just a “WOW” factor that only those within the sport can appreciate. It has to be something that anyone can grasp and understand. Enter, the “Hail Melon”

Watching a driver rip it around the fence like that at Martinsville isn’t something you have to be a NASCAR fan to get. Anyone can watch that and think ‘WOW!, what an incredible move and it actually WORKED?’

Looking at the other two moments we’ve discussed, the NHL fight and the LSU Iowa game, both have a wow factor. The NHL fight sees multiple guys fighting at the same time, which is pretty incredible to watch no matter who you are. The Iowa vs LSU game featured two top programs who competed for the National Championship the previous year and the best women’s basketball player on the planet, Caitlin Clark. It doesn’t take a deep understanding of basketball to understand that this was a big deal.

Even the Joey Gase / Dawson Cram tussle has a “WOW” moment. Gase literally threw a bumper at Cram’s car.

Just because it’s a “WOW” moment doesn’t necessarily make it viral. The average person isn’t talking about Bill Elliott coming back from 2 laps down to win at Talladega in 1985 or Martin Truex Jr. leading the most miles in a NASCAR race in history in 2016. However, a “WOW” moment is a necessity for a viral moment.

Cultural Relevance

Another thing that allows moments to go viral is the cultural relevance of a topic. For example, look at the NFL and Taylor Swift in 2023. With Taylor Swift dating Kansas City Chiefs star Travis Kelce, an entirely new audience was tuning into NFL games, and Taylor Swift was visible in about every way.

NASCAR just had a moment like this. The 3-wide finish at Atlanta back in February made many people, even non-NASCAR fans think of the 3-wide finish from the movie Cars. This brought that iconic finish into the mainstream.

This truth even goes into politics. Think about the 1984 Firecracker 400, for example, when Ronald Reagan came to the race during his 1984 election campaign. Keep in mind that Reagan won the 1984 election in a landslide, 49 states to 1, so, he was an incredibly popular President.

Anytime the President goes somewhere, it’s a big story. The 1984 Firecracker 400 was no exception. Not viral by today’s standards, but, still viral by 1984 standards.

In recent years, NASCAR has found itself in the mainstream thanks to politics, albeit under more controversial circumstances. Bubba Wallace found himself on prestigious news programs throughout the summer of 2020. This came due to a combination of events.

There was the banning of confederate flags at NASCAR tracks early that summer, which, while controversial amongst some, was generally met with resounding praise. Then, there was the infamous “Noose” incident at Talladega, where a garage pull rope fashioned as a “Noose” was found in Wallace’s garage. NASCAR investigated the incident and found that there was no hate crime committed, but, President Donald Trump publicly commented calling the incident a “Hoax”.

Regardless of the controversy surrounding this, this moment put NASCAR in the mainstream for a few weeks. Most importantly, it highlighted NASCAR making a true effort to step away from negative stereotypes and make the sport welcoming for everyone.

However, going “Viral” can also have negative consequences. In the fall of 2021, Brandon Brown won the NASCAR Xfinity Series race at Talladega. After the race, pit reporter Kelly Stavast incorrectly interpreted a fan chant of “F**k Joe Biden” as “Let’s Go Brandon”.

That chant became a viral rallying cry of protest against President Joe Biden. This caused many sponsors to turn away from him, and he’s never been able to fully recover since. Elly Productions goes into the story in detail in the video below.

This is not a moment NASCAR is proud of in the slightest. Many people may not know that this is the origin of the “Let’s Go Brandon” chant, and, NASCAR wants to keep it that way.

Going “Viral” takes a confluence of multiple factors coming together to create a “Perfect Storm”. However, going “Viral” is not always a positive or unifying thing. Sometimes it allows NASCAR to take a stand when they need to, or it gives negative publicity to an innocent bystander.

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Joshua Lipowski

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