Josh Wise is an unassuming guy. He keeps a low profile, quietly showing up week in and week out to compete in Phil Parsons’ #98 Ford. He usually finishes around 30th place in his races. He isn’t swarmed by starstruck fans eager to grab his autograph or take a picture. In sum, Wise isn’t the kind of guy you’d expect to be a part of Nascar history. But he is. Driving for an underfunded team, Wise secured sponsorship for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega with the backing of Nascar fans on Reddit, a popular content aggregating site. This event made headlines across the country and introduced thousands of new fans to the sport. How did this happen? Read on to find out.
1. Josh Wise
Wise got his start in Southern California, racing quarter midget cars. At 16, he won the USAC 3/4 Midget championship, making him the youngest winner in the history of the series. Once he reached Nascar’s national series, however, Wise flamed out. After a few promising years driving for Darrell Waltrip and Dale Earnhardt Jr in the Nationwide Series, Wise was let go. He bounced around between underfunded Sprint Cup teams for several years after that, never once in contention for a good finish. His best result was 19th place at Talladega in 2013. In 2014, Wise signed with Phil Parsons Racing, another perennial backmarker. He started the season of the same as usual, posting finishes in the 30’s. One race at Bristol, however, caught the attention of many. Wise, about to go a lap down, drove the wheels of off his Ford, holding off leader Kyle Busch for over 50 laps. This impressive driving performance did not go unnoticed, especially by members of the online community Reddit.
Reddit was founded in 2005. Calling itself “The Front Page of The Internet”, Reddit is basically a giant message board. It contains containing thousands of communities (called subreddits) where members post articles, pictures, and hold discussions on topics ranging from travelling to maps to science to Nascar. It was here, in the official Nascar subreddit, that the movement to fund Josh Wise was started. Reddit user Denis Pavel posted about Josh Wise in the Nascar subreddit, asking if there was any way they could sponsor Wise and give him some money. With the support of fellow Nascar fans, Pavel started the process of looking for sponsorship for Wise. He needed money, however. Pavel would find help from an unlikely source–DogeCoin.
3. Backing an UnderDoge
DogeCoin, similar to BitCoin, is an internet cryptocurrency. Both are being used more and more often for online transactions–they are untraceable, unhackable, and unregulated by the US government. Unlike the more popular BitCoin, DogeCoin was started as a joke and is far less valuable. While one BitCoin sells for $580, it takes about 2,500 DogeCoins to equal one US dollar.
DogeCoin, however, has its backers and users–many of them congregate on Reddit in the official DogeCoin subreddit. When one user suggested that DogeCoins could be used to help fund Wise, the entire community got on board. They contacted Wise and his owner Phil Parsons, and they agreed to the fundraiser. Wise’s fans raised around 9 million DogeCoins ($50,000), and in exchange got to design the paint scheme on the #98. While the events going on made national news, Wise and his team buckled down and prepared for Talladega.
4. Race Day
Wise rolled off 36th for the Aaron’s 499. At first, his weekend wasn’t shaping up too good–he had failed to rank higher than 25th during either of the practice sessions before the race. However, that wouldn’t stop him during the race. Talladega is a unique track–drivers run flat out all the way around, and have to line up in order to draft with each other, making their cars more aerodynamic and 3-5 mph faster. Because of this, small cars are able to hang with big teams and run near the front, something they don’t get to experience at most tracks on the Nascar circuit.
Wise took full advantage of this quirk near the end of the race, using the draft to move up near the leaders. With 20 laps to go, Wise was running 4th and in a position to challenge for the lead. It was an amazing moment for the 31 year old driver, whose career best finish in the Sprint Cup series is 19th. Unfortunately for Wise, he had to check up while racing for the lead in order not to wreck Kyle Busch. This slowed his momentum and shuffled him back to 20th place, where he finished the race.
5. The All-Star Race
At first, after Talladega, it seemed as though Josh Wise’s run in the Dogecoin car was done, a nice little story that would become a footnote to Nascar history. Then the All-Star Race came up. Nascar fans on Reddit began a campaign to vote Wise into the All-Star Race through the Nascar fan vote. Reddit users began developing bots, software applications which would vote hundreds of times a day for Wise. After Nascar instituted protections to stop these automated bots, Wise’s fans started voting by hand–some voted over a 1,000 times a day. Ultimately, Wise made it in to the All-Star Race through the fan vote, getting twice as many votes as second place Danica Patrick. Wise ended up finishing 15th in the race.
6. The Aftermath
Reddit’s campaign to help Wise is still ongoing–he plans to run the Dogecoin car again later this year. Although some of the buzz has died down, this episode in Nascar’s history is certainly one which will be long remembered.