Learning From Nascar’s All-Star Race

Nascar’s All-Star Race had all the right ingredients to be a fantastic event. The racing was fantastic, the new aero package worked well, and Nascar’s young guns were at the forefront of the racing. Rookies Chase Elliott and Ryan Blaney battled hard in the Sprint Showdown, third-year driver Kyle Larson barely lost the main event to Joey Logano, and sophomore Trevor Bayne made a daring last-lap pass to advance to the main race.

However, as Nascar does year after year, it tinkered with the format of the all-star race, and it ended up hurting the sport. The last 13 lap segment was supposed to feature the first 11 cars pitting and dropping to the back of the pack, forcing them to fight their way through traffic to the front of the field. However, after Matt Kenseth failed to make a mandatory pit stop, half the field was trapped a lap down with no way to get back on the lead lap, creating a disjointed, confusing finish.

Although the racing was exciting, the confusing format was difficult for fans, drivers, and even the announcers to follow. Forcing part of the field to pit is an interesting idea, but for the future Nascar must clearly define and standardize its rules to ensure everyone is on the same page. Nascar keeps getting its decisions 90% right–it will need to clear that last 10% to truly reestablish its standing among fans.

The Problem With the All-Star Race

The All-Star Race is supposed to be one of the best events of the year. A Saturday night at Charlotte where the best names in the sport battle for a chance at a million dollars. However, in recent years this star-studded spectacle has become a snoozefest. The 2015 edition featured no cautions, almost no passing, and an uneventful battle for the finish, as Denny Hamlin won by over a second. Drivers such as 2nd place Kevin Harvick blamed the new rules package, which makes passing very difficult. However, the problems with the All-Star Race didn’t begin this year–they’ve been around for over a decade, and Nascar hasn’t come close to fixing them.

While all-star games in other sports, such as the NBA and the NFL have over 10 million viewers, Nascar’s All-Star races struggle to break 3. Part of this is simply the nature of the sport. In the NFL, the only time you see the best of the best on the field together, the only time you can see Calvin Johnson, Dez Bryant, and Odell Beckham on the same field is during the Pro Bowl. In Nascar, we see the best  drivers on the same track every single Sunday–by including the 20 best racers, all the All-Star Race does is eliminate the backmarkers in the bottom half of the field. Cutting the field more, to 15 or even 10 drivers, would help increase interest by making the race feel more special and less like a normal Saturday night.

The main draw of the All-Star Race is the million-dollar prize. However, in a day and age where drivers routinely earn $5 million in annual winnings and match that in endorsements, a million bucks doesn’t mean what it used to. Nascar needs to increase the prize money–awarding 2 million dollars for a win and 5 million for sweeping the race segments would create better, more spirited racing. Nascar needs to bring back elements of the old All-Star Races as well–inverting the field and introducing eliminations would make for a much more exciting race.

 

The Saga of Josh Wise: How Reddit Made Nascar History

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 aJosh Wisend 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.

2. 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

Much Doge. Wow.

Doge, the Shiba Inu Dog which inspired an internet meme as well as Dogecoin

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

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 02: Josh Wise, driver of the #98 Dogecoin / Reddit.com Ford, on track during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 2, 2014 in Talladega, Alabama.  (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

Wise’s 98 on the race track (Photo by Brian Lawdermilk/Getty Images)

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.

Much votes. Very win. Wow.

Wise celebrates being voted into the All-Star 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.