It’s been a couple of days since ESPN’s Keith Olbermann flew off the handle with tweets during the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race at Watkins Glen this past Sunday. I've had a couple of days to digest the entire tweet war between Olbermann and NASCAR fans and can say that the ESPN host was both right, and wrong.
A day prior to Sunday's NASCAR race at the Glen, race driver Kevin Ward Jr. was killed during an on-track incident and wreck. It appears that Ward was angry following the wreck. He exited his wrecked car, and walking into the path of on-coming sprint cars, in what appears to have been an effort to let the driver he felt had wrecked him have a piece of his mind. That driver was Tony Stewart.
The car that struck Ward, killing him, was driven by Tony Stewart who was competing in the event outside of his job as a NASCAR Sprint Cup series driver. This took place at Canandaigua Motorsports Park in New York on Saturday night. The small dirt track is located about an hour away from Watkins Glen. The race, and the event, was a local race and not a NASCAR event.
What amazed me about the string of tweets was the impression garnished from Olbermann's first tweet. It indicated to me that the ESPN Sports Personality had no clue about the difference between NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Racing and a sprint car dirt track race.
Sprint Cup is not a “sprint car”
For some reason many people in the national sports media thought that the style of dirt track racing that was going on when Ward’s death occurred was somehow governed by NASCAR. Or, that somehow it was associated with NASCAR. Apparently Olbermann was one of those uninformed journalists. I think I know why the confusion. There’s actually a couple of reasons.
One is the word “Sprint” The top level of NASCAR racing is sponsored by the company Sprint. The series used to be sponsored by a company called Winston. So the cars in that series are called Sprint Cup Series race cars. Nationwide Insurance sponsors the second level of NASCAR racing so those cars are called Nationwide Series race cars.
Race cars can be stock cars, dragsters, funny cars, monster trucks, Indy cars, and sprint cars. A sprint car is an open wheeled winged race car that runs on dirt tracks across the country. Ward and Stewart were racing dirt track "sprint cars." They were not racing a "stock car" race car in a NASCAR Cup Race being sponsored by a company named Sprint. It seems to be the simple piece of information that Olbermann was missing.
Right about part of the Tweet
All of that being said, I was watching the race as well on Sunday as I always do. Many of the drivers and people involved in NASCAR gave a shout out to a fellow driver who had died. Even though Ward was not involved in NASCAR and many of these drivers had never met him it is still a very tight community.
Many NASCAR drivers jump down to race in smaller divisions, or on local dirt tracks, just like Stewart was doing. Almost all of the drivers in a professional stock car ride came from local tracks. So, giving shout outs to a grieving family is perfectly OK. It's a grass roots sport.
Leading into Sunday's NASCAR race news about Ward's death had hit. NASCAR fans were posting tweets like crazy as they do prior to any race. The tweets range from shout outs to drivers, predictions, and more. The normal stuff. There were also plenty of tweets touching on Ward, the dirt track race, Stewart, and such.
It's become common for people to tweet during live sporting events. It's also common for companies and sponsors to jump in and tweet as part of their promotional and PR efforts. That's what happened with a tweet from NASCAR's twitter account:
“@NASCAR With heavy hearts, we turn our attention to today's #CheezIt355.
#NASCAR Countdown begins now on @ESPNNASCAR”
It was a tweet that went from “Sorry for your lose” but “Onto The Show!” Obviously somebody was hard at work managing the twitter feed. I'm sure they had an approved list of hashtags to use that were relative to the race, race track, racing news, teams, and sponsors. They probably were posting as fast as they could.
The tweet apparently rubbed Olberman the wrong way. He took to twitter and posted a re-tweet calling NASCAR out on the hard commercial pivot. And boy did things go South fast. Soon Olbermann was in a battle of tweets with angry NASCAR fans. Many made good points, including tweets from Olbermann.
But what caught my attention was the fact that he seemed to be wondering why NASCAR was not canceling the race. Olbermann didn't seem to pick up on the fact that people were calling him out on not knowing why NASCAR was not cancelling the race on Sunday.
His first tweet dumbfounded me because I figured that a professional sports journalist and commentator for ESPN would know that NASCAR was not involved in the dirt track race that Ward was killed after being struck. He tweeted:
“If @NASCAR wants to run anyway today I can't argue against it. Death is part of their business. But spare us the "so we move on" BS.”
Why would NASCAR cancel the race? It would be like the NFL cancelling a game because a CFL player, or Arena Football player, suffered a tragedy. If he had that simple fact right and left out the “If @NASCAR wants to run anyway today..." part. He should have only gone with the "so we move on" line of thought he probably would have instantly been joined by many NASCAR fans echoing his feeling.
It just goes to show you that even a high dollar professional ESPN guy does not know everything. But for the record; I think he was right to call the NASCAR twitter feed out on the tweet. And apparently so did somebody in NASCAR as the post was soon deleted.