Column: Dirt racing needs more than to play blame game

Editor’s note: This is the first column in the beginning of a long-term partnership with Dirt Modified Magazine, wherein columns will run in conjunction with the print and digital product. Subscribe to Dirt Modified Magazine here.

By Jeremiah Davis

Racing culture in 2018 is loud.

By that, I do not mean the decibels of a 604 Crate. I mean the discussion around the sport. There’s never been a time like this one, in which so many people have such an easy avenue to discuss, support and critique a sport they say they love.

Let’s get this out of the way early, though: since racing was invented, those who follow it have discussed, supported and criticized it. There’s never been a time – not once – when people thought Modified racing was perfect. That applies to every division on every surface, by the way. When we’re in the moment, racers and race fans all seem to want it like it was or like we think it should be.

I’m here in this space to discuss dirt Modified racing with you all once a month. (What a coincidence, right, since this is Dirt Modified Magazine? I know, I’m not funny. Moving on.) I’ve been writing about racing since 2007, when as a fresh-faced junior in high school I got to cover IMCA racing at Buena Vista Raceway.

Since that time, in covering racing in Eastern Iowa for a major newspaper, I’ve seen the transition from the early days of social media, where none of us really knew how it worked or how we could use it for racing news, to today, where it’s used in every way imaginable.

This column is not going to be about why social media is or will be the downfall of us all – or even the downfall of racing. I know most of you believe that, but stick with me for a minute or two here.

What’s always been clear to me about racing and racers is the profound passion for the sport. Highs are incredibly high and lows are incredibly low and the space in between is exhilarating. The problem is we don’t seem to know where to place our passion. We don’t know how to use it for productivity.

Facebook, Twitter, Snapchat and whatever other social media you can come up with is not what’s killing racing.

We’re killing racing.

You, me, the person you’re showing this to right now to tell them how wrong I am – we’re the ones killing racing.

Social media is what we make it. As a journalist working to cover the sport I love so dearly, Facebook and Twitter are a powerful to disseminate information. It seems impossible we shared rainout updates and results in any other way. The idea that reading it in the newspaper the next morning was the quickest way to get those results seems so primitive, it’s like a different lifetime. It’s opened doors to people in different areas to read and see racing in different parts of the country who wouldn’t otherwise have seen it.

When used productively, we can see who won at Deer Creek in the USMTS event and at Marshalltown in the IMCA event and be able to admire the high caliber of racers we get to see in this part of the country. It also enables someone in Iowa to know who Joe Duvall is and someone in Oklahoma to know who Hunter Marriott is.

What happens is people ruin things. We’re the best at being the worst when given something that can be misused.

We get sucked into complaining, and when we see an opinion we agree with posted online, we’re emboldened to be heard just the same. We have one more reason why this or that should be changed, and chime in. We tell Person A why they’re wrong and question their intelligence or sanity. It’s a waterfall of awfulness with Keyboard Cowboys leading the way.

Amid so much uncertainty with the future of racing, it’s our responsibility as racers – in the pits and out – to do our part to keep the sport alive. Too many promoters and track workers feel burdened by negativity and want no part of the sport, so they leave, and there’s no one there to pick up after them.

That does NOT mean we have to be positive all the time.

Tracks and sanctioning bodies that develop “no criticizing” rules are missing the point. Stifling your fanbase is an overreaction. When criticism is deserved, it should be heard. We cannot bury our heads in the sand and avoid change because we’re hard-headed or afraid. I’ve personally seen thick-skinned promoters weed out the comments they can recognize as nonsense and focus on the suggestions for improvement. Listening to the people who want to be home by 10 instead of the people who have 14 rule changes is an example.

That’s where we come back in.

Let’s use a hot-button issue in my neck of the woods: the IMCA Modified’s two-inch spoiler for those running the 604 Crate. There are viable and valuable opinions on both sides of that argument, and we won’t get into that here because that is a column all to itself. But how we discuss that debate helps shape what is heard.

Whether you believe IMCA will listen to you or not, is firing off “you suck,” or “well IMCA has to pad their pockets,” the best way to form your argument? The hard data is where the argument lies. Do your research. Look up results, find out who has a Crate and who doesn’t and bring facts to the table. The most convincing arguments are the ones based – gasp – in facts.

Social media is a powerful tool that can be used for good. Productive conversations CAN be had. I believe that, because I know there are countless intelligent, thoughtful people at the racetrack with productive ideas to help get racing back to a place where it can function successfully.

I would wager that a great many racing fan has personal responsibility high on their list of values. Taking ownership of how you behave and how you treat other people is a fundamental way of life for so many of us. Why, then, we don’t apply that online baffles me to know end. Instead, we blame the forum and its accessibility.

I’ll admit there are many days I’m scrolling through my phone, wishing we never found these ways to share information instantly and from anywhere. I’ll admit I sometimes wish I could throw my phone in the lake and live like Ron Swanson in that episode of Parks and Rec where he leaves his problems behind for a cabin in the woods. But I can’t and we can’t.

We can’t bury our heads in the sand. We can’t let the sport we love be torn down by negativity with no purpose. If we have suggestions, make them productive. If we have praise, make it specific.

It’s up to us to keep racing alive and well. It’s up to us to make sure that 15 to 20 years from now we aren’t just talking about that time Zack VanderBeek beat Stormy Scott for the win at Humboldt Speedway, rather watching the next generation of racers who were inspired by these men and women we’re watching now.

Social media is not killing racing. Live streaming is not killing racing. We’re killing racing. Let’s stop doing that.

Facebook Comments