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Vickers Netting Love from Fans

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 25 2009
(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

(Photo by John Harrelson/Getty Images for NASCAR)

By Rick Minter  | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Near the end of this year’s Daytona 500, NASCAR’s biggest race of the year, Brian Vickers had an on-track run-in with the sport’s biggest star, Dale Earnhardt Jr., an encounter many figured would bring out the boo birds for Vickers.

But when all the smoke cleared several days later, and all the Internet postings from fans were figured in, Vickers had scored a public relations upset victory, in the fans’ eyes at least.

Losing a PR contest was an all-new experience for Earnhardt, who told reporters at Auto Club Speedway the next week that he found it “interesting” to be on the other side of the fence for a change.

“I did get ripped up quite a bit,” he said. “It’s kind of different being on that side of it.”

Even Vickers seemed taken aback by the turn of events that resulted from the wreck on the frontstretch as the two raced for the “Lucky Dog” free pass that goes to the first driver one lap down each time the caution flag flies.

“I almost have to apologize to the fans,” he said. “I just assumed that obviously with Junior being the most popular person by far and away that this was going to be my fault no matter what happened [and] everyone was going to side with him.

“The fans as a whole have been very supportive and really judged the situation based on the actions and not on anyone’s popularity…

“I saw polls where 90 percent of the fans said it was his fault, and 60 percent of them claim to be his fans, which has really been a shift in popular opinion from what I’ve seen in the past.”

It should be no surprise that Vickers mentioned the fans first in his comments or that he was aware of how the issue was playing out online. He’s generally considered the garage leader in communicating with the public through modern technology.

He has two websites, brianvickers.com and clubvickers.com, and is a participant in both myspace.com and facebook.com.

The initiative has grown to the point that he’s hired an assistant, Don Rohr, to handle the administrative details.

 “It started out with something really small,” he said. “I had facebook and myspace and wanted to expand it. It’s another way to reach the fans and have more access to them on a personal level.”

Vickers said his websites are mostly racing-related ma terial, while the social networking sites allow him to share more of his personal life with his fans. There are links back and forth between all of the sites.

“I had the opportunity to expand into social networking, where people communicate, share pictures, stories, share their lives,” he said.

The response has been far bigger than he envisioned.

 “It really blew up, just expanded faster than I could manage it myself.”

He’s now getting 100 requests a day from people wanting to be added to his facebook friends list, and the total number of friends has passed 4,000 and continues to climb.

Even though Rohr handles details, Vickers still does his own posting on his social networking sites. He writes about, and post dphotos of, himself with friends, on vacation, skydiving and and other off-track pursuits. He said he always tries to be conscious of the content matter, keeping it as clean as possible.

“All you have in life is respect and your reputation, and if you tarnish your reputation and people don’t respect you because you say things you shouldn’t say, it doesn’t matter if you’re a race driver or not,” he said. “You should think twice before you say or post something. You can get your point across without teaching kids the wrong message.”

And, he said, once something objectionable hits the Internet it may never go away.

“You have to keep in the back of your mind that your grandkids could see it,” he said.

Even though he’s reaching out to fans through modern methods, he hasn’t forsaken the time-honored way of communicating with the masses. He still does the meet-and-greet appearances and still signs lots of autographs.

 “It still amazes me every time somebody asks for my autograph,” he said. “I’m more than happy to give it to them.”

And his time spent on his computer doesn’t mean he’s given up on traditional means of communication. He still reads newspapers fairly often, and he’s by no means living in a virtual world, addicted to his electronic devices.

“I caution everyone not to do that,” he said. “You can become consumed with one of these [computers]…. If I have a choice of talking to friend on [Instant Messaging] or going and having a beer with a buddy, I’m going to have a beer with my buddy.

“Technology is a great t ool, but it’s just a tool, a means to an end.”

Rick Minter | Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Wednesday, March 25 2009
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