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“Trouble! The #79 car, sideways …”/The Good, The Bad and The Ugly

Bristol Motor Speedway, aka ‘Thunder Valley,’ is always a source of action and drama when the NASCAR circus rolls into town. And, for the Nationwide Series, the fireworks began prior to the start of the Scotts EZ Seed 300 one week ago today.

From -
“Jennifer Jo Cobb climbed out of the No. 79 Ford of 2nd Chance Motorsports prior to the start of the Scotts EZ Seed 300 on Saturday at Bristol Motor Speedway after a conflict with team owner Rick Russell.

Cobb failed to take the green flag after leaving the car shortly before the race's warm-up laps began. The conflict came about when Russell decided to start and park his car at Bristol in order to save it for the race next week at Fontana.”

Almost immediately after news of Cobb’s self-described ‘Jerry Maguire moment’ broke, sides were chosen (read more here and here). Fans and onlookers were determining who was right and who was wrong in those critical moments immediately after word got out of what happened.

As the week passed, the situation literally boiled down to ‘he said, she said.’ And the only people who know exactly what happened are those involved – Jennifer Jo Cobb and Rick Russell, owner of 2nd Chance Motorsports.

*For more on what happened in the Nationwide Series garage at Bristol, check out these articles:
Jennifer Jo Cobb Stands For What She Believes; Walks Away Before Start Of Bristol Event
Jennifer Jo Cobb quits team after dispute over start-and-park
Why Jennifer Jo Cobb decided to opt out of Saturday's Nationwide race
Jennifer Jo Cobb Seeking New Deal
Driver refuses to start Nationwide race after she says that owner ordered her to start and park

I bring up what went down between Cobb and 2nd Chance Motorsports, now that the dust has settled (sort of), because it provides an interesting case study (so-to-speak) illustrating what to do - and what not to do - when it comes to interactive social media and crisis response management.

First, the good – Jennifer Jo Cobb

From a December 2010 article on The Daly Planet
“There is perhaps no better example in NASCAR of someone who has used social media, amateur NASCAR blogs and the Internet to develop effective sponsor exposure and a strong fan base. All of this is necessary due to one well-known fact.

"No one covers trucks, they just don't," said a popular NASCAR journalist to me in November. The drivers who get the most attention on TV in the truck races are the cross-overs from the Sprint Cup Series. Kyle Busch and Kevin Harvick are big draws when they race a truck. For a single truck team owner/driver like Cobb, there is simply little help with exposure from the NASCAR media. Cobb's answer was to make it personal. She has a thriving community on Facebook of pages for both her race team and for herself as a driver. On Twitter, Cobb speaks easily with fans and has created lasting bonds with many. The Internet is full of NASCAR blogs with stories and features on Cobb. “

Jennifer Jo Cobb is making the most of the communication avenues available to build up her brand, connect with her fans and market herself to those with the deep pockets in order to make her dream of racing a reality. Being a woman trying to make it in big-time stock car racing, Cobb knew she had to do something unique, something to bring attention to her and her race team. Essentially, it was take to social media and reach out to her fans or pose scantily-clad in a ‘lad mag’ to garner some coverage. Cobb chose the former.

Jennifer Jo Cobb built her support from the ground up, in true grass-roots style - much like her race team and business interests.

So, when it all went down before the green flag flew, Cobb already had established relationships with her fans and the avenues to communicate with them. In turn, her fans had come to expect an open honesty in her communications, trusting what she had to say.

Most important of all, Cobb kept those avenues open.

Fans could visit her Facebook and Twitter pages and be kept in the loop as to what was going on in the Bristol garage. Fans could also have a say – two-way, interactive media – but we’ll get to that later.

The Bad – 2nd Chance Motorsports

Coming at this after the fact, I cannot speak to the quality, history or effectiveness of the Facebook and Twitter pages for 2nd Chance Motorsports – I only know they existed prior to this past weekend’s race at Bristol Motor Speedway.

What I can gather from various reports on the fall-out after Cobb walked away, the folks at 2nd Chance Motorsports should be wishing for a second chance to deal with the fan and media reaction better than they did.

Before sunset on Saturday they had to take down their Facebook account because of all the messages they were receiving. Since then their Twitter page has also been taken down.

Social networking at its best, it’s great when it’s there and provides and inside look for fans of the sport as well as a great communication tool for teams and drivers. Yet, when something goes wrong it helps deliver blows.

After the incident on Saturday the voice behind the Twitter page for 2nd Chance [Motorsports] did their best to explain the situation to fans. But every one of their messages came off in a negative way and weren’t well received. In a way, they just added fuel to the fire.

Messages like: “For anyone that disagrees with any decisions we make, no one is making you ‘follow’ us.” Or, “It is not my place to give the details.  All I will say is wait for the official word if you want to know the true story.”

There was also, “Owner unable to hear reporter track-side due to hearing loss from fighting in Vietnam.  Want to blame him for that too?”

Wow. If ever there was a textbook example of what not to do, that’s it.

Another strike against 2nd Chance Motorsports – they took down/suspended their Twitter and Facebook accounts following a barrage of negative comments after Cobb told her side of what happened, live on ESPN.

At the exact moment when they needed an avenue to get their side of the story out, to diffuse any rumors or lies about what was going on in the Nationwide garage at Bristol, 2nd Chance Motorsports did the one thing they absolutely shouldn’t have done – they cut themselves off. (as of this posting, the pages are still not up/available)

I would also venture a guess that there was not a long-standing fan/race team relationship over interactive social media – unlike Jennifer Jo Cobb, who started building such a relationship from lap one.

(It also would have helped to have a calmer, cooler head manning the social media avenues to respond to the criticism.)

The Ugly – The Aftermath

Just because the race is over and the Nationwide Series has moved on to Auto Club Speedway in Fontana, the ripples from the Cobb vs. 2nd Chance debacle are still radiating throughout the NASCAR community. Accusations are flying and the mud is being slung.

Russell said Cobb put his phone number as well as his wife's on Facebook, and that he's had at least 25 harassing calls. He said the 2nd Chance Motorsports website had to be shut down. Cobb said the number was put up by somebody she didn't know and that she had it taken down.

From --
The owner of 2nd Chance Motorsports has filed a police report alleging larceny charges against Jennifer Jo Cobb, …
Rick Russell alleged that Cobb and crew chief Steve Kuykendall stole $16,000 worth of race car parts from his Mooresville, N.C. facility. Russell said police found about half of the missing parts on Sunday in a storage bin used by Cobb not far from the shop.

According to Kuykendall via his Twitter account, Russell threatened him and Cobb's crew with violence while the situation was unfolding at the beginning of the race. "Car owner rick russel threatened myself and anyone associated with jennifer with a jack handle in the pits!" Kuykendall also said on Twitter that "Rick russell is making lots of untrue accusations about jennifer and I. The only thing we are guilty of is wanting to race!"

She plans no legal action against Russell as long as he returns a few items -- including the seat, dry brake system and shock -- that she owns.

Russell said the seat already has been removed from the car.

"I don't think it's worth it," Cobb said of legal action. "If I can get at least one or two of my things back, I'm satisfied to walk away."

Cobb said Russell tried to have Kuykendall arrested for trying to retrieve personal belongings of hers and guests in the hauler.

"I hosted female soldiers for my Drive2Honor program and he had a soldier in tears because he refused to let her have her purse," Cobb said. "After an hour and NASCAR intervening, she got it back."

It’s unfortunate that for-all-intents-and-purposes a contract matter between driver and team is being played out in front of everyone. Such is the media world in which we all operate, for better or worse – the 24/7 news cycle, instant and constant access via interactive social media. Even if Cobb didn’t walk away from the 79 car live on ESPN minutes before the start of the race, and instead did it late Friday night under cover of darkness, Baltimore Colts-to-Indianapolis style, news of her departure would have gotten out, eliciting a similar, if not the same reaction.

Duh, winning

It human nature to want to boil down a situation like this into who won and who lost – who came out AOK or better and who ended up worse for having gone through it.

Without question, Cobb came out of this on top -- at least so far. She has a ride for today’s Royal Purple 300 at Auto Club Speedway – the #41 Mustang with Rick Ware Racing. [Read more about it here, here and here]

From --
"I've got a ride for California, my T-shirt sales have quadrupled this week, I've got fans who are sending in donations to make sure that I have the money to go racing with other teams, I've got people calling me to give speeches because I give speeches about perseverance and determination and reaching your goals," Cobb said. "I want to stick up for my integrity and reputation, (and) the best thing for me right now is just to focus on the business side of it."

Cobb said she is simply trying to focus on getting rides for the rest of the season, instead of trying to defend herself from Russell's various accusations.

"This is a business," Cobb said. "There's a Jen Cobb behind the scenes who sat with her mom and went and saw her dad and hung out with friends. Then there's Jennifer Jo Cobb the racecar driver who is in this for business. It's Jen's dream to go race, so Jennifer Jo Cobb has to work on making that happen.

Meanwhile, Rick Russell and 2nd Chance Motorsports are forging ahead, going to Auto Club Speedway with a different driver – and going after Cobb and her crew, accusing them of larceny. In the opinion of many fans - “so he doesn’t have enough money to run a full race, but he has funds to pursue legal action against Cobb and her team?”

This is not the place to pass judgement on who is in the wrong and who is in the right, to determine which party did the other the ‘wrongest’ -- as I mentioned before, the only people who really know the truth are those involved.

In terms of effective use of interactive social media, Jennifer Jo Cobb got it right. From lap one, she established a presence in the social media space, interacting with fans and marketing herself via new media channels. And when controversy struck, she kept those channels open, keeping her fans informed as to what was going on, in as level-headed a voice as possible.

2nd Chance Motorsports got it wrong. When the controversy hit, new media channels were closed off. What little information did get through did nothing to help tell the race team’s side of the story, it only served to pour gasoline on an already volatile, emotional situation.

The take-away from this? There are no second chances when it comes to making an interactive social media impression.

The Value of iMedia

Here are a few hard stats -- in an easy-to-digest video format -- demonstrating the value behind iMedia and what it can do for you.

These come to us courtesy of our friends at Socialnomics

(if the embedded videos don’t happen to work, click on the title to go to YouTube and watch)

Social Media Revolution 2 (refresh)

Social Media ROI : Socialnomics

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