The 2020 NASCAR Silly Season has been one for the ages. If you’re unfamiliar, “Silly Season” is the term the stock car racing community uses to describe the various wheelings and dealings of drivers, teams, and/or sponsors that shake up during and between seasons. Much as with stick and ball sports there’s a lot of good natured speculation and fantasizing between fans and the media about what could unfold…or would be just plain cool to see. So many storylines are unfolding before our eyes: 7x champion Jimmie Johnson’s retirement opening up a top ride, Kyle Larson’s potential return to NASCAR, and Bubba Wallace’s cornucopia of 2021 options just to name a few. Everyone’s got an opinion on what they’d like to see, and most of us are aware that we have no idea what’s actually going to pan out. The trouble is, too many of us haven’t grasped that entirely.
Over the last few weeks, the lion’s share of speculation has been regarding Bubba Wallace’s 2021 plans. According to media reports Wallace has been offered everything from a Chip Ganassi ride to part ownership in Richard Petty Motorsports to run alongside the sponsorships he’s secured for the next couple of seasons. Perhaps the juiciest rumor however involves Denny Hamlin, basketball legend Michael Jordan, and Wallace himself switching RPM’s manufacturer and expanding to a two car team. Portions of this seem plausible, but big hurdles in this idea exist and seem highly unlikely. The one major problem with this story though was how quickly the NASCAR social media community ate it up without even considering the context. News “broke” Wednesday from a sports blogging site that claimed the deal was locked up and that an alliance with Joe Gibbs Racing was practically a done deal. Retweets, shares and comments soon flooded as this premature “fact” was reaching every corner of the Internet. One issue though: the whole thing might be bullshit…
At the time of this writing, most factors of that article have been debunked, and the article itself is now mostly retractions, but still owing to the possibility that some of the factors could play out as originally written. The author himself, who I don’t wish to name but has been very open about the mistakes, has posted public apologies and claims that he had a source that gave him this information. This is just one example, and I don’t mean to pick on any one particular writer, but this proves a point that we collectively as a NASCAR community need to stop thinking of ourselves as insiders.
We as NASCAR fans are a unique bunch. We can be the smartest and most logical at times while still falling over ourselves to wantonly spread a flimsy rumor. Criticism of a favorite driver can be defended with statistics and analysis catalogued for just such an occasion, dating back decades if needed. But by this same token the same person could just as easily go whole ass into a baseless headline because we want so hard to believe in it. Soon this falsehood is spread to their friends while attention bloggers like myself could choose to make catchy headline articles owing to “rumors” instead of the more appropriate term, “horse-shit.” This is a very specific issue to NASCAR fans, as the transparency between us and the athletes, sponsors and team members is frankly remarkable. Most all of us have an anecdote or two about engaging with someone who competes in NASCAR: maybe a liked tweet, comment reply, or maybe even a full blown meet and greet. All of those are fantastic memories to share and treasure…but we can’t confuse them with a business relationship. Spying on replies doesn’t make us investigative journalists, and reading a deep dive forum post doesn’t give us an inside tip. Even if we are lucky enough to have a personable relationship with someone in the industry, we have to face some tough facts. No one is going to tell you something they wouldn’t mind if it went public, and a secret between two people is only kept when one of them is dead.
If we’re not careful, and keep boasting unconfirmed rumors as facts, we’re likely to lose our positive relationship with the industry. I write this solely as a fan, as I know only fans will be the ones to read it. There’s nothing wrong with viewing ourselves as closer to our sport than our stick and ball counterparts, but it’s a privilege that can easily be taken away, and walls can be built instantly. There is nothing that requires a driver or crew member to talk to us, to share anecdotes or even drop a speculation or two along the way…most of them seem to do it as they started as fans first. But if we collectively can’t use our heads when confronted with a rumor in NASCAR, we don’t deserve the transparency we’ve been given from them in the first place. Take a minute, take a breath, and speculate responsibly.
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