NASCAR’s breakout star on the track in 2011 was Brad Keselowski. After stepping into the famous #2 Miller Lite Dodge, Brad won three times and had a serious run at the championship. Along the way, he won over fans with his take-no-crap attitude behind the wheel.
In 2012, Keselowski has continued to blow up—on Twitter. After a literal explosion halted the Daytona 500 last month, Keselowski made national headlines by Tweeting photos, first from inside his stopped race car, and then of the aftermath of the crash, as he investigated the cleanup. With bored race fans and a rare Monday-night audience waiting for the race to resume, Keselowski and his phone showed the rest of the sports world the true power of social networking. We spoke with Keselowski, 28, recently, and he told us about how he got the idea to Tweet from the track.
How did the phone come to be in your car in the first place?
It’s a long story, so bear with me. Racing can be dangerous. I think we all know that. Occasionally, people get hurt. I was at this race in California in 2007, and I got in a really bad wreck. I wasn’t hurt, but people thought that I was because my helmet got broken. They figured I had brain issues, and they were right. [Laughs] But it wasn’t from the wreck. They flew me out to this hospital in L.A., and L.A. is a pretty big city, and it takes awhile to get anywhere because of traffic. When they flew me out, I didn’t have my phone, my wallet, my clothes—nothing. I was in decent condition, but imagine yourself in this hospital in the middle of fuckin’ nowhere without your wallet, clothes, and phone.
ESPN was covering the race, and they said I was airlifted off, and they didn’t really update my condition. My mom kind of freaked out. My friends. It was a rough deal. It wasn’t a good feeling. It felt shitty.
Fast forward to a test at Road Atlanta last year. Again, I got in a serious accident, and I got airlifted off. This time, I had my phone with me in my car. I put my phone in my pocket, and I get to the hospital, and I can text my mom and say, “Hey you are gonna read in the news that I was airlifted out, but I want you to know I’m OK beforehand.” That helped her out a lot. It helped me have some peace of mind while I was at the hospital. I also had some fun with it and tweeted out a picture of my broken ankle, which some people thought was pretty cool.
You say cool. We thought it looked pretty gross.
How about gnarly? Anyway, that’s where it all came from.
In the Daytona 500, how long were you stopped before you remembered you had stashed the phone?
Probably a minute.
Where was it in the car?
I can’t say. It’s top secret. I am afraid someone might steal it.
NASCAR sometimes has long delays. But usually you are on pit road when the race is stopped. This time, you were stuck on the backstretch miles away from the media. Did that play a part in this thing taking off?
It was just the perfect storm. There was a cool story. I mean how often do you see a jet dryer blow up? I was able to provide access that no one else could.
If you are going to stop the race for two hours, at least something exploded.
Yeah, if it was a rain delay, it wouldn’t have been very cool.
Did the other drivers know what you were up to?
Yes. They didn’t really support it. They thought I was crazy, but I didn’t really care.
You put your Twitter handle and a bunch of followers as a sponsor on your truck in Daytona on the Friday before the big race. How many followers did that earn you?
About 5,000 to 10,000.
And how many did you pick up while you were Tweeting during the race?
At what point did you realize that you were stealing the show?
[Laughs] Not until after the race. I checked Twitter and read some of the posts. It wasn’t my intent to steal the show. I was just trying to have fun with the fans.
Between Danica, the explosion, and your tweets, do you think some people forgot that someone actually won the Daytona 500?
Absolutely, yeah. I kinda feel bad for Matt Kenseth on that. He deserves credit. He just won the biggest race of the year.
Does it bother you that a lot of people just know you as “that Twitter guy”?
No, not really. Why would it?
NASCAR can't be upset that the official Twitter feed, @NASCAR, picked up more than 86,000 followers last month.
I did not know that. They didn’t say anything to me about it at all. I don’t know if that’s a ringing endorsement or a private scorning. I’m not sure.
You have a reputation in NASCAR as a guy who doesn’t back down. Have you gotten into any fights on twitter?
All the time. I was in one yesterday. Kevin Harvick was saying, “Real men drink Bud,” or some shit like that. So I Tweeted him that, “I don’t know about real men, but I know that hot girls drink Miller Lite, and that’s what I care about!”
You set the bar pretty high. How do you top this and keep your followers entertained?
The easiest way to top it is to not try to top it. Just be yourself and be real, that’s why it was so popular. I will be true to myself, and I think people like that. You don’t have to have a plan to top it. But anything’s possible, man. I’ve got some cool ideas on cool stuff that we are going to do that’s real and authentic. But I’m not ready to say it yet. I appreciate that everybody finds this so interesting.