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NASCAR Puts Racing Fans in the Driver's Seat—at 190 MPH

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Online video will take you places you never expected to go. Thanks to a partnership between NASCAR and Twitter, one of those places was the driver’s seat of a champion stock car circling the track at up to 190 mph during the 2017 Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.

For the 10 playoff races in that series, Twitter users could sit alongside a favorite driver and watch the full race live as few get to experience it. It made for perfect companion viewing to the NBC TV broadcast.

The racing gods were definitely smiling on this partnership: The first week, at the Tales of the Turtles 400 at the Chicagoland Speedway in mid-September, the camera happened to be in the car driven by Martin Truex, Jr., who won the race.

“You got to see him from start to finish go all the way to victory lane and pull into victory lane and get out of his car—a super interesting kind of experience,” says Scott Warfield, managing director of social media for NASCAR.

The second week, the camera was in the car driven by Kurt Busch, who was definitely not the winner.

“In week two, we were riding along with Kurt Busch. He was involved in a pretty big wreck on the track, [and viewers] actually saw him get out and get up on the hood trying to fix the hood a little bit,” Warfield says. “The fans early on in this partnership are getting to see the good of NASCAR racing and sometimes the challenges of NASCAR racing.”

This is the first time NASCAR has streamed live with Twitter, but it’s not the first time the company has worked with Twitter (or the first time it’s streamed live from a race car during an event, for that matter). NASCAR has counted Twitter as an important partner for much of the last decade and the two have worked together around marquee events multiple times. In 2012, the two partnered on a hashtag page for a NASCAR event, a page that offered a curated selection of race content. During the 2016 Daytona 500, the two created a promotion called the Hashtag 500, giving away race memorabilia in real-time. When driver Chase Elliott was involved in a wreck, he pulled into the pit so his crew could pull off his damaged fender. In real-time, the NASCAR social team gave that fender away to a lucky fan who used the right hashtag.

“We gave away Dale Jr.’s driver suit that same race,” Warfield says. “It was the most mentions we’ve ever had in a single minute. I think it was 13,000 mentions that minute we were giving it away. They’ve been great partners, always willing to innovate and try something new with us, which for a brand like NASCAR is very enticing.”

In late 2016, NASCAR and Twitter started a conversation about working together during the playoffs, doing something that would bring the excitement of live video to millions of fans in the U.S. That quickly centered on delivering an in-car experience, something NASCAR had tried previously on other platforms. The team at NASCAR knew they could use that experience to make these live streams a success. NASCAR works with wireless recording specialists Broadcast Sports International (BSI), which makes the in-car cameras. BSI has created cameras and mounts that go on the roof, the rear bumper, and even the driver, creating custom installations determined by NASCAR safety requests. For this series, BSI’s cameras streamed 1280x720 progressive video to a wireless receiver at the highest point on each track. From there, the signal traveled to a BSI production truck, then to broadcast partner and NASCAR production trucks, and then to Twitter, which encoded it to multiple bitrates before transmitting it to a CDN for end-user distribution.

Camera placement changed from week to week. Broadcast partner NBC placed cameras in four to six cars each race so it could use those shots during broadcasts. NASCAR chose one of those cars to feature in the race’s Twitter stream. Sometimes the selection was determined by a sponsor, as in week two when Monster Energy was both the camera sponsor and Kurt Busch’s sponsor. That made the choice to feature him an easy one. Other weeks, NASCAR featured drivers with a large Twitter following, as it did in week three with Kevin Harvick. Since the video went out on Twitter, it made sense to get the biggest social media push possible.

NASCAR isn’t divulging any viewership numbers. It gets stats from Twitter, but keeps them private. All Warfield will say is that Twitter is pleased both with the number of people tuning in and how long they’re watching, and the numbers were holding steady at the time of this interview. Warfield suspected they’d rise in the playoffs’ final races as more drivers were eliminated and the competition got tougher.

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