Very quietly, with no cameras or fanfare, Ryan Briscoe met the winner of his contest Thursday afternoon at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway administration building. Credentials were in order, so papers were signed and lanyards adjusted. The fun was about to begin.
This is a story about giving and receiving. Briscoe is one of several drivers in the IZOD IndyCar Series who has taken it upon himself to make a connection through social media to race fans. It’s the equivalent of providing your own positive public relations, but there’s far more to it than self-promotion. For Briscoe and others, like Scott Dixon and Tony Kanaan, Twitter giveaways are about rewarding the people who (usually) pay to watch them race.
In Briscoe’s case, the winners were Laura Kurek of Williamsburg, Pa., and her friend, Bernadette Robinson of Philadelphia. Kurek was the closest to Briscoe’s four-lap qualifying average in a contest on Briscoe’s Twitter account -- @ryanbriscoe6. The prize was round-trip airfare for two from anywhere in the United States, several nights in the downtown Marriott, free suite passes, garage passes and transportation to Sunnday’s 100th anniversary Indianapolis 500. Not to mention garage tours, photos, insider access, and other swag and perks.
Not terribly unusual as contests go, except for one major detail: Briscoe and his wife, Nicole, fund the prizes out-of-pocket. No sponsor, no freebies for them. It’s a connection they make with fans that gives them nearly as much joy and excitement as it does the winner.
“We do it more or less to make a connection with race fans,” Briscoe said. “I got into social media a little later than most, but we decided last year to try this and see if it got people interested. It was a big hit, so we did it again this year. Honestly, it’s so much fun to see people react to everything. They’re having the time of their lives, but we’re enjoying it just as much as they are.”
Dixon has been giving away electronic devices, sunglasses and other goodies to fans who correctly answer trivia questions on @scottdixon9. He’s given away so much stuff that he’s been dubbed the Oprah of Twitter. All but the sunglasses, a gift from Oakley, were Dixon’s to purchase.
“It’s just a fun thing to do, a way to give back to fans and get them involved,” Dixon explains. “It’s not so much the gifts that they want. They want to be the first one to answer the question.”
The first weekend of practice, Dixon welcomed a fan from Greenwood, Ind., who correctly predicted the 1-2-3 finishing order for the IZOD IndyCar Series race at Barber Motorsports Park. “I’d had that contest going for almost three years, and nobody picked the top three in order,” Dixon said. “Then all of a sudden three people hit it at Barber, so we had to use the tiebreaker.”
The prize? A $7,000 watch.
As for the Briscoes, they took the time to greet Kurek and Robinson and show them the things they wouldn’t normally get to see, even if they paid. “I keep telling them ‘thank you’ over and over, but it could never be enough,” Kurek said. “This has been such an amazing experience. It’s been like a dream for us.”
The secret, though, is that it’s a dream for the Briscoes, too. They get the joy of seeing joy. And there’s nothing like the reaction of people who see the Indy 500 live for the first time.
“A lot of people see it on TV and know it’s a big race, but you don’t really know what it’s all about until you get here and see it in person,” Briscoe said. “This is really going to be a lifetime memory for her. I really feel blessed that I can do that for somebody.”
In some ways, it’s public relations in reverse – the gift that means more to the giver than receiver.