For fans, it doesn’t get more exciting than the 500. The first race of the season is typically action packed and filled with unexpected twists and turns. The 2012 race took this unpredictability to a new level, however.

For the first time, the race was run on Monday night during primetime due to 30 hours of rain delays. Dramatic wrecks and crashes took some of the sport’s iconic personalities out of Victory Lane contention – and even lead to a two hour red flag race stoppage. And yet, with all of this action, the impact of on the race was what made headlines come Tuesday morning.
That’s because another NASCAR and Daytona 500 first also happened under the lights of Daytona International Speedway on Monday night – a driver (Brad Keselowski) was tweeting from the track during the red flag. Broadcasters tap dancing to fill time while track officials and crew fought the fire were given a gift – covering a social media phenomenon as it unfolded before their eyes.

AP Photo/Bill Friel

As auto blog, Jalopnik, noted after the race, “If you were watching the race and weren’t on Twitter you were suddenly missing the latest information, the best jokes, and the inside views.” I couldn’t agree more. I tend to only follow Twitter updates about a race when I CAN’T watch it so I at least know the highlights of on-track activity. But on Monday night, I was glued to Tweetdeck, looking for more insider information from @Keselowski on the driver vantage point. And I wasn’t the only one. According to Brad himself (in a tweet, of course!), he picked up 130,000 new fans literally overnight. Monday’s events brought new meaning to the concept of second (or third) screen viewing!

There was also speculation on Tuesday whether NASCAR would punish Keselowski for his tweets as other sports leagues have done. But NASCAR made a great call, stating (again, via Twitter!) that not only would they not penalize Brad, but they “encourage our drivers to use social media to express themselves as long as they do so without risking their safety or that of others.”

While exciting and clearly very newsworthy, Monday night’s events were most likely once in a lifetime. What’s more, it was total serendipity for Keselowski who was riding with his iPhone during a race for the first time that night.

As a NASCAR fan that’s been fortunate enough to work in this awesome sport, I’m thrilled that more people who didn’t already love NASCAR had a chance to learn about it this week. I had countless conversations with coworkers, family members and friends who previously knew little about the sport that were engaged and interested. I think the most lasting effect will be increased usage of Twitter by racing fans across the country before, during and after races. No doubt there are more than a few Twitter newbies that joined this week after Monday’s activities. Let’s go racing!