Through the Paddock: The Orange Cone on racing fandom and Twitter fame

Aaron Bearden/Kickin' the Tires
  1. By Aaron Bearden, Motorsports Editor

Each week in Through the Paddock, Aaron Bearden takes the time to spotlight a member of the racing community in an effort for both himself and the fans to learn more about them. Interviewees can range from drivers to crew members, media representatives and more.

The audio version of this piece can be found here.

If you’ve been on Twitter as a NASCAR fan over the past six years, you’ve probably done it.

There you were – watching NASCAR at one of the tour’s various stops – when the unthinkable happened. No, not a vicious crash, or an unexpected war of words (or fists) on pit road.

Someone ran over the orange commitment cone coming to pit road.

Here we go. Time for action.

You rushed to Twitter, crafted up a clever tweet about running over a cone and made sure to tag @TheOrangeCone in it. You hit send, ready for your moment of social media glory.

Tweet sent, you began refreshing your Twitter app hoping to see the spoils of your efforts – a retweet, favorite or reply from that Orange Cone himself.

Sound crazy? To most outside of North American motorsports, it likely does. But here in the United States few Twitter accounts have had the celebrity (or controversy) of our own beloved Orange Cone.

From lewd jokes to legitimate racing takes, the Cone has proved one of racing Twitter’s most interesting follows over the past half-decade or more. Given that, Kickin’ the Tires asked the Cone’s real-life counterpart if he’d be willing to sit down for a few minutes at Winchester Speedway and detail the life of a notable anonymous account on one of social media’s biggest sectors.

While he refused to reveal his identity or break character, the Cone willingly accepted the opportunity.

How are you doing today, Cone?

The Orange Cone: Aaron, I’m always great. It’s phenomenal to be here. We’re at Winchester Speedway as we’re doing this interview. It’s a great day to be at the race track, and whenever I come to this particular race, I always know short track racing is going to be alive and well for a long time because the campgrounds are full. There’s lot of cars, the grandstands are packed. This is one of my favorite days of the whole year.

So, how did The Orange Cone even come about?

Way back when in 2005, I was sitting at the Rumble in Fort Wayne with a couple of friends of mine, one of them being Joey Dennewitz. Joey now works for Spire Sports and Entertainment, he’s a big heavy-hitter in the motorsports management world.

Joey and I were watching the races and to entertain ourselves we were commentating the races as they were happening. Every time there was a crash, we would need an infield reporter, obviously, to interview whoever was involved in whatever minor accident there was.

There was no one in the infield we could send it to other than the orange cone. So we would just send down to the Orange Cone.

‘Alright, thanks a lot Cone. Appreciate the update.’

We’d would just go on with our laughing. There were a couple people who did not think this was funny at all. They left. They were like, ‘this is the stupidest thing we’ve ever heard.’

But there were other people who thought it was really funny, so we kept doing it. We had a really great time.

A couple weeks later I was like, ‘You know, I should start a MySpace page for that stupid traffic cone.’ We started a MySpace page, and it ended up getting a few hundred – maybe 500 – friends back in the day. MySpace kind of started to get really stupid after a while, so I just let it ride.

Around July 2011, I was watching the XFINITY (then Nationwide) Series race at Indianapolis Raceway Park (now Lucas Oil Raceway), and Carl Edwards hit the cone at the end of pit road.

I thought, ‘You know what would be really funny? If I tweeted something from an orange cone that said ‘Ouch!’’

That’s basically what I did. Within a month of starting that account I had over 1000 followers, and it’s just been rolling ever since.

Let me get this straight. Carl Edwards, who allegedly doesn’t even have a Twitter account…

Twitterless Carl is the one who brought me to Twitter, yes.

Well. If someone wants to tell Carl thank you out on the farm or wherever he’s at now, I would appreciate that.

I think there would be a lot of people who had other choice words for Carl Edwards over starting The Orange Cone Twitter account at this point.

I like to use the word, and I’ve used this a couple of times today… Someone’s like, ‘How come you don’t get as many mentions? You’ve lost some followers.’

There’s such thing as cone fatigue, and I think people are really tired of my crap these days. Cone fatigue is a real thing.

How is life as one of the most recognizable anonymous accounts in racing? How do you approach each race weekend?

Well, I’ll tell you what. I get a lot of women… I’m joking.

I don’t ever have anything planned, to go to your question. I’ve been around racing my whole life, so I see what I see on the race track, or when I’m at the race track, and just kind of react to that naturally.

Having done this now for over six years, I’ve gotten to do some really incredible things that I wouldn’t have been able to do otherwise if I was just… You know who I am, so I’m not going to say my name.

If I was just going around as me, it wouldn’t have opened as many doors, for sure. I was just walking the grid here and talking to people. And granted, this is a late model race, not a Cup (Series) race, but it’s the same thing whenever I go to a NASCAR weekend. There’s a lot of people that just want to come up and say hi, whether it’s racers, team members or fans.

We all have an ego, right? So it’s really cool to have people come up and want to say hi to me. We go to the tweetups, like at Eldora (Speedway). To have even one person ever come up to me and want me to sign something just absolutely blows me away. I can not believe anybody would ever want my autograph for anything.

I’m not going to say it happens like a driver – I’m certainly not that type of personality – but the fact that it’s happened as many times as it has is just mind-boggling to me.

You’ve already kind of hinted at this, but has that also led to opportunities in your personal life outside of the Cone?

It actually has opened a lot of doors in my actual personal life. I’ve made a lot of really great friends that I don’t think I would have made otherwise. I’ve met some really special people that I don’t think I would have met if not for the stupid Twitter account.

I could tell you some really great stories. I’m not going to just to protect the names of the innocent. No, honestly it really has opened a lot of doors.

There are people actually in this room right now that I probably wouldn’t have been as good of friends with if not for this stupid Twitter account.

Here’s the funny thing. When I started it, it was a way for me to make myself laugh. The fact that anybody else ever got any enjoyment out of it was just a huge bonus.

There are days when it kind of feels like its… Okay, I’m totally not in the mood to deal with anybody else today. But for the most part it’s still something that I get a lot of personal enjoyment out of, and it’s still a lot of fun for me. That’s why I keep doing it.

(Photo: Aaron Bearden/Kickin’ the Tires)

You’re not the only anonymous account, and it seems like you guys have forged quite a friendship group among yourselves. Would you say that’s true?

There are a group of us, like NASCARCasm and I.

I met NASCARCasm for the first time in June 2012. We were both at Michigan (International Speedway). I knew that he was coming and I made a point of saying, ‘You and I need to get together.’

The day that I met him, I remember looking at him and I said, ‘You are going to make so much money doing this.’

He’s like, ‘What are you talking about?’

‘You are way too funny to be doing whatever it is that you’re doing and not do this full-time.’

Here we are five years down the road from that meeting and he’s a freelancer, but he’s working for NASCAR, making people laugh, and I know he does a bunch of other stuff kind of under the radar, outside of racing I think.

But yeah, there are a group of us. We all know each other. We all have each other’s cell phone numbers. We all exchange private jokes that you will never, ever hear in a million years. The really funny ones you guys never get to hear, just so you know.

I think the ones that have kind of reached “mainstream popularity” within the racing community, we all do kind of know each other. We all communicate and have a good time. A lot of us have actually spent a lot of time together at race tracks, and even outside of race tracks.

I know Annoying Race Fan has come to the Michigan race a couple times. He’s been to Eldora. We’ve hung out outside of the race track. I talk to him. I’ve got his phone, I text with him all the time. Same thing with NASCARCasm, NASCAR Wonka. All kinds of people.

And other people who aren’t even anonymous.. I know people see me argue all the time with Ashley Stange on Twitter. I have a great time talking to her. She’s probably one of the funniest people that I know. She’s not anonymous, though she probably wishes she was.

We have a good time, all of us. As tight of a community as racing is overall, I think that particular community is maybe even tighter. We have a really good time with it, and like I said, the really funny stuff you guys will never see.

That leads me to my next question. What is that balance like? Do you sometimes have to watch the things you tweet or say? I know you’ve dabbled in politics and elsewhere at times.

This is something that I’ve been very mindful about. I know that there are a lot of people in racing that don’t share my political views. I’m way farther left than 99.9% of the people that are going to read what I have to say, and I understand that.

I try not to engage. I actually really put a lot of thought into it before I do that. But from time-to-time, it’s just something that… I don’t want to say I couldn’t live with myself, because I could. But I wouldn’t want to live with myself if I had that voice to 85,000 people and saw something that I didn’t like and didn’t at least speak up for it.

Now I try not to do that too much, because I went from 85,900 followers two weeks ago to 85,300 followers as we (record) this. I know where those 600 people went.

I know exactly where they went and why they went, and that’s fine. I’m okay with it. You follow who you want of follow on social media. That’s your choice. If you’ve made the choice to follow me and then unfollowed for some reason I’m going to be okay with that.

But when I see something that I think is unfair in the world, it’s one of those things where I couldn’t sleep at night knowing I didn’t at least try to speak up for that.

Now whether or not that’s the right thing to do or not… We’ve seen this all over social media the past month or so. ‘Just stick to sports, just stick to racing.’

(Photo: Aaron Bearden/Kickin’ the Tires)

There’s a part of me that wishes I really could just stick to that, because that’s what this account is supposed to be. It’s supposed to be fun. It’s supposed to be something that makes me laugh, something that makes other people laugh.

I don’t want to get into a serious discussion on nuclear war in North Korea or anything else. It frustrates me as much as it frustrates anybody else. But it’s also one of those things where I know I’ve got an audience, and I would feel bad if I couldn’t at least speak up for what I thought was right.

And I’m not saying that what I’m saying is right. I’m just saying that’s my perspective and what I think is right. I know that I get a lot of heat from other people that think ‘he never is going to admit that he’s wrong. He’s the only person who thinks that he’s right.’

I get that. That’s part of the character, okay. I personally admit that I’m wrong all the time.

You’ve had this account for six years now. What do you think your goals are moving forward?

My goal every day is to just not die. If I get through every day without dying that’s great.

No, that’s actually a really good question, because I don’t really think about that stuff. This has always been a day-to-day thing for me. I wake up, I open up (Twitter) every morning.

I look through the feed, and I’m like, ‘What is there to talk about?’ I’ll see something interesting, and I’ll dive in and talk about it.

I don’t really think about what I’m going to be doing a year from now. Those who follow that account know that there are some young children that are a part of my life. At some point in time, I’m going to have to do things where those children are going to take priority over this, and that’s fine.

There’s some personal things going on in my life, and I think at some point I would like to pursue those. But racing’s always going to be a big part of my life. And I love making people happy and making people laugh. As long as I can continue to do that in some form or fashion, I’m going to keep doing this.

When it’s not fun… I don’t know that it’s ever going to go away, because I like being able to get on and just blow off some steam. But there were days when it’s not as fun, and I’ll just step away from it.

As far as long-term goals, I really couldn’t tell you what they are because I never imagined that I would be doing it six years later. I thought it was going to be some thing where I would get on and say a couple of really stupid comments, I would forget about it like I did with the MySpace page and it would fizzle out.

I remember driving home from the ARCA (Racing Series) race in Springfield in 2011, which was two months after I started the stupid account, and that was when I realized I had like 1004 followers. I called everybody I knew and was like, ‘Can you believe I got 1000 followers?!’

It was the greatest day of my life to that point, over 1000 stupid followers on Twitter, which really means nothing when you think of it. I can’t believe that those 1000 people thought what that account had to say was interesting enough to pay attention, and I really can’t believe that 85,000 people or whatever the real number is at this point, I can’t believe that anybody puts any credence in what I have to say.

Although I will say, while I have the microphone, someone was giving me some crap about not being an actual source of news. I would like to set the record straight a bit. I’ve actually broken a couple significant stories. I’ll pat myself on the back.

Like when Kurt Busch was going to drive the Indy 500, where did you hear that first? It came from me. When he was going to Stewart-Haas Racing, where did that come from? Oh, that came from me.

When the charter system was being rumored, I had that like six weeks before anybody else did, and Rob Kauffman favorited every one of those tweets when I was breaking it down, by the way. So I knew that it was right, and it played out to be right.

I know I don’t have an editor, and I’m not a real reporter, so that person can… I’m not a real reporter, but I still do break news from time-to-time, and I think that’s the really fun part about this. Sometimes there are people in the garage who are like, ‘I need this to get out, but I can’t say it. So I’m going to send it to this person who doesn’t really care what he says.’

So I actually have a lot of fun with that to, so… Am I done?

Well, it’s kind of bad as a journalist to admit that an orange traffic cone has broken more stories than me, but…

Don’t feel bad. I’m really charming.

I always give everybody a chance to plug themselves, tell people where they can find them. I think it’s self-explanatory, but if you’d like to tell people where to follow you, they can.

They can follow me @TheOrangeCone on Twitter. I’m going to come out with some Jack Hewitt t-shirts.

I don’t know if you’ve ever seen the video clip on Twitter with Jack Hewitt where he’s really fed up with that flagman. He says three little words in that video clip. Well, that’s going to be on the shirt. I’ve talked to Jack about that.

If my t-shirt person would get their act together, I would really like these shirts to be ready by Christmas, but we’re going to make them.

I’m not on Facebook, Instagram or anything like that. I think there might be accounts out there that I set up years ago, but I don’t update any of those. Just follow me on Twitter at @TheOrangeCone.

Thanks for your time, and hopefully we get a good race to watch this afternoon.

My pleasure. That’s what we’re here for, right?

That’s right.

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