A long time ago in an interknit far, far away…
I think I first ran across mentions of the Rowdy podcast on Jayski. They advertised on there and since I was an everyday user of Jayski’s NASCAR site, it had literally been branded into my head. We’re talking 2007. I remember going down to Homestead that year for the season finale and I had my little scanner and low and behold, there was this show being broadcast on one of the freqs. It wasn’t MRN. It was… different.
It was Rowdy.
With the passing of our friend Tom van der Voort (aka Bass Masters) this week in a bike accident, the NASCAR industry folks are having this mass recollection of the Rowdy Racing Podcast, its impact and how far ahead of its time it was. All true, indeed. Well produced. Truly independent. Irreverent at times. It set a standard for not just racing podcasts, but I believe in the form at large.
But if all you knew was the podcast, you only knew half of it. If you never made it over to rowdy.com, the home of the Rowdy racing community, you missed out on what made the halcyon days of the internet. It was a joy to behold.
When I first visited the site in 2008, I knew I had found my racing home. There was Rowdy generated content of course, links to the weekly podcast show and other news items Bass, Buck (Tyler Sewell) and Buzz (Steve Levine) had generated, but loads of user content. Remember, this is during the dying days of MySpace. Facebook is just cranking up. Pre-smart phone ubiquity. Not an algo rhythm in sight. And here was a place where racing fans, NASCAR fans, could build their own presence.
I joined up and became a part of Rowdy Nation pretty quickly as the folks there were welcoming and engaging. I started posting blog entries regularly and the resulting banter was loads of fun. I found my writing groove there, posting blogs daily, it seemed. Hell, I got to interact with Rick Mast! Man, before twitter, where were you going to get into a deep debate about the pre-race invocation with a real NASCAR driver?!
Don’t get me wrong, there were trolls and idiots here and there, but we could mostly weed them out and keep the community from getting toxic. And that’s where we have to credit Buck, Bass and Buzz. They were always engaged with the bloggers and actively participating in the comments and kept a finger on the pulse of what was going on. They could encourage us, spotlight creators and help to moderate things when it got a little testy. At the time, consider that there was no real playbook on how to manage all of this. It was like four people. I really don’t know how they did it.
The lasting legacy of Rowdy to me, the most important takeaway, is the long-lasting friendships curated in the crucible of Rowdy that have endured all these years later. I’m not talking just casual relationships, but sincere friendships with people I have never actually met in person. Heysi and I still send beer to each other cross country (I had to send him a 5-pack of local brew this year when his Golden Knights beat my Florida Panthers for the Stanley Cup). Jesse James has a cat named after my family. We’ve watched Checkered Flag Stilettos’ daughter grow up, go to college and get married. There are so many people scattered around the country that a consider real friends because of what Rowdy.com was.
I wish I had taken the time to thank Bass for that. I don’t know if he realized how impactful and special that community was and how many people it connected forever.
And to Buck, Buzz and (lest we forget) Rusty the Engineer: I want to thank you now. what you built all those years ago was more than a podcast. It was so much more than that. It was something that really, truly mattered. When I look back years from now and reminisce about my years as a racing fan, those years spent on Rowdy will certainly be among the finest. A sweet, sweet spot in internet history that will never be replicated.
Halcyon days, indeed.