- Reddit and Dogecoin sponsor NASCAR racer at Talladega
- A 16-year-old fan led the unusual effort
- The effort raised $55,000 to sponsor the No. 98 car in less than a week
- Driver Josh Wise responded with Reddit AMA thanking new fans
What do you get when you combine a cryptocurrency, 752 left turns and a 16-year-old Reddit user? For NASCAR Sprint Cup driver Josh Wise, it all adds up to sponsorship for one of the most exciting races of the year and a new bunch of tech-savvy fans.
The story begins with a teenage racing fan from Niles, Illinois. Reddit user Denis Pavel was watching some of the early races in the 2014 NASCAR season and noticed a black Ford Fusion with no sponsorship and a driver "racing the wheels off the car."
Pavel was also a member of the subreddit /r/NASCAR and had seen the online community rally behind other drivers and the various fundraising and other campaigns they endorsed.
His idea was grander.
The teenager wanted to get the No. 98 car sponsored at one of the fastest tracks on the circuit: the Talladega Superspeedway in Alabama. Drivers race side-by-side on the 2.66-mile track, sometimes reaching speeds of more than 200 mph.
Enter the cryptocurrency.
Introduced in late 2013 and named for a silly Internet meme, Dogecoin is digital currency like Bitcoin -- basically cash for the Internet. Money can be transferred nearly anywhere in the world for less than a penny per transaction and has been used prominently for charitable and notable causes.
Related: Man selling home for $135,000 in Dogecoins
"I knew that Dogecoin had done some significant fundraisers, like sending the Jamaican bobsled team to the Olympics," Pavel said. "I was thinking what kind of response I would get if I did ask the (Reddit) community about sponsoring a Sprint Cup car. They were all with it."
Armed with support, Pavel reached out to the owner of the No. 98 car, Phil Parsons, through Twitter. After exchanging telephone numbers, Pavel told Parsons about the plan to sponsor the car and how it was going to happen.
"I asked if he knew about Reddit or Dogecoin. He said no," Pavel said. "He told me the pricing of a full wrap and just a logo on the quarter panel. I don't know if he thought I was pulling his leg."
Parsons told Pavel that a full wrap, meaning main sponsorship all over the car, would cost $50,000. Pavel felt confident the /r/NASCAR community would get there with the help of Dogecoin.
Within a week, the community raised more than $55,000, or 67 million Dogecoins, to sponsor the car and put the Dogecoin Ford Fusion in the Aaron's 499 race in May.
Wise, who admits he had not been very active on the Internet, has been pumped up by the online support.
"The more we've walked through this (fundraising effort), it has really been special to us," Wise said. "People are noticing our effort. We're a tiny little team with 7 or 8 employees. The amount of support we're getting from the Reddit community ... we're just trying to do the best job we can."
For his part, Wise promoted the effort on Twitter and also did an Ask Me Anything (AMA) session on /r/dogecoin. He even claimed the Reddit user name "dogedriver" to keep the momentum going.
Ben Doernberg, a board member at the Dogecoin Foundation, said that raising the money for the sponsorship was done in record time. Beyond sports ventures, Dogecoin has raised money to build clean water wells in Kenya and for a charity that trains service animals to work with children with autism and other disabilities.
"We are all about fun and goofiness," Doernberg said. "At the same time, we want to make sure that digital currency is really giving back to the world. We do feel like this is a technology that can make the world a better place, and we want to put that into practice by doing fundraisers."
Doernberg said the NASCAR sponsorship is one of the largest fundraisers they've done to date.
Since the money was raised on the Internet, it was only fair that the color scheme of the car be chosen there as well.
A poll posted on /r/dogecoin asked users to choose between gold, silver or black as the main color. Black garnered more than 57% of the vote, and the design was finalized. Reddit users also helped develop the fire suits that will be worn by the team on race day.
Wise said users asked him during his AMA what he wanted the design to look like. He told them just have fun with it.
"I wasn't going to hold them back on anything they wanted," he said. "It actually a little more conservative than I probably expected -- something wild and off the wall, but they kept it pretty tame, actually."
The car and suits prominently feature the Shiba Inu dog face commonly associated with the "doge" Internet meme, along with a rocket ship and the phrase "To the Moon," commonly used for the popularity of Dogecoin.
But Wise and Parsons weren't done with Dogecoin after just one race.
The Sprint Cup Series All-Star race at the Charlotte Motor Speedway on May 17 pits the previous year's race winners and two top qualifiers in a winner-take-all race.
One driver voted in by the fans gets to participate as well. Wise and Parsons said they would race the Dogecoin car if Reddit users vote Wise into the race.
The Dogecoin car is also likely to be made into a die-cast 1:24 scale car as part of a NASCAR deal with Lionel Racing Collectibles. Fans of the NASCAR '14 video game will also get the chance to race the Dogecoin car for themselves when it is added in an upcoming DLC pack.
"As the company behind the NASCAR video games and mobile games, we love to see more technology-oriented partners getting involved in NASCAR," said Ed Martin, executive vice president of Eutechnyx, developer of the video game. "I think it will bring NASCAR to the attention of a lot of people that haven't been exposed before."
For Pavel, who has loved NASCAR racing all his life, the video game might be the closest he gets to his dream.
"I want to get into NASCAR and want to head to my local tracks like Rockford Speedway. I hopefully one day want to get into a real race car," he said.
For now, Pavel will cheer on the No. 98 Dogecar and Josh Wise at Talladega on May 4.