Special Report: More Than Just Pretty Faces


These content creators and influencers can also race… and build engines… and fabricate…. discover how they are using their platforms to expand motorsports’ reach in the digital age.

Racing fans of a certain age may remember when media outlets for motorsports content was, shall we say, limited. Fans wanting news, commentary, or behind-the-scenes profiles were limited to obscure cable TV channels, racing-oriented print publications, or the annual network broadcast of the Indianapolis 500. Fans with an interest in more grassroots racing classes were left in the dark unless they attended the races themselves.

That world is now barely a speck in the rearview mirror, and a new generation is at the wheel. 

The case can be made that we are living in a golden age of motorsports content. Thanks to independent creators on social media platforms, there is an almost unending stream of racing coverage, how-to videos, thrilling ride-alongs, and real-time event commentary. Some of it may be forgettable, but a lot of it is genuinely entertaining, informative, and well-made. Many of these social media entrepreneurs have built enormous followings and large fan bases.

The preferred term currently for these story tellers is content creators, and they are also sometimes referred to as influencers, although that term has picked up some baggage in recent years. Whatever they prefer to be called, these independent content creators are increasingly prominent in the motorsports arena.

Follows and Likes

There is more to being a social media star than simply being telegenic and easy on the eyes, although a natural likability definitely helps. The most successful social media influencers often come across as people that would be fun to hang out with.

 But, as with anything, the hard work is what separates the successful from the wannabes. Besides the effort that goes into video production, many of these content creators are very hands-on with the car building and racing aspects of their craft. Some have carved out a living from their various platforms, while others juggle their social media gigs with their day jobs.

Skye Romanoff’s exploits in rallycross competition and car building have earned her 100,000 Instagram followers. “There’s not a lot of rally drivers, let alone women rally drivers. I feel like that helps,” she said.

The content creators we spoke with all took different paths to arriving at their current platforms and levels of influence. Some set out from the beginning to make a living at video production and merchandise sales, but for others, the content creation platforms grew organically from a love of racing.

Skye Romanoff is president of the California Rallycross Association, and her exploits in rallycross competition and car building have earned her 100,000 followers on Instagram. She also participated on panel discussions and was a Featured Product Award judge at the 2022 PRI Trade Show. 

“I worked for Subaru in college,” she said. “I was a sales associate at Subaru, and one of the techs there did rallycross regionally in California. He invited me to check it out. He said, ‘Just bring your helmet along, and let’s go out and have a fun day.’ I showed up with a helmet, and I hopped in and out of everyone’s cars and just got hooked.”

For Romanoff, the growth of her Instagram audience caught her by surprise. “I started my Instagram three-and-a-half years ago, and it turned into this. I wasn’t expecting any of it. I just wanted to post fun pictures and then it kind of blew up.” 

Blake Wilkey produces off-road focused content for his 248,000 followers on Instagram and the 76,000-plus subscribers to his Shreddy Lyfe YouTube channel. He also markets his own Shreddy Lyfe lifestyle merchandise. For him, it was a successful car build that lit the match for his social media platforms. “After building my first Bug called the OG Shark, I had friends that were into media. With it being a very unique build—a 700-hp Bug that would wheelie and take big jumps—it was a no brainer to show the world my creation,” he said. 

The world definitely noticed, to the tune of more than 3-million views on a viral video titled Urban Assault! Sadly for Wilkey, local law enforcement noticed some of the more exuberant displays too, but after paying his debt to society, he bounced back. “Once it gained a lot of traction and people were into it, the ball just kept rolling from there, and doors opened up since it was receiving a ton of exposure.”

David Patterson has built an empire around his That Dude in Blue brand, with 1.23-million subscribers to his YouTube channel, 633,000 followers to his ThatDudeInBlue Facebook page, and merchandising outlets for T-shirts, hoodies, and car care products. For him, video production was the original lure, and the car content came later.

He received a video camera for Christmas in his formative teen years and taught himself how to edit. It was the early days of YouTube, and Patterson got his head turned by Star Wars fan films, which inspired him to learn how to animate videos. His first viral video was a homemade light saber fight.

Blake Wilkey grew up racing motocross and saw racing on four wheels as “a good transition for future opportunities. Bugs always drew me in since my mother had a picture of us in a Bug when I was a baby.”

Patterson decided to pursue a career making movies and went to film school. His actual exposure to the film business, however, left him disillusioned. But he was still determined to create content, and fortunately fell in with the car culture in and around Virginia Beach, Virginia. 

“I met a really good community down there, got really into cars. I don’t come from a car family, but I’ve always had a little bit of a bug. At the time, going to these car events, I started watching car content on YouTube. This was very early automotive YouTube,” he said. The often clumsy nature of those early automotive videos inspired him to dive in. “I realized I could totally do that content. I knew I could because I had the skillset for it.”

His breakthrough came as he was about to trade in his 2006 Mustang GT for a 2013 Mustang GT. He decided to do a practice video using his older car. “I ordered a windshield suction cup and did some reading on how to make a car video and just went out there and tried it. I uploaded myself ‘reviewing’ my own car and put it up. In a week it got 25,000–30,000 views, and I decided, ‘I need to be doing this instead.’”

Chelsea VanCleave is steadily building a following on Instagram. She arrived on the social media scene after a lifetime of racing influence, beginning at a young age with Jr. Dragsters. “When I was in my mid-20s, that was when Instagram started to get bigger, and I was building an engine at the time,” she said. “I just started posting little things like progress on my engine, little things I was doing, and that kind of grew a little bit of a following for me. And it’s just progressed.”

Race Days

The content creators in our sample are not just keyboard racers. Most have racing backgrounds, and all of them spend as much time on track as they can. “I grew up racing motocross from the time I was 11 until I was 20 years old,” Wilkey said. “Growing up, I always wanted something with four wheels to race off-road, as well as seeing that as being a good transition for future opportunities. Bugs always drew me in since my mother had a picture of us in a Bug when I was a baby. Since then, I have raced in Polaris UTVs, stock Volkswagen Bugs, in the Class 11 I called the Slug Shark, with my new Trophy Truck Bug named Jaws, a few fun races in Megalodon, as well as partnered up with racers in multiple other classes.”

VanCleave was on track when she was still in elementary school. As a teenager she earned her license in Super Comp Dragster. “I’ve been in drag racing since I was eight,” she said. “I was a fan even way before then. I was a big racing fan growing up, whether it was NASCAR, IndyCar, monster trucks, drag racing, pretty much anything that went fast, as a little kid I thought that was super cool.”

That led her to the nuts-and-bolts side of racing—eventually. “When I was younger, I had no interest in working on cars. I was like, ‘I’m not the mechanic, I’m just the driver.’ And my dad snapped that out of me so quickly.” She later went to school at University of Northwestern Ohio. “I got my Automotive High Performance degree, so I was working on my own stuff, trying to work on race teams.”

Chelsea VanCleave began racing in Junior Dragsters. “Pretty much anything that went fast, as a little kid I thought that was super cool,” she said. Her current project is a 2009 Drag Pak Challenger she plans to race in brackets or stock classes.

“Rallycross is my main,” Romanoff said. “We have an event about once a month. The season is generally March to beginning of December. I do track days and time trials in a different car. I work with a group called Lightspeed, and they host events at Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Thunderhill, and Buttonwillow. In exchange for promotions that help them grow, they give me free track days. I’ll also be doing that four or five times a year.”

Patterson has sampled several forms of motorsports, although he never raced in competitive classes. He regularly attends driving schools to keep his skills sharp. “I typically do as many racing schools as I can a year. I do lots of drifting now. I do ice drifting a lot. In two weeks, I’m flying up to Minnesota, and we go on frozen lakes and train that way, which is great for car control skills. The ice drifting has helped me with circuit racing, it’s helped me with drag racing, it’s helped me with autocross, it’s helped with everything. If you get out of control you don’t panic, you just stay relaxed and make sure you’re good.

“I’ve done autocross, basic track days,” he continued. “Road Atlanta is my home track, 15 minutes from my house so I’m there all the time. The most competitive stuff I’ve done is against other YouTubers, which is pretty funny. I did MotorTrend’s Roadkill Nights last year. That was really intense. We only had 23 days to build a car, and I’m pretty sure my hair turned gray from it.”

Hands On

Although it’s possible to run a successful motorsports oriented-platform without do-it-yourself car building skills, that’s the hard way, and our sources had definite mechanical strengths. “I’d say my strengths revolve around creativity and fabrication,” Wilkey said. “I’m kind of a jack of all trades, managing so many hats from fabrication, prep work, activations, media projects, etc. There’s a lot that goes into my program, and I do have a few friends that come and help out from time to time, which I’m thankful for.”

VanCleave likes the V8-building side of the sport. “I really love to build engines. I used to work for BES Racing Engines when I lived in Ohio. I had so much fun building my own engine,” she said. “To build an engine, and to see it on the dyno, to see it pull the power it did…I had pretty low hopes. I wanted a cool bracket engine, and it ended up making 923 hp on the dyno. I felt so successful at that moment in time.”

She has since moved to North Carolina, where her current project is a 2009 Drag Pak Challenger with 6.1 HEMI that she plans to race in brackets or stock classes. “It’s a good project car. It’s not a fixer-upper, it just needs to be completed.” She took it to Bagshaw Hotrod Fabrication locally in North Carolina and had them put a cage in it. “It’s pretty much a full-blown car now. We have the brakes on it, I’ve got wheels and tires.” VanCleave also has a stock 2019 Challenger R/T Scat Pack 1320 that she takes to the local eighth-mile drag strip for occasional passes to stay sharp. 

“My strengths revolve around creativity and fabrication,” Blake Wilkey said. “I’m kind of a jack of all trades, managing so many hats from fabrication, prep work, activations, media projects, etc.”

Patterson is not a mechanic by nature, but in building his platforms he has leveraged opportunities to build skills. “On my channel I’ve made it clear that I came from a very non-automotive home,” Patterson said. “It was really tough. When I first did my 2J240, you can just see how awful I am at working on cars. This is 2015 or so. And my commenters are telling me, ‘Hey David, try holding the wrench this way,’ or ‘Try doing it this way.’ And I’m like, ‘Thanks guys, I know you are low-key insulting me, but it’s okay, I’m learning,’” he said with a laugh.

“Cosmetics is probably what I’m best at. When it comes to the fine details, I really enjoy doing subtle cosmetic mods, and paint and body work. That’s what I’m better at. If I had to choose a strength, it’s definitely in the cosmetic or aesthetic avenue. 

“I think that’s the biggest thing in my journey, just to accept what you’re good at,” Patterson continued. “When people are really good at something, I try to highlight their skillset when they do help me.”

Patterson may not be doing all the wrenching, but he has plenty of work to keep him busy maintaining his platforms. “When I meet people, I think the biggest thing they are surprised about is that I still do everything by myself. As a business decision, I will be fully honest, it makes no sense. I really stress myself out. I do all the scheduling. I fly a lot. I flew 165,000 miles last year for content. That means I’m filming, flying, editing, scheduling, talking to companies, talking to people who want their cars filmed, scheduling SEMA or PRI, or wherever we go. It’s really important to have time management when it comes to this.” 


Our sources were building social media brands for the love of the content creation, but they also saw it as a way to inspire others, and to build a bridge to an actual racing career.

“Being a woman in this industry, it’s just automatically going to get a little more attention than yet another guy. As bad as that sounds, it’s true,” Romanoff said. “What I try to do for content, I like to show other people—especially other women because I’m a really big promoter of women in this industry—that they can do it as well. So they’re seeing me do a brake job, or I re-do my coilovers and get an alignment, and they see me doing it hands-on personally. Then they feel like they have the capability of doing it themselves. Not only can I do my own work, and I try to promote that, but I also try to show other girls that I’m doing my own work, and I’m going out to the track the next day. So it shows that it’s doable.”

For Patterson, the freedom that comes with being an independent creator is the major draw. “Even after 11 years of doing That Dude in Blue, it’s the one thing that would be extremely hard to give up,” he said. “It’s more stressful work sometimes, but you also don’t give up any control. If you have a creative vision, you just go do it. You don’t have to ask a higher-up; you don’t have to ask a producer or a studio. You just go, ‘All right, I’m going to go film this thing now. We’re going to get it done.’ That was a big problem for me when I did my short stint in the traditional film industry—there was a lot of ‘hurry up and wait.’”

Another motivation we heard expressed was to try to help the motorsports community grow, and these creators are using their influence to move the needle. “A really cool thing, the cars and coffee down here in Atlanta is called Caffeine and Octane. It is massive,” Patterson said. “I’ve collaborated with them quite a bit, and they’ve let me hold my own drift events at a race track down here that they bought. It’s called Caffeine and Octane Lanier Raceway. I had this idea of super affordable drift events for the masses here in the Southeast. It’s one thing to go to a drift event, it’s another thing to feel welcomed by the community. We wanted to have a drift event that any skill level would not be scared to do. There are two separate drift events. They have a drift night every other Friday for $100 a pop to drift for six or seven hours. It’s super affordable when it comes to motorsports.

“I like to show other people—especially other women because I’m a really big promoter of women in this industry—that they can do it as well,” Skye Romanoff said. “They see me doing it personally, then they feel like they have the capability of doing it themselves.”

“Lanier has been really fantastic. I think the best thing I’d love to learn right now is to make motorsports—with my platform—even more accessible for more people,” he said. Using his platform, he was able to spur growth quickly for the Friday drift events. Only 15 drivers showed up for the first one, but after Patterson filmed it and showed how fun it was, two months later they had 85 drivers. “We went from 200 spectators to about 1,000 or so. Which is really great because that’s what pays the bills.”

For Romanoff, her position as president of the California Rallycross Association, along with the other board members, represents a new direction, binding together the previous smaller regional organizations.

“Rallycross is definitely a grassroots motorsports community. We wanted to bring everyone together who runs events in California because in order for us to grow, we all need to work together as a team, as a community,” she said. “I know a lot of rallycross people in California, I know all the organizers, so I ended up basically reaching out to all of them saying we should join together. I have sponsors for my events that I host, and I wanted to share all of my sponsor codes with the community.”

Expanding sponsorship opportunities is another key to the sport’s growth. “Diode Dynamics, EBC Brakes, and CoolShirt Systems are not only personal sponsors, but they actually sponsored each of my events in 2022,” she said. “I was able to get thousands of dollars’ worth of product to raffle off to competitors at each event. This is the first time this has been done in the series, and it brings in more people to the events. Also, prizes are raffled off, regardless of podium status, so every driver has a chance in winning. It’s worked out great!”

The next steps might be taking Romanoff nationwide. “Some other people and organizers in other states ended up hearing what I was doing, and they reached out,” she said. “I was on an SCCA town hall meeting, and I mentioned what I was doing, and I had people reach out to me from Nebraska, Detroit, and Texas. We’re actually kind of doing this at a national level and banding together. We’re coming together as one big community to promote our sport.” 

Future Goals

While all of our content creator sources were proud of their accomplishments, they have dreams to climb higher up the racing ladder and continue to build their platforms. “I would really like to expand into rally, drift, or 4x4 extreme crawling scenes,” Wilkey said. “We build everything here in-house, so with that being said, it takes a lot of time and planning to do it right. We definitely have those forms of motorsports on the radar, and whenever we’re around it, we ask questions to expand our knowledge for when we do take the plunge.”

Romanoff likes racing in the dirt and has her sights set on the top levels of the sport. “I really want to get into Trophy Trucks. It’s a dream of mine. I really want to get into driving the trucks in the snow, on the dirt. I think it would be an absolute blast,” she said.

VanCleave’s racing aspirations have navigated a few chicanes along the way, but looking ahead, she has eyes on team ownership and plenty of track time. “I think being a female in racing, in motorsports in general, is big. You have so many strong females in this industry now. It makes a huge difference,” she said. “Long-term, I would love to stay in racing. I never thought, at 30, I would still be involved in racing as much as I am. But I want to own a full-blown race team long-term. I want me and my dad to race with each other, against each other. I want to keep going up.”

Patterson has found his niche, and it’s never dull. “It’s an ever-learning experience. I’m going to accept that my strength is to be in front of a camera and talk about history, talk about cars and how fun they are to drive, and then painstakingly make my way through to not pinching a head gasket.”

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