JOLIET, Ill. -- Hours before the race, under a large white tent in the midway at Chicagoland Speedway, things are already moving along briskly at Vision Racing's "tweetup."
A fan has a question for Tony Kanaan.
"When are you going on Dancing with the Stars?" she asks.
Another wonders what Ed Carpenter would do if one of his young children decided to become a driver.
On and on it goes, the questions coming in rapid succession. There's laughter and a few groans after the occasional playful tweak from the drivers.
None of the 150 fans at this event before the IRL PEAK Antifreeze and Motor Oil Indy 300 last month are tweeting their questions. After getting connected through Twitter, they're now meeting each other and some drivers in person.
"It's really fun to have the IndyCar community come and embrace Twitter as a tool to have that contact, and we didn't have that before," says Pat Caporali, Vision's media and public relations director. "We'd have autograph sessions and that's great, but it doesn't give a chance to have a dialogue and be able to kid around."
Now, the fans are getting a peak at the workings of the team and at the drivers that wasn't available in the past. There's a dialogue that simply didn't exist. An interaction that an autograph session or other brief encounter couldn't provide.
"Not to this extent, where it's personal," Caporali says.
Vision Racing started tweeting at the beginning of the year as an experiment "because we weren't certain that we would have enough sponsorship funding to do a brand new Web site," Caporali says.
So they started a Twitter site before the season to connect with fans, update them on the team and drivers, and they also turned to Facebook, creating a synergy between their pages. When photos go up on the latter, for example, a tweet goes out, and during races, fans can receive tweets from Vision that provide information they might not get from the TV broadcast.
"People are at home in front of their TV sets, and we're not always at the front," Caporali said. "So to kind of let our fans know what was going on with our team, when we were coming in for a pit stop, what our strategy was, what Ed was saying on the radio, what was going on behind the scenes."
Fans responded and the following grew. Now, Vision has about 2,400 followers on Twitter, and drivers are in on it, too, posting comments and responding to questions.
Carpenter is part of this community. So are Sarah Fisher and Kanaan, and they're here even though they're not driving for Vision.
The tweetups grew out of a small gathering early in the season, when Vision invited followers who were in the garage area before a race to stop by. Then in May, Vision offered followers a few tours of its headquarters in Indianapolis.
And at Watkins Glen in July, 40 to 60 people showed up for the first true tweetup with Carpenter and Andretti Green Racing's Kanaan, who had just started tweeting.
"It was like a happy hour," Caporali said. "It was at the end of the day, and everybody seemed real keen on it. It was kind of neat to meet the people we had been talking to, face to face, for the first time. We didn't think we would do it every single race, but word of mouth, people started asking for it."
So they had another at Sonoma the week before Chicagoland and they're planning to do it again for the final race at Homestead-Miami on Oct. 10.
"It's nice to see something small build," says David Craske of Indianapolis. "It's different. And it's fun."
Megan Martin of Portage, Ind., created her Twitter account a few months ago "just to follow the drivers."
They're both part of the crowd at Chicagoland.
The format here is relaxed, though there are a few rules for the fans. One is they need to give their Twitter ID before asking questions.
When he's done cringing at the thought of his young daughter and son becoming drivers, Carpenter mentions that his kids are big and tall for their age, and says, "I'm hoping they just grow themselves right out of it."
The crowd laughs.
"That's Plan No. 1 right now," he says. "Plan No. 2 is probably just to say no."
A few minutes later, Kanaan says he wouldn't pass on a chance to show the world his dancing skills. If Helio Castroneves can do it, then why not?
"We'll prove once again that Brazilians can dance," Kanaan says.
The crowd laughs. Kanaan smiles. On and on it goes.