This week's NASCAR event at the Texas Motor Speedway is being billed as the NRA 500.
NRA of course being the National Rifle Association. The NRA sponsorship of this weekend's Sprint Cup race is bound to thrust some political issues into the world of NASCAR.
This is the first time that the NRA has sponsored a Sprint Cup event. The organization sponsored a Nationwide Series event last season at the Atlanta Motor Speedway. For those of you unaware, the NRA is at ground zero currently in our nation's gun debate. A debate that has taken center stage since the horrific tragedies in Aurora, Colorado and at Sandy Hook Elementary School.
From a business standpoint this makes sense.
Traditionally the driver who wins the pole award at this event receives a shotgun. That driver then poses with his shotgun while photos are taken to celebrate his accomplishment. The driver who wins the race receives a pair of six-shooters and a cowboy hat while celebrating in victory lane. In previous years, the drivers have fired the six-shooters during their celebration.
The six-shooters are filled with blanks of course.
If drivers are going to be posing and photographed with guns, it only seems logical that someone associated with guns would sponsor the event.
From a social standpoint this is a risky move.
One of the factors that reduces a potential outcry from fans is the location of the track. Texas is known for having gun views that are more in line with the views of the NRA. If the NRA were to attempt to sponsor an event at Watkins Glen in New York, it might run into a bigger problem.
According to a recent article on CNN.com, NRA Chief Executive Officer Wayne LaPierre had the following to say about the NASCAR sponsorship.
NRA members and NASCAR fans love their country and everything that is good and right about America. We salute our flag, volunteer in our churches and communities, cherish our families, and we love racing.
Those who oppose LaPierre and the NRA will argue they are using NASCAR as a platform. A platform to sell their message to more people and ultimately to sell more guns.
There is no confirmation as to whether LaPierre will be at the race this Saturday.
Texas Motor Speedway President Eddie Gossage isn't worried about how the public and fans are going to react. In recent interviews with CBSlocal.com and SportingNews.com, Gossage has stressed that this is purely business.
Saturday night no one is going to force any NRA literature in your hands. No one is going to be making political speeches or anything like that. It’s going to be a race. We are going to have a winner and have a lot of fun, and that’s going to be the extent of it.
This isn’t a sponsorship that would work if you were at Sears Point Raceway (near San Francisco). We’re Texas Motor Speedway and I know what works here and what doesn’t. This isn’t an issue here.
It’s mostly the media that has made noise about the NRA sponsorship.
While the media has without question been pushing this story, they are not the only ones to speak out.
U.S. Senator Christopher Murphy (D-Conn.) fired off a letter to NASCAR Chairman/CEO Brian France. In the letter Murphy urges France and NASCAR to not allow NRA to sponsor the event. Although the the track is allowed to pick the sponsor, NASCAR does have the authority the alter the sponsor chosen by the track.
In his letter Murphy had the following to say:
After the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators, the NRA has taken an unprecedented extreme position in the debate over the proper response to this tragedy, placing themselves at odds with the overwhelming majority of the American people, and even their own members.
Given the emotional state of the national conversation, I believe it would be imprudent for NASCAR to step into such a heated political debate and take sides in this debate by allowing the NRA the title role in the race.
Murphy's letter can be read in its entirety here. When the announcement of the sponsorship was first announced back in March, NASCAR released a statement saying the sponsorship “falls within the guidelines for approval for that event.”
In today's politically correct world everything that is the slightest bit controversial is going to come under scrutiny.
Ultimately this was a business decision made by Texas Motor Speedway and supported by NASCAR. The money that the NRA used to pay for the sponsorship is worth the same amount as the money that Kobalt and Subway used to pay for their sponsorships earlier this year.
In the business world money talks. If the NRA is willing to spend the reported millions of dollars that it cost to sponsor a NASCAR event then it should have the right to do that. As long as the company isn't doing anything illegal, its views or beliefs really shouldn't come into play.
Earlier this year Subway came under fire because its advertised foot-long sandwiches were not what they claimed to be. There wasn't any public or media outcry when Subway stepped up to sponsor the Subway Fresh Fit 500 from Phoenix International Speedway.
You could argue that Subway has ripped off millions of people around the world for years. You might say that its misleading foot-long sandwiches have stolen money straight from the pockets of hard-working men and women. It wouldn't be a stretch to state that by having Subway as a sponsor, NASCAR is promoting a company that has lied and stolen from millions of people.
However, nobody was saying any of that.
Saturday night is only going to be about one thing and that is racing. Once the green flag drops none of this NRA press is going to matter anymore. Once the checkered flag waves and NASCAR rolls out of Texas, this will all be an afterthought.
NASCAR is in the business of racing and it doesn't get much simpler than that.