NASCAR has never been a sport absent of conflict. Scratching paint on the track and trading punches in the garage are fairly commonplace, but a recent development with a race title sponsorship has thrust the sport into the world of political infighting.
Texas Motor Speedway recently announced that the title sponsor for its April race will be the NRA (the National Rifle Association) and will dub the race the NRA 500. Marking the first time the non-profit engaged in a large scale sponsorship.
A non-profit engaging in a sponsorship to garner public awareness through sponsorship on the surface would appear to be standard operating procedure, but in this instance there are several elements that have caused many to raise an eyebrow.
On December 14, 2012, 27 people – including 20 children – lost their lives in a shooting at Sandy Hook Elementary in Connecticut. This event, along with others in recent US history, put into action many organizations and the US government hoping to prevent such atrocities – no action more notable than President Barack Obama signing 23 executive orders aimed at curbing gun violence.
NASCAR and its various teams launched a campaign to raise money for the Sandy Hook community as well.
Why would the NRA invest in such a sponsorship now? It would seem pretty obvious that the NRA is using the sponsorship to gain attention to deliver its message and pro-gun agenda in light of all the current negativity.
According to track President Eddie Gossage that isn’t the case.
Gossage stated recently, “This is a sports marketing proposition. It’s not a political platform, and none of us intend for it to be. It’s a sponsor. Everybody else is trying to make it a political statement or a lot more complicated than it is. We sell tickets and sponsorship opportunities. The teams sell sponsorship opportunities. That’s the extent of it. Nothing more.”
How could that really be the case? The role of the sponsored is to support the mission, goals and objectives of its sponsors – and in this case a sponsor that has a very clear political platform.
The partnership makes a lot of sense, the NASCAR demographic and that of the key NRA audience very much overlap. The Texas Motor Speedway races have always had a bit of a “Wild West” motif with the winning drivers shooting replica firearms in victory lane. Again, on the surface, the strategy appears to be a bull’s-eye.
US Senator Chris Murphy of Connecticut disagrees however, recently writing a letter to NASCAR CEO Brian France asking him to refuse the sponsorship and stated, “NASCAR has crossed a line – you have decided to put yourself in the middle of a political debate.”
Here is the issue – it’s not that the NRA chose to sponsor the race or that the speedway elected to accept the investment but that the track leadership and others have attempted to position the partnership to the public as non-political.
This far undervalues the intelligence of the general public. Whether people agree or disagree with the message, all would agree it’s best to shoot ‘em straight.