On Wednesday, the National Guard announced that they are making “substantial changes” in their approach to recruiting through sports sponsorships. The most visible change that will result from the move is the end of the National Guard’s sponsorships of Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 team in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Graham Rahal’s No. 15 team in the Verizon IndyCar Series.
Current Director of the National Guard, Major General Judd H. Lyons, claims that the move is about fiscal responsibility.
“Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business,” Lyons said in the National Guard’s official press release. “We believe industry and open competition can help us identify effective and efficient solutions to help us meet our marketing and recruiting objectives within budget constraints.”
The release continued on to state that since 2012, the National Guard has cut back from six sports sponsorships to two (the Sprint Cup and IndyCar deals). Next year’s budget is estimated to have roughly half the money available for marketing as compared to fiscal year 2012. Cutting the motorsports sponsorships will save the National Guard $44 million a year ($32 million for Hendrick Motorsports and $12 million for Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing).
The sponsorships of Hendrick Motorsports and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing will seize at the end of the current season. Or, at least, that’s what the National Guard is officially stating. Hendrick Motorsports disputes the statement and released their own statement in response.
“Our team has a contract in place to continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015,” the statement reads. “We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement.”
Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing co-owner Bobby Rahal also released his own statement upon receiving the news.
“We were informed this afternoon that the National Guard will end all sponsorship of motorsports, including both IndyCar and NASCAR at the conclusion of the 2014 seasons,” Rahal wrote. “This is obviously very disappointing news to Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing given the significant incremental brand exposure we have worked to produce for the National Guard in our first season together, including various off-track marketing and advertising programs focused on supporting the mission set forth. We will continue to work hard to uphold the honor and integrity of the National Guard throughout the remainder of the season. Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing would like to thank the National Guard for allowing us the privilege of representing some of the finest men and women, those ‘citizen soldiers’ that protect our freedoms and safety each and every day… as we Focus Forward!”
The announcement draws 13 seasons of Sprint Cup sponsorship for the National Guard to a close. The National Guard entered Cup (or tried to) with Sam Belnavis’ BH Motorsports team. After failing to qualify for any races that year, BH Motorsports merged with Travis Carter’s operation to form BelCar Racing. The National Guard sponsored Todd Bodine’s No. 54 in 2003 before the backing moved to Roush Racing (along with Belnavis) in 2004. After three years with Roush Racing, National Guard backing moved to Hendrick Motorsports’ No. 25 and Casey Mears for 2007. Mears won his only Cup race (the Coca-Cola 600) in a special scheme based on a National Guard uniform. Since 2008, the National Guard has served as a sponsor on Dale Earnhardt, Jr.’s No. 88 (the primary sponsor since 2013).
The loss of the National Guard leaves Hendrick Motorsports with 20 open races on Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 to fill. Previously, the team had full sponsorship squared away for 2015. For Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing, the National Guard was a full season primary sponsor.