Race Weekend Central

Side By Side: Should The NRA Sponsor Texas?

Welcome back to a special edition of Side By Side. There are always two sides to every story, and we’re going to bring them both to you, right here, every week. For the first time ever, we’re running a special edition of this column based on one that’s already been run in the Newsletter. Feedback off Ellen Richardson’s NRA commentary, reprinted here was so overwhelming it was a no-brainer to ensure all fans got a chance to read it. It also stirred such passion amongst several members of our staff that a rebuttal is also written against it. Feel free to tell us what you think in the comments section below!

And if you didn’t see Ellen’s column, originally? It’s because you’re not getting our FREE Newsletter. Click here to sign up.

This Week’s Question: Should the NRA be sponsoring Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race at Texas? Or is it inappropriate?

NRA 500: Racing Or Gun Control Debate?
Ellen Richardson

As the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series storms into Texas Motor Speedway for the NRA 500 Saturday night, another storm continues to brew off the track. Unless you have had your head stuck in the sand, everyone is aware of the gun debate that has been ongoing in this country since the Sandy Hook Elementary School shooting, in Newtown, Connecticut last December. In fact, President Obama welcomed several families, all of whom were directly affected by this tragedy, to Washington today in an effort to try and convince Congress to expand background checks on gun owners.

The National Rifle Association has come under fire by fans this week for choosing to sponsor a NASCAR race during a heated debate on gun control in Washington, D.C.

With this storm continuing to rage, the National Rifle Association (NRA) has decided throw away money in a high-dollar advertising campaign to increase panic among gun owners about losing their Second Amendment rights. The move includes greatly increasing this non-profit organization’s current advertising relationship with NASCAR to sponsor this Saturday’s Cup Series race.

The announcement about this race sponsorship has garnered the attention of national media, political leaders, NRA Members and, of course, race fans. Most of this attention has been very heated and now NASCAR, event promoters, and even Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, say they want the April 13th NASCAR Sprint Cup race to focus on racing and not on debating gun control.

According to a recent article in the Fort Worth Star-Telegram, Gossage said, “It’s another race for us and it’s just like all the others in so many ways.”

WTF? Are you kidding me?

If nobody, on either side wanted to garner the kind of attention that this partnership has, why did the NRA choose a state with approximately 250,000 NRA members in which to sponsor a race? Although I have a background in marketing, it doesn’t take this kind of knowledge to be aware that the move is a huge public relations game where the NRA was hoping to garner the kind of support it needs to end the overall gun debate.

Being a gun owner myself, I am all for our Second Amendment rights, but I am appalled that this nonprofit organization is using their money to sponsor this race, at such a heated time, versus using this money to further their current gun safety programs. While Gander Mountain also jumped on the opportunity to promote gun sales, through their sponsorship of Clint Bowyer, I applaud their doing so to promote gun safety with the slogan “With rights comes responsibility, Secure your firearms” on the No. 15 Toyota Camry. There’s a difference between marketing safety and marketing politics.

With gun control being such a heated topic, I decided to ask a few people directly connected to the world of motorsports their thoughts on the sponsor of this Saturday night’s race, the first of these being Brad Allen, general manager of NASCAR Home Track Southern National Motorsports Park, who is very familiar with the need for track sponsorship funding, but is against a sponsorship of this nature at such a heated time.

“The platform for this type of sponsorship is too political and polarizing,” said Allen. “I want our race track to be a place to get away from the pressures of the world, not be a platform to push an agenda. We strive to keep things impartial for our competitors; we should do the same for our fans.”

Former motorsports champion and author of Dangerous Curves, Terri O’Connell, also feels this sponsorship is too risky for this sport at this time.

“This is a double-edged sword that will, in the end, put NASCAR in a place that will not endear them in the marketplace that they so desperately want to nurture,” said O’Connell. “With a more prevalent vision for this sport, this sponsorship is a mistake. Fortune 500 companies and pop culture media will not be as kind as some motorsports media. The NRA should also keep this in mind with their current PR efforts spinning the logic of big evil is coming for your guns in order to protect their interest. Now NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway track owners are going to use this logic to try and fill the stands.”

A longtime member of the sports media family, Dave Goren, executive director of the National Sportscasters and Sportswriters Association (NSSA) and current sports commentator for 88.5 WFDD, claims there’s a high, long-term awareness rising out of the NRA choosing this partnership.

“With the repeated use of the ‘NRA’ name during the broadcasts and the thousands of print and digital mentions before, during and after the race, it seems the NRA is trying to push its brand before the public in a positive, non-confrontational way,” he said. “Only post-event research and analytics will tell if it is successful.”

I am aware that both NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway are in need of sponsorships for these race events to happen and I fully support that, but it is a shame that the business side of this sport has taken away complete common sense from its leaders. Maybe we will someday get lucky and both NASCAR and track owners will ask their fans what they think before agreeing to something of this nature. Chances are, on this one they would have been met with a resounding “no.”

What can anyone do now? Not much. But if these partnerships are ever going to be stopped, it’s up to fans to continue to chime in. Let’s hope that someday it makes a difference.

Leave The NRA Alone
Beth Lunkenheimer

This weekend, the Sprint Cup Series rolls into Texas Motor Speedway for the NRA 500 Saturday night showdown. But ever since the speedway announced its partnership, last month with the National Rifle Association as primary sponsor of Saturday’s race, people have been up in arms about it. Everyone from fans to media and even politicians that typically couldn’t care less about cars driving in circles have weighed in, claiming that NASCAR is opening up a can of worms. In fact, fellow writer Ellen Richardson expressed her disbelief in the Wednesday newsletter.

Guns have long been part of the tradition after poles and victories at Texas Motor Speedway — as even five-time champ Jimmie Johnson demonstrates.

Today, I’m here to ask a simple question: is it really that big of a deal? Yes, I’m well aware of the gun control debate that looms across this country, especially in the wake of the senseless tragedy that hit Newtown, Connecticut last year. And yes, I’m aware that there have been plenty of other gun-related tragedies; but in the end, is this partnership anything more than just a race sponsor? The simple answer to the question is a resounding no.

As someone who lives just an hour away from the mile-and-a-half track that had struggled much of this year to sell the race sponsorship, I couldn’t help but grin when I first read how the NRA would fill that void. Sadly, that grin melted away almost as quickly because I knew the political firestorm that would follow. Regardless of your own personal beliefs on gun control, this weekend’s race is not about that at all. In fact, TMS track president Eddie Gossage said it best when the partnership was announced.

“It’s not about politics. It’s about sports marketing. [The NRA] saw it was obviously a very attractive sports marketing opportunity and seized it. That’s what it’s all about,” Gossage said. “It’s about putting on one of the great sporting events in America. I know in Atlanta last year, they saluted a lot of the people that make America free. They are going to salute American freedoms and American families with this race. That’s their plan, so it seemed to be a good fit.”

Those comments were echoed by NRA executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre via a video message played at the track’s media day when the announcement was made.

“The NRA 500 is the latest announcement in the long history of a growing partnership between the NRA, Speedway Motorsports and the NASCAR community,” LaPierre said. “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. On April 13, we’ll all come together at Texas Motor Speedway.”

And there you have it. This partnership with the NRA is nothing more than just another race sponsorship. It’s no different than Aaron’s, Samsung, Bojangles or any of the dozens of other companies that have partnered with various tracks throughout the years. The only real difference is that Texas partnering with a polarizing group in the NRA is that so many people feel the need to use it as a political platform. But in the end, Gossage reiterated there’s nothing political about it earlier this week.

“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,” Gossage said. “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.”

Now, for just a moment, put the political aspect of the NRA and gun control aside. Each and every facility on the Sprint Cup circuit looks for corporate sponsorship to help offset the many costs that come along with hosting a NASCAR-sanctioned event. And is there any better facility for the NRA to get involved with than Texas? After all, the state does have a reputation of loving its firearms (whether it’s right or wrong is up for debate, but that’s not why we’re here) and it fits in perfectly with how each pole and race winner celebrates. For years now, the pole sitter has taken home a commemorative rifle while the race winner fires off a pair of pistols, loaded of course with blanks, in celebration, and that tradition will continue this weekend.

“Any rational person clearly understands it is part of the celebration and is not any kind of political statement,” Gossage continued. “This is a race, not a rally for any cause. Period. End of story.”

This weekend is just like any other on the NASCAR circuit. The Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series head off to Texas for the first of two visits to the 1.5-mile track, and each series will feature a race winner who will celebrate their victory in the same way he or she would at any other facility. Anyone who thinks NASCAR, or TMS themselves has anything political in mind is just fooling themselves.

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