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Debate Over NRA Sponsorship of Texas Race Represents Bigger NASCAR Issue

By admin | March 6, 2013

 Winners at the Texas Motor Speedway traditionally fire pistols in the air during their victory lane celebration.

By Richard Allen

You can’t please all the people all the time. NASCAR has tried for too long to do just that and has gotten the very predictable results that come from such an effort. Sometimes you just have to realize where your base of support is and play to that base, not run from it.

On Monday, it was announced that the National Rifle Association will sponsor the April 13th running of the Sprint Cup event at the Texas Motor Speedway. The NRA 500 will be the first night race of the season for NASCAR’s highest division.

Before going any further, I want to point out that I am not, nor have I ever been, a member of the NRA. Further, I have on a number of occasions found myself in disagreement with the organization’s stances.

That said, NASCAR was once the sport of choice among many gun owners, hunters and other shooting enthusiasts.  However, recent years have seen the sanctioning body reach out to other demographics in an attempt to lure new fans to the sport and “re-brand” itself as a more mainstream activity. As a result, NASCAR’s attempts to look “hip” for their coveted demographic seems to have alienated what was once its core fan base. Proof of this being true for me comes from the fact that this is an often repeated theme in the ‘comments’ section of this website as well as in any number of other circles such as social media, message boards and personal conversations.

Guns have played a big part in NASCAR’s history. Remington used to sponsor an award that gave second fastest qualifiers one of their firearms because they were starting ’shotgun’ on the field. That brand has also sponsored individual teams. In more recent times, sponsors a Camping World Truck Series team.

And as far as the Texas Motor Speedway is concerned, gun ownership has played a significant role throughout the track’s history. The winner of the race fires two pistols(loaded with blanks) in the air as part of his victory celebration. The fast qualifier receives a shotgun for his(or her) efforts. And the track has billed Baretta as ‘The Official Firearm of the Texas Motor Speedway’.

TMS president Eddie Gossage has never been shy about his gun ownership either. He often boasts of his prized firearms and his shooting prowess.

The fact of the matter is, this sport was built on the type of people who would be or are members of the NRA. No matter what your feelings on gun rights might be, that is undeniable. Thirty years ago, NASCAR was proud of the fact that its fan base was blue-collar, middle class, hard-working Americans who would spend their last dollar to watch Cale, Bobby and Richard battle it out on(and sometimes off) the track on a Sunday afternoons.

Heck, the top series used to be sponsored by a tobacco company while the lower series was sponsored by alcohol.

Since the new television contract came along in 2001, NASCAR has decided it needs to “re-brand” itself and go after the texting, video game playing and energy drink consuming crowd. And for a while that worked as the grandstands filled with curiosity seekers.

But where did they go? Now, large banners cover almost as many sections of seats at some tracks as fans do. Despite the sport’s efforts to make itself seem like the video games with ‘re-set’ buttons that younger crowd plays(i.e. the Chase, Lucky Dogs and G/W/C finishes), that demographic lost interest. That crowd moved on to the next big things such as cage fighting and the X-Games.

And unfortunately for NASCAR, the core base was priced out and gimmicked away.

The real issue here in terms of NASCAR isn’t about the 2nd Amendment to the U.S. Constitution or the school shooting in Connecticut. I am a high school teacher myself and am very sensitive regarding the issue of school shootings. I don’t see NRA’s sponsorship of a NASCAR race as an endorsement of school shootings and no one else should either.

The real issue in terms of NASCAR is that thirty years ago this would not have even been a debate. This sport used to thrive on making itself a home for sponsors that were outside the mainstream because its core fans were outside the mainstream. But on April 13 while this race is running, many of those fans that once made up the heart and soul of the sport will not be watching because the don’t recognize this form of racing anymore. And the demographic NASCAR covets so badly will be taking another sip of their energy drink and pushing the re-set button on their video game instead of watching the NRA 500.

For those who would argue that the ‘old’ NASCAR can’t possibly appeal to enough new fans for the sport to grow, consider that the initial growth spurt of the sport came during the 1980s and 1990s when it still embraced its old ways.

The fact of the matter is, you can’t go all the way back in many ways. But NASCAR is actually showing signs that it has come to the realization that it went too far. The bringing back of brand identity with the Gen-6 car was a reaction to fan, team and manufacturer demands. The allowance of the NRA to sponsor a race may be another way of reaching back to the core. But is it enough or is it too late?

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27 Responses to “Debate Over NRA Sponsorship of Texas Race Represents Bigger NASCAR Issue”

  1. zhills fan Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 12:27 pm

    Well said! But the fact remains that NASCAR is losing fans right and left. I’ll hang in there as long as my favorite driver does (#83) but we need new blood with a similar attitude of #2 and #14, and you know who I mean. Tks for listening.

  2. JB Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 2:48 pm

    I’m sorry but I fail to see how having a loonbase such as the NRA has become will be all that helpful to NASCAR. In my opinion, the “moving away from its core fans” has more to do with penalizing drivers for giving honest opinions, boring cookie-cutter tracks, inviting people like Snooki & a possible double murderer to act as Grand Marshall at races, etc. I bristle at the argument that “this wouldn’t even be a debate 30 years ago” also…that could apply to things that should NEVER return to society. I have no problem with responsible gun ownership but unfortunately the NRA is pushing too hard to make it the opposite. There is nothing responsible about owning assaut weapons or an arsenal.

  3. Offkilter Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 6:47 pm

    I been watching cup racing since the late 80’s. G/W/C finishes is actually a good move by nascar. Many times it’s the only redeeming quality of the race. Also double file restarts of lead lap cars was brilliant. Many people think that ALL the cup racing before the big tv deal was edge of the seat excitement every lap, but it wasn’t. It was better than it is now, but there were still plenty of snoozers back then too. Alot of races had under 10 cars on lead lap at the end.

    As far as the nra sponsoring texas, good for nascar for taking the money. If folks are offended, then don’t watch. The nra has flaws, but so does our federal goverment.

    As far as the nra sponsoring the texas race, the ones that it may offend are not the ones keeping up with racing anyway. Nascar did the right thing by allowing it.

  4. Richard Allen Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 7:38 pm

    One huge mistake that dipstick water carriers like Kenny Wallace and Larry McReynolds make on a daily basis is proclaiming that long time fans believe racing was better in the 70’s and 80’s than it is now. Absolutely, there were snoozers back then. The difference was, it was not so manufactured as it is now. If Bill Elliott or Richard Petty or whomever had a better car, he was allowed to win and others were made to go to work at either making their car faster or encouraging NASCAR to make a rule change. But whatever the case, it was real rahter than WWE-like.

  5. Russ Says:
    March 6th, 2013 at 8:00 pm

    Good article Richard, with many valid points. I dont think anyone has the answers to the problems that plague Nascar. That is if you consider a company that made 52 million in the 4th qtr. of 2012 to have significant problems.

    Perhaps its just indicitive of the changing society, and only in about 20 years will somebody be able to look back and say: “this is why it happened.”

  6. GinaV24 Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 9:26 am

    Good article, Rich and thanks for pointing out some basic facts about the fan base and why NASCAR’s “reach” for the casual fan did as much harm as it did.

    I object to the “loonbase” statement about the NRA. There are a lot of loonies out there on the liberal side, too.
    Good for Texas for taking the money. Considering the “six gun” and cowboy hat props for victory lane, it would have been hypocritical of them to not do so.

    One of the reasons I no longer watch the raceday pre-race or actually any of the pre-race shows are because of the dipsticks like Kenny Wallace and Larry Mac. I’m not interested in hearing the paid mouthpieces tell me what I should think. No more than I am willing to believe something is true simply because NASCAR has twisted the drivers into toeing the company line. I have watched racing for a while. Certainly there have been snoozer races in every season but as you say, there was also less manipulation by NASCAR into the results before the Chase, GWC and lucky dog nonsense came into play.

  7. earl anderson Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 10:37 am

    Been a auto racing for many decades and for the life of me why do they hire so many people on the minus I.Q. list and southern twang. Get rid of the Jethros so folks can listen ,thaks to the mute invention on remotes. Earl sez

  8. Jesse Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 11:17 am

    Like I have said before DVR is the best thing that ever happen to a NASCAR fan, we don’t have to listen to 4 hours of DW, Larry, Mikey, and we sure don’t have to listen to Kenny in pre-race at all.

  9. Wayne T. Morgan Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 11:49 am

    I guess being an old geezer i gave up on NA$CAR years ago around the same time I quite Talking politics and other talking points. If your a new fan or old having to wade through the likes of the talking heads no wonder t.v. suffers even before the racing. As far as NRA 500 goes, as long as the racing is half way watchable it could be called the Taco 502.

  10. midasmicah Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 3:09 pm

    I don’t think the NRA sponsorship of the Texas race is a big deal at all. It’s been part of the culture from the beginning of nascar. Why is it that all the major sports in this country (nascar included) seem to think we enjoy watching and listening to commentators rather then the games themselves? I’m sick of the whole shebang. I enjoy watching the events, not the idiotic talking heads who seem to think they’re the show.

  11. Offkilter Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 7:33 pm

    Richard, i feel you bro. Personally, for me, its not wwe like because the racing is real not fake. Rule changes that brought cup racing more in line with saturday night short tracks via double file lead lap cars and no finishes under yellow is not gimmicky in my book. The “spec” cars are here to stay wether we like it or not. Nascar didn’t like the elliott brothers stinking up the show of yesteryear and neither did i. One car blowing the field away consistently nowadays would drive even more people away.
    In short, i have no loyalty to the old ways because i believe alot of the newer ways are better.

  12. Tony Geinzer Says:
    March 7th, 2013 at 8:51 pm

    I feel when was the last time that racetracks took more than Bank Clearance for Race Sponsorship? Ethics and Content of Character need to be heeded for Team and Track Ownership, and we need to use “The Winston Rule” in Cultural and Societal Acceptability.

  13. Tyler West Says:
    March 8th, 2013 at 5:03 pm

    What is the big deal. The NRA is something everyone should be backing. It’s our damn right to own fire arms. Freaking criminals will have theirs no matter what. It will be a cold day in hell before a bunch of damn liberals tell me what I can own. But I’m getting off the point there. The big deal is putting on good races, if that happens everything else will take care of itself.

  14. Carl Watson Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 4:45 am

    I take it that this article is, at least in part, concerning the statements made by Sen. Chris Murphy of Connecticut in a letter to Brian France?

    If the event were being held in Connecticut several weeks after the events at Sandy Hook, and the NRA decided to sweep in and purchase naming rights and call it “The NRA Presents the AR-15 500″ I would have objected, but that isn’t what happened. This is a financial decision between a valid sponsor, race promoter, and Nascar, in a state thousands of miles away, and does not concern the Senator from Connecticut.

    …and I say this as a Connecticut state resident of two decades, who voted for him, AND as someone whom thinks Wayne La Pierre does more harm than good to the mission of the NRA whenever he speaks, however, Sen Murphy should focus on matters concerning his state and not someone else’s. He’s certainly entitled to express his opinion, just as I am entitled to suggest he put away the footie pajamas, the red cape, and stop acting like the nation elected him to be Captain Gun Control.

    P.S. Taco 502. ROFL. Loved that one :)

  15. Richard Allen Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 9:06 am

    I actually have no idea what Sen. Murphy said.

    Agree on Wayne LaPierre.

  16. James Mountain Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 9:51 am

    I think one of the biggest things hurting NASCAR these days is the TV coverage. It’s awful. If the on track action is less than interesting, then the tv coverage just amplifies it. If the action is great, the tv coverage undersells it. This has become more apparent to me lately as I go back and watch more old races on YouTube. When Ken Squire called a race it was a spectacle of man versus machine. When the Fox crew calls a race it’s one half soap opera, one half infomercial. I think this has a lot to do with public perception of the product.

  17. James Mountain Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 9:53 am

    Oh and more on-topic, I do agree with the article. The NRA sponsorship would have been a non-issue years ago. And should be a non-issue now. There’s nothing controversial about this.

  18. Nancy Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 1:05 pm

    Why couldn’t pick a gun ownership org that wasn’t so polarizing?

    I am pro gun ownership… but not pro manufacturer immunity… straw sales… or any of the extreme views of the NRA.

    There is plenty of middle ground… but that isn’t what Eddie wanted… now he’ll get the argument / hate fest he craves

  19. NaBUru38 Says:
    March 10th, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    In other sports, political advertising is forbidden. That’s not for defending status quo, it’s to prevent anger from opposing fans. By keeping hot topics away, some sports manage to keep all the participants as friends. But political action committees have megatons of money, so it’s hard to refuse them.

  20. Carl Watson Says:
    March 11th, 2013 at 4:33 am

    @ Rich Allen - You can google it up, but basically Sen Murphy sent Brian France a letter saying, in a nutshell, that by allowing the NRA sponsorship of that race, NASCAR was taking sides.

    @ Nancy and NaBUru38 - I share some of your sentiments, but let me pose to you a question. How many fans, off the top of their head, do you think could name the title sponsor of any of the recent events at Dover, Martinsville, or Fontana? I know I can’t, even though I can tell you off the top of my head that DW’s sponsor when he left HMS to form his own team was Western Auto, and that was 20 years ago.

    Let’s be fair, with as many races are on the schedule including special events, and a revolving door of title sponsors, do we really remember most of them?

    I remember names like Firecracker 400, cool name, Coke Zero 400, not so much.

    This event likely would have come and gone and in a month with nary an afterthought, and most would have forgotten that NRA was the sponsor. Instead, by taking issue with this, especially those in the political sphere whose words get more attention, it inadvertently makes this a bigger deal than it would have been. Kind of like the recent fine against Denny Hamlin, or all those lyric advisory stickers they started putting on albums back in the 80’s and 90’s, which only had the effect of boosting record sales. lol

  21. Jerred Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 7:04 pm

    I don’t think it could have been put any better than that. I’m a younger guy, but the fact of the matter is NASCAR started and was supported by outdoor sportsman like folks. No matter how you try and look at it, that was the bread and butter of the fans. I can remember when there was a waiting list for Bristol, now you see empty seats everywhere. The NRA supports and also conducts gun safety classes. Meaning no harm to anyone. I’m from Louisiana and everyone I know enjoys shooting guns. (Not at human) just simply love the sport of target shooting. Americans are “free” let it stay that way.

  22. Robby Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    If you want to watch some pure racing without alot of BS watch the IndyCar series.

    It’s the best on-track racing there is right now.

    NASCAR made a sham of itself 10 years ago. As soon as dumb and dumber took charge.

  23. John Bishop Says:
    April 12th, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    NASCAR has gotten too big for it’s britches. You can’t tell one car from another, some drivers are given way more coverage than their results warrant, they took important races away from tracks that had tradition in order to spread the sport and instead diluted the product. Now that there’s the chase, most of the drivers are irrelevant and know from the beginning they can’t compete. Even the behavior of the “Sprint Girl” who manages to get into every meaningful post race shot to distract from the driver. Watch her look to the side and act like she is making eye contact and responding to others around the driver! Trouble is, it’s all an act! Nobody is talking to or paying any attention to her! Bad acting, no substance. If NASCAR starts caving in to the easily offended masses it might as well become golf.

  24. Fred Says:
    April 13th, 2013 at 1:14 am

    I really can not understand the american obsession with guns. You all think you live in the greatest country on earth. I suppose you are all proud of the fact that you lead the world in the needless slaughter of innocent children. The NRA are lunatics with way too much political power. I love NASCAR but won’t be watching the Kid Killer 500 in Texas.

  25. MarkG of Va Says:
    April 13th, 2013 at 10:39 am

    NRA believer or not, they are a valid card carrying money spending sponsor. Good for NASCAR. Having been a fan since Rusty Wallace was a curly headed Busch racer, the sport has indeed changed drastically over the last couple decades. We used to attend at least one and some years 3 or 4 races. Of recent I have not gone in over 7 years to even one race. The people (newly acquired market as described in the article) at the track are less welcoming and no longer feel the brotherhood that is/was NASCAR. I think “the love” has left the track itself and for the diehards remains at home with friends and family that understand that old feeling. Sales cures all, but for now until NASCAR understands the original core fan base is their bread and butter and puts those people back in the seats they are doomed to be viewed from the DVR’s of the nation getting their sponsors less and less air time. A downward spiral. I miss te old NASCAR, can you tell?

  26. Mike Says:
    April 13th, 2013 at 11:13 am

    @Rich…I find it very hard to believe you have not heard of the comments the Conn. Senator made or the letter that was sent to Mr. Murdoch of Fox asking him not to air the event unless you live under a rock or something. You probably didn’t hear about it because the MSM isn’t talking about it. While much of you article seems plausible in many respects I don’t think putting you personal bias upfront helped your cause. Everything you said afterwards sounded like Charlie Brown’s teacher.

    For those of you that feel that an event sponsored by the NRA is a bad thing…then don’t watch. The beauty of a remote is it’s used to change channels.

    For those of you that don’t mind the systematic abolition of our rights as citizens then you go right ahead and follow along. I could care less about the NRA…my concern is about liberty and freedom and rights as a human and when The government begins to infringe on these, I become concerned.

  27. Scotty as Says:
    April 14th, 2013 at 6:08 pm

    Nascar needs to stay away from anyone political. This is a sport and not politics. And majority of people hate political action committees that spend millions to tell us what we need.
    I have been a race fan for over fifty years but can’t stand all the bs before and during races so I turn off sound and enjoy the race.