In signing a sponsorship contract with the National Rifle Association (NRA), the organizers of the Texas 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Tex., have agreed to rename the race. For this year at least, the race for the Sprint Cup Championship will include the chance to earn points at the NRA 500.
For some, the link could not make any better sense. Much of NASCAR’s target market is similar to the rank-and-file of NRA members. For example, NASCAR draws much of its fan base from the southern United States, where rates of gun ownership tend to be higher. As one driver summarized the connection, “The NRA is our core fan base, and we all have guns, and all us racers love to go out and shoot. It’s part of who we are.”
The sponsorship means that, in addition to changing the name of the race, the network that broadcasts it is required to mention the NRA at least once per hour of coverage. This year, the broadcast network is Fox, a network that does not offer any advertising for gun companies (nor do any of the other major networks). This apparent contraction is not a concern for many drivers—even those like Michael Waltrip, who changed the paint scheme and number on his car in a fund-raising tribute to the tragic mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
Yet the reputation of the NRA also has taken some recent hits. For many Americans, the multiple recent cases of gun violence suggest the need for additional gun control. In contrast, the executive vice president of the NRA Wayne LaPierre, long known for his inflammatory remarks, has recommended adding armed guards to elementary schools and threatened that any limits on gun ownership would lead to a “hellish world” of lawlessness and anarchy.
From this perspective, the sponsorship seems rather more controversial, especially as NASCAR continues to work to expand its market beyond stereotypical racing fans. For more recent consumers of the sport, who might not come from a hunting or gun-oriented culture, the link might be more troublesome. Of course, the very conversation means that both the NRA and NASCAR are likely to see their names appear more often in the press—an outcome perhaps even more effective than any less controversial sponsorship could manage.
Source: Nate Ryan, “National Rifle Association Sponsors NASCAR Sprint Cup Race,” USA Today, March 4, 2013.