The Frontstretch: Racing To The Point: NASCAR Kept Its Head In The Sand With The NRA by Brett Poirier -- Tuesday April 16, 2013

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NASCAR stood its ground in the weeks following Texas Motor Speedway’s decision to sign the National Rifle Association as the primary sponsor for Saturday night’s Sprint Cup race.

By not talking about the NRA sponsorship, let alone banning it, NASCAR tacitly gave their support to one side of the gun control debate. Was that intended?

The stance was simple: race entitlement sponsorships are signed by the track, not the sport’s governing body. So when Texas Motor Speedway announced that the NRA was going to sponsor a race seen by millions in the middle of a debate on gun control in Washington D.C., NASCAR effectively said, “It wasn’t us, it was them.”

Except the sport had final approval, after all and didn’t think twice about one of its marquee races being named the “NRA 500.” This is the same NASCAR that has been so concerned about its public image this season that it fined Denny Hamlin for mildly criticizing the Generation-6 car and suspended Jeremy Clements for a derogatory remark. Somehow, it completely missed the boat on the NRA.

That was, until Friday when NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said in a roundabout way, maybe we should’ve looked into this situation.

You think?

“The NRA’s sponsorship of the event at Texas Motor Speedway fit within existing parameters that NASCAR affords tracks in securing partnerships,” Higdon said. “However, this situation has made it clear that we need to take a closer look at our approval process moving forward, as current circumstances need to be factored in when making decisions.”

You guys couldn’t come to that conclusion on March 5th? It took until less than 48 hours before the main event for NASCAR to realize that “current circumstances need to be factored in when making decisions.”

A four-year-old could’ve told us that.

Suddenly, NASCAR’s solid stance seemed to be melting away. And what really transpired that we didn’t expect to happen, from March 5th up until that point? Columnists around the country criticized the sport, families and friends of victims of gun violence were enraged and Congressmen ripped NASCAR. But the sport couldn’t see this coming?

On Thursday, Connecticut senator Chris Murphy wrote a letter to NewsCorp CEO Rupert Murdoch urging him not to air the race on FOX.

“I write today to urge you to not broadcast NASCAR’s NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on April 13th,” Murphy wrote. “This race, which is being sponsored by the National Rifle Association (NRA), is going to take place during the Senate’s consideration of legislation to reduce gun violence. The race not only brings national attention to an organization that has been the face of one side of this heated debate, it also features the live shooting of guns at the end of the race.”

Was that the turning point for NASCAR? By then, it was far too late — as with most NASCAR decisions. The NRA 500 was televised, and for the most part FOX analysts managed to tiptoe around the official name of the race. Meanwhile, Kyle Busch threw on a cowboy hat and fired trophy six-shooters in Victory Lane while a NASCAR fan shot himself in the head and committed suicide in the infield. In the end, the damage was done: overnight ratings (a 3.5 in the Nielsens) were the lowest in history at the track for FOX, the lowest for the sport in 2013 and a clear outlier in the uptick in support we’ve seen throughout the season.

One of my goals for this column wasn’t to get into a gun control debate. NASCAR claimed it didn’t want to be in the middle of the debate, either but it had a funny way of showing it. It turns out that no matter how many statements you put out about not taking sides, when the cars in your top series are racing past NRA symbols, your drivers are sitting in front of them in the media center and your race-winner is firing six-shooters in Victory Lane, viewers at home might get the crazy idea that you have taken a side.

And the NRA knew that. It was trying to make a political statement; NASCAR and Texas Motor Speedway laid out the platform to do so. It just took the brilliant public relations minds at NASCAR until 48 hours before to realize the enormity of the situation. If you only heard Higdon’s comments on Friday, you’d think NASCAR got bamboozled.

The sport’s Chairman and CEO, Brian France and a host of NASCAR executives made a trip to Newtown, Connecticut in February to visit with victims families and first responders. France made a sizable donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund, and NASCAR portrayed a sensitive and caring public image. Two months later, that image has been flipped upside down.

New York Times reporter Viv Bernstein interviewed David Wheeler, the father of one of the children killed in the Sandy Hook tragedy, who wrote in an email, “NASCAR can solicit or agree to endorsements from whomever they choose. Looking to NASCAR as a beacon of sensitivity, good taste or judgment, however, might be a mistake.”

Wheeler’s right. And if there’s one thing fans have learned in 2013, looking to NASCAR for common sense decisions might be a mistake as well.

Contact Brett Poirier

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04/16/2013 07:52 AM

I don’t know why you guys have a bug up your rear just because the NRA sponsored a race. It’s not like the NRA was involved in any of these shootings and if anything their emphasis is on safety and training. Besides, a letter from the Governor of the state that had major gun restrictions, and now added more, has very little moral high ground to stand on.

But then again, you aren’t interested in logic, you just needed something to fulfill a deadline. That’s about as good as MSNBC, CNN, HLN, etc. so at least you may get a job with one of them. Maybe the PansyAss500 will be coming soon and we can all agree how that was a good choice.


04/16/2013 08:27 AM

I was more bothered by the “Hellava Good” sponsor than the NRA.

We’ve got laws on top of laws and no law is going to stop a killer.

But a gun in the right hands will.

If only the politicians and the media would celebrate the stopping of a crime through the proper use of a gun….yet we don’t hear about those stories or see those stats very much.

Carl D.
04/16/2013 09:13 AM

Words cannot express how awful it must be to lose a child, especially in such a horrific manner as what transpired at Sandy Hook Elementary. Everyone with a smidgen of compasion feels for those parents and for the whole community. Some of those parents have decided to make their voices heard on the matter of gun control, as is their right. However, theirs is not the only voice. As I have said numerous times, the NRA membership is your neighbors, your co-workers, and your church congregation. Many of them are parents as well, and they too have a voice. Most of them believe that owning a gun is the best way to protect their own families. They have a right to have their voices heard.

If Nascar wants to remain neutral on the issues that are being debated by our country, that is their perogative. They have right to control their image. However, for Frontstretch or anyone else to maintain that the NRA sponsorship of a Nascar race is somehow detrimental to Nascar’s image is an insult to NRA members. And for Nascar to say, after the fact, that maybe it wasn’t a good idea goes beyond hypocrisy; it’s equally insulting to the law-abiding members of the NRA. For Nascar, this wasn’t about neutrality, this was about keeping their mouth shut until the money had been counted, then saying “Oops… our bad, we don’t really think the NRA reflects our values.” Message received.

Sherri T
04/16/2013 11:14 AM

So now we’re going to blame bad ratings on the NRA? I don’t think so!

I had the race on mute for 98% of the time so am I considered a watcher or a non-watcher?

I certainly didn’t choose to do this because of a race sponsor. In fact, I was all for the NRA sponsoring the race. I agree with the NRA partly because the whole PC group in America is making it “not cool” to believe in a tenet our forefathers thought was VERY important and I happen to agree with. STRONGLY!

Now, yesterday’s violence wasn’t caused by guns, are we going say “Scott’s” shouldn’t sponsor a race because someone might make a bonb with their fertilizer?

Come on people! Our country was founded on free speech! Are we going to take that away now too?

Alan Sorensen
04/16/2013 11:21 AM

Brett: If Senator Chris Murphy had leaned on you to suppress this column the way he did to TMS, what would have been your reaction? Quit straddling the fence and say what you really mean! These anti-gun clowns will forever be trying to get people on their side, but it ain’t gonna happen. I stand as a Christian believer, patriot, veteran, and family man. Neither you, or anyone else will change my views. I stood for eight years in defense of your right to voice your opinion, and know this, that if the time comes to bail out all those that think the law by itself will protect you from mayhem and violence, I will be there to protect you – with a weapon of choice…

04/16/2013 11:33 AM

Time to find a new website for NA$CAR coverage. You guys are too anti gun for me.

04/16/2013 11:35 AM

Brett, I see that you have gotten the message from many!! Don’t need to add a thing as these people are true Americans and the American way!!….if you want gun control go to Canada or England and leave us alone!!

04/16/2013 01:10 PM

You guys are way off base on this one. I cant say it any better than Carl D did above. I’ll just add I’m a lifelong Connecticut resident, a college professor and a gun owner. I recently joined the NRA because I have had it with the politicians in this country like Chris Murphy, who isnt very bright,who have passed or are trying to pass outright anti-gun legislation in the name of safety.Connecticut just passed a law that requires anyone who owns a magazine greater than ten round capacity, to register the magazine with the state police. I guess after January 1, I’ll be a felon.

04/16/2013 01:14 PM

As an NRA member and NASCAR fan I have been nothing short of annoyed by the manner in which has chosen to cover the NRA 500. You’d think the NRA was a terrorist organziation by the way some of these writers have discussed its sponorship of a NASCAR event. And as a side note, the columnist states that the ratings were the lowest for the year, could the fact that it was a Saturday night race have anything to do with that?

04/16/2013 01:24 PM

I didn’t watch the race because the NRA was the sponsor. It’s their right to have anyone sponsor that they want, it’s also my right not to watch. Apparently I am not alone.

04/16/2013 02:02 PM

Carl D nailed it, good job Carl.
Shame on FOX for not showing the Victory lane celebration at TMS. Kyle firing cowboy six shooters being lumped in by association with a lunatic killer is crazy but the PC crowd are famous for blaming everyone but the criminal and use such tragedies as an excuse to to exercise more control over people.

04/16/2013 03:19 PM

I don’t think anyone is arguing the tracks right to have any sponsor they deem appropriate, and who is willing to pony up the money for said sponsorship. In light of what happened in Connecticut, and Nascar’s supposed support of the families there, the timing seems to be more the issue for many.

Carl D.
04/16/2013 03:50 PM

Sal… Respectfully, I can’t agree with you that the timing was bad because of the Connecticutt shootings. Many of the parents there have begun crusading for tougher gun laws, so that door has been opened. It can’t be considered acceptable for one side to speak on the issue while expecting the other side to keep quiet about it.

04/16/2013 04:18 PM

Let’s mourn for the victims of Sandy Hook at the Daytona 500 but celebrate the NRA at Texas Speedway. Talk about hypocrisy!

04/16/2013 04:59 PM

Frontstretch, you have blown my mine. Spent 19 months in Nam, Purple Heart and Bronze star recipient! Not a NRA member but am for gun rights being left like they are in NC where I live. Our politicians are so unbelieaveably dumb … how can we solve problems if we don’t work on the real cause. For all you people who think they are working on the real cause(s) of the killings, you might want to do some more research. For Frontstretch, it might be smart that you do a little more research as well before you write more of this crap.

Sally F.
04/16/2013 05:08 PM

I wonder if the people who are so supportive of the NRA sponsorship would be so quick to jump to the same conclusion if the group had been one lobbying for mandatory equal pay for women or for legalizing same-sex marriage? If one politcal agenda is allowed, should they all be? This goes beyond one group with an agenda. Whose agendas should be allowed and whose should not-and if NASCAR nixes sponsorship from a group whose message is considered liberal, aren’t they then painting themselves as a conservative organization, or at least as hypocrites? And would taking sides drive away fans? It’s way more than one group and one race.

04/16/2013 05:27 PM

Wouldn’t bother me at all, Sally. My politics are Liberterian; I want the government out of my bedroom, wallet and anyplace else they try to insert themselves. Some of us tend to think it’s a Constitutional issue that has been politicized by the fools we keep electing. I will tell you this as a Connecticut resident and long time trap and target shooter; the bundle of new laws Connecticut just passed affecting gun owners would have had ZERO impact on what happened at Sandy Hook. Its all just feel-good to make politicians like our intrepid Senator Murphy feel good about themselves.

04/16/2013 10:03 PM

Once again frontstretch and their writers are out in left field. The reason the ratings were low is that the race was BORING! Once again, I read your email for RACING INFO NOT LIBERAL POLITICAL OPINIONS!!
If this political garbage continues, I’ll find another source for racing news. Go work for cnn, nbc, cbs, abc and voice all the liberal political crap you want to just leave it out of racing.

04/16/2013 11:07 PM

Amazing how many of the commenters just missed the whole point of this article.

04/16/2013 11:19 PM

Typical. Nascar will never be a real sport because your fan base is comprised of imbiciles. Reading your attempts to justify the assiniity of the decisions made by NASCAR and then the cool aide drinking gun fanatics claims is really sad. The problem is a lack of education that was taken away from the American public by Republican politicians who hide behind patriotism when their real platform is racisim. I’m done with BZF and the jerks that call themselves NASCAR fans. Nascar hasn’t been the same since BZF took over and the best part is ….BZF is laughing all the way to the bar!

04/16/2013 11:22 PM

I am out of here. A plain just dumb article. See ya fronstretch!

04/17/2013 12:26 AM

Thanks for being the ONLY website that mentioned the the sad incident.Did NASCAR have any sway in keeping this news from being reported on oyher websites?

04/17/2013 12:34 AM

See ya Joe. However you’ll be back inside a month.

04/17/2013 01:50 AM

It doesn’t matter what side of the issue you are. If you are in business, and NASCAR is a business, It doesn’t make sense to take sides on a political issue and offend existing or potential customers. When you are at a race you don’t know or care if the guy next to you is pro gun or anti- gun, liberal or conservative, etc. His money is as good as yours. I hate the PC crowd as much as anyone but it seems like the only time that NASCAR gets any press in places like New York is when something negative happens like this NRA deal or when those fans were injured in the stands at Daytona.

04/18/2013 08:36 PM

This PC crap is what is ruining this country. And I resent being called an imbecile just because I like Nascar and agree with our right to bear arms. And Bob, you’re right. The only time Nascar gets national exposure is when it’s negative. So just add Frontstretch to the liberal media bias and the idiots who think stricter gun laws will stop criminals from getting their hands on them. The government and the liberals won’t be happy until we have no freedoms left.