TMS made an untimely, insensitive choice with race sponsor

Posted Saturday, Apr. 13, 2013  comments  Print Reprints
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lebreton As if it was a rite of spring, there was a 500-mile car race at Texas Motor Speedway on Saturday.

A devoted and logo-draped crowd, unofficially announced at 157,100, was here to watch Kyle Busch run away with it.

There was the predictable, annual, million-mile traffic jam. The infield was stocked with transient citizens, lodged in RVs.

The pre-race entertainment was headlined by a multi-platinum — her record sales, not her hair — country music artist.

God bless America, there was NASCAR in the air.

Except ...

Except the elephant on the big track was wielding a gun. Many guns, actually, as its nonprofit title clearly suggests.

Though TMS president Eddie Gossage insisted that no political endorsement was intended by its one-year contract with the gun advocate group, title sponsors are historically difficult to ignore. Especially so when this title sponsor has its Texas-sized logo painted onto the grass across from the finish line.

It was a business decision, plain and simple, Gossage said more than once.

“This isn’t a political platform,” Eddie said when the sponsorship was announced last month. “This is a sports marketing opportunity.

“Demographically, it’s a perfect match.”

Clearly, it is. But as the Hollywood NASCAR send-up, Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, humorously reminded us, no sport identifies with its sponsors more symbiotically than auto racing.

As Wayne LaPierre, the gun group’s executive vice president, said on the day the deal was announced, “[Our] 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.”

Love NASCAR, love the gun advocate group, he was saying.

It’s the same kind of not-so-subtle message that the NASCAR Cup Series’ original sponsor, R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co., tried to send. Banned from advertising on TV, the tobacco guys hitched a ride with NASCAR in 1972 and sponsored the Winston Cup Series for 32 years.

No secret was made of R.J. Reynolds’ intentions. They used to give away cigarettes at auto racing events.

And NASCAR fans didn’t seem to have a problem with that sponsor, either.

For Saturday night’s gun advocate sponsors, therefore, the timing couldn’t have been better. The U.S. Senate is engaged in an emotional debate on restrictions of firearms.

It’s a worthy debate. Our Constitution should be cherished.

But let the legislators debate, not our sporting events. The emotional wounds are still too raw from the December massacre at Sandy Hook Elementary.

Why didn’t somebody at TMS have the sense to say, “Well, maybe this is bad timing?”

At least somebody thought so. ESPN reported that two drivers were advised by their PR people not to do interviews in the media center to avoid being shown with the sponsor’s logo behind them.

Guns are legal. I get that. When I was a member of the U.S. Army, stationed in Vietnam, I was glad that I was issued one of those guns.

But too many bad people in our country now have weapons capable of the tragedy we saw at Newtown. They’re killing children and school teachers.

This should be a time for debate, for reflection. Not a time to let a powerful lobby come in and flex its muscle on a nationally televised sporting event.

Was it a savvy marketing decision by Texas Motor Speedway? In the NASCAR vacuum, some may say so.

But it was a callous one.

On Thursday in Washington, there were the families of Sandy Hook victims, tearfully testifying before Congress. On Saturday night, there was Kyle Busch, racing to victory in the Sponsor That I Won’t Name Texas 500.

A good race. But an untimely and insensitive choice of sponsors, not that anyone around here noticed.

Gil LeBreton, 817-390-7697 Twitter: @gilebreton

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