The National Rifle Association, a touchstone for gun-rights advocates in a national debate about gun control following the Sandy Hook shootings, is putting its name on the NASCAR Sprint Cup race at Texas Motor Speedway in April.
The NRA 500 will be the name of the race scheduled for April 13 at the 1.5-mile track, part of a one-year deal announced Monday by speedway president Eddie Gossage.
“This isn’t a political platform. This is a sports marketing opportunity,” Gossage said. “Demographically, it’s a perfect match.”
A press release announcing the sponsorship did not mention the December shootings at Newtown, Conn., where 26 students and staff at Sandy Hook Elementary were killed by a shooter with an assualt rifle. Last week at the Daytona 500, driver Michael Waltrip drove a car sponsored by the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
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The NRA sponsored a NASCAR Nationwide Series race in Atlanta last September, the “NRA American Warrior 300.”
Gossage said this a one-year title sponsorship agreement with the NRA. He said the track normally signs three-year deals with title sponsors, but that the NRA has options for the following seasons. He said the NRA approached the track last fall about a deal, but that it was not finalized until last week.
The announcement was made during Media Day at Texas Motor Speedway, where drivers Ricky Stenhouse Jr., Travis Pastrana and James Buescher met with reporters to promote the race weekend. In a video message, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre said, “The NRA 500 is the latest announcement in the long history of a growing partnership between the NRA, Speedway Motorsports and the NASCAR community.”
Gossage expressed no conern about any potential negative effects from associating itself with an organization that has come under criticism since Newtown tragedy.
Texas Motor Speedway said the NRA has has contributed more than $500,000 to the track’s Texas Chapter of Speedway Children’s Charities. Speedway Motorsporsts, Inc. is the owner of TMS.
“I think it’s great. I mean, the NRA is our core fan base,” Stenhouse Jr. said. “We all have guns, and all us racers love to go out and shoot. it’s part of who we are. so any time you have a sponsor that embraces their market and who they pull customers out of, it’s great for us.”
The TMS spring Sprint Cup race had been sponsored by Samsung Mobile 500.
The NRA 500 is scheduled for 7 p.m. April 13, a Saturday prime time start that makes it the season’s first night race.
Carlos Mendez, 817-390-7407