Kyle Busch Wins the 2018 O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 - Victory Lane
Kyle Busch pointed the pair of Smith & Wesson six-shooters to the sky - loaded with blanks - and fired off four shots.
He'd just won the O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 at Texas Motor Speedway on Sunday and, in customary TMS form, celebrated the victory with a bang.
Five months after the guns were holstered at TMS, they're back and here to stay.
If you'll recall, Kevin Harvick was asked to forgo the prop elements when he captured the checkered flag in the AAA Texas 500 on Nov. 5, 2017.
The morning of that race, a gunman shot and killed 26 people and wounded several others at First Baptist Church in Sutherland Springs, Texas. The mass shooting occurred roughly 280 miles from Fort Worth.
A day later, TMS President Eddie Gossage told the Star-Telegram that he and his staff came to the easy decision to cancel the celebrations out of respect for the victims, their families and that community. At the time, Gossage also said that the gun celebrations would be back this year, and he’s followed through on that proclamation.
Before the weekend's festivities started at TMS, Gossage explained why he thinks the custom is not connected to the gun control debate prevalent across the country.
"There is no reason not to do it," he said. "The only reason we considered it (last year) was because it was in our backyard on the same day. If it had happened five days before, or somewhere further away, I don't think we would've thought about it. It's just good manners.
"The use of the guns is a stereotypical Western-scene prop, so that when you pick up the paper on Monday in Pittsburgh (Pennsylvania) or Bismarck (North Dakota) or Tokyo (Japan) you go 'Oh, they must have won that race in Texas.'"
Gossage thinks the stunt is similar to the one performed by the New England Patriots’ End Zone Militia. Every time a player scores a touchdown, a group clad in Revolutionary War garb fires off blanks into the air with their muskets filled with black gunpowder.
Over the years, drivers have really seemed to enjoy engaging in the victory tradition. After the race last year, Gossage said Harvick agreed with the choice to forgo the celebration, even though it was the then-41-year-old’s first career Cup victory at the track.
Technically, the winners receive the firearms as trophies. At a later date, they are sent the items in a manner that adheres to the laws of their home state.
Gossage said that if a driver objected to the cowboy hat and gun celebration for whatever reason, the props would not be forced on them. He also said he had no idea what the implications might be, positive or negative, for a driver who took an anti-NRA or anti-gun stance in the winner's circle.
In March 2013, the NRA finalized a one-year deal to serve as the title sponsor for TMS' Sprint Cup race. The sponsorship collaboration drew criticism from commentators and some fans because the race took place less than six months after 20 students and six adults were shot and killed at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Connecticut.
In November 2013, NASCAR responded to the TMS-NRA sponsorship agreement by adopting new guidelines that required approval for race naming rights sold by racetracks beginning in 2014.
A TMS spokesperson said that their agreement with the NRA was for one year only, and that they did not submit an NRA sponsorship application to NASCAR.
The NRA did not return a request for comment.
Gossage believes that the criticism of the partnership came from individuals who are not NASCAR fans and some of the major news outlets in large, coastal cities that, he believes, are out-of-touch with certain areas of the country when it comes to certain issues. In his experience, the overwhelming majority of NASCAR fans didn't have an issue with his organization's business partnership with the NRA.
He also said that while the NRA is considered a conservative organization, to him, they are an advertiser. He added that he would have no objections to naming any of the races after organizations that are perceived as liberal, as long as they paid for it.
In 2015, NASCAR announced that it approved the NRA as a co-sponsor of the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race, which takes place at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee. Bristol Motor Speedway and Texas Motor Speedway are both part of a collection of tracks owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc. That arrangement came into effect back in 2016 and will continue, despite the protests of some fans and politicians.
As it pertains to the gun-firing celebration at TMS, though, longtime fan James Parker is happy the tradition returned.
"Ethically, morally, last year (canceling) it was probably the right thing to do, but I am glad they brought it back," he said. "It never offended me, but I can see where it's sensitive. Look, I don't think there's any harm in it because it is all in good fun. And this is Texas. It's tradition."