With the gun-control debate grabbing headlines and a U.S. senator calling for the FOX network not to show the controversial NRA-backed Sprint Cup race on Saturday night at Texas Motor Speedway, NASCAR announced that it will become more proactive in intervening with tracks on future sponsorship agreements.
Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) wrote NewsCorp chief executive officer Rupert Murdoch this week to ask FOX not to air the race, but FOX will show the NRA 500 as planned.
“The NRA’s sponsorship of the event at Texas Motor Speedway fit within existing parameters that NASCAR affords tracks in securing partnerships,” NASCAR spokesman David Higdon said Friday. “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.”
Texas Motor Speedway president Eddie Gossage said the track had received fewer than a dozen complaints about the race’s sponsor.
“There is no controversy or big uproar or even a tiny uproar,” he said. “As for this senator, I appreciate a good publicity effort as much as anyone.”
ESPN.com reported that several drivers were advised through their teams to avoid interviews on the subject in a media area where the NRA logo is displayed.
The drivers are trying not to politicize the race. Instead, they’re focusing on winning. But even the traditional victory celebration at Texas was drawing scrutiny because the winner normally dons a cowboy hat and fires six-shooters with blanks.
“I think it’s a good fit for Texas,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “If we win the race, we’re going to treat Victory Lane just like any other race, and we’ll be happy to celebrate just like everybody else has celebrated here in the past.
“I own guns. I like to hunt. When I’m not hunting, I keep my guns in a safe place, out of reach from my younger family members and my nieces and nephews. I like to hunt and I believe in ownership, but I also believe in responsibility. You can’t ever be safe enough in regards to that, especially with gun ownership.”
Gun control is a particular sensitive issue after the Sandy Hook Elementary School tragedy in December in Newtown, Conn., that left 20 children and six adults dead.
In his letter, Murphy wrote that the NRA sponsorship would bring national attention “to an organization that has been the face of one side of this heated debate.”
The National Rifle Association has been involved with NASCAR races before. In September, the organization sponsored a Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway.
“I can’t speak for everybody but I can speak for myself in saying that I would really rather stay out of politics and just race,” defending Sprint Cup champion Brad Keselowski said.