Match made in marketing heaven
Like many of the finer things in life, NASCAR is an acquired taste. For those of us on the outside looking in, it's hard to see what drives the sport's 75 million fans.
But one thing's certain: The people shocked by the news that the National Rifle Association is sponsoring an upcoming race at Texas Motor Speedway are not auto-racing loyalists.
To say that gun control is a hot topic in America right now is an understatement. But outrage over this partnership rings false for several reasons.
For starters, NASCAR and NRA are not exactly new bedfellows. The two organizations have been partners for years, with the NRA serving as a title sponsor for its first race in 2012.
Anyone who's up in arms over the sponsorship has clearly never watched a race at Texas Motor Speedway.
The sport is built around a very particular segment of American culture, and — spoiler alert — it doesn't include the demographic that's squeamish about firearms.
Anyone who's up in arms over the sponsorship has clearly never watched a race. Texas Motor Speedway winners are pictured brandishing a revolver in each hand, and just for good measure, wearing a cowboy hat. The pole winner's prize is not a trophy or a plaque. It's a rifle.
If this partnership offends you, then so does the entire existence of Texas Motor Speedway. It's a fine stance to take, but recognize that the NRA is not the problem — it's simply found a way to capture the attention of millions of people who are already prone to gun ownership.
While NASCAR has attracted gun-rights enthusiasts before (Texas' trigger-happy governor, Rick Perry, sponsored a car in 2010), the race itself has never served as a call to arms. The April Sprint Cup contest was previously dubbed the Samsung Mobile 500. This year, it will become the NRA 500.
In a video message played for reporters on March 4, NRA executive vice president Wayne LaPierre defended the partnership.
“NRA members and NASCAR fans love their country and everything that is good and right about America," he said. "We salute our flag, volunteer at our churches and communities, cherish our families, and we love racing.”
Really, the partnership needs no explanation beyond the fact that America is an extremely divided country.
For better or for worse, we are a nation comprised of people with wildly different views on practically every major issue. The feigned outrage by the likes of those who have no interest in auto racing serves only to highlight this truth.
After all, we are talking about a sport with a mortality rate for participants and fans alike. Is it any wonder the NASCAR community is drawn to the deadly power of guns?
If the NRA were sponsoring the Joffrey Ballet or the U.S. Polo Association, we'd have a real controversy on our hands. What we have instead is a very understandable marketing decision.