The National Rifle Association is speeding up its effort to win over its conservative base, announcing it would be a title sponsor of its first NASCAR Sprint Cup event in Texas this spring.
The move, of course, comes as Washington is embroiled in a heated debate about gun control in the wake of the recent shootings in Newtown, Conn. and Aurora, Colo. The NRA has since argued that gun owners have been “demonized” and that more —not less—are the solution.
Wayne LaPierre, the powerful gun lobby’s executive vice president declared in a video message announcing the deal that “NRA 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.”
Eddie Gassage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, insisted to the AP that “It’s not about politics. It’s about sports marketing.”
The April 13 race in Fort Worth, Texas will be called the NRA 500.
Meanwhile, Sen. Patrick J. Leahy, D-Vt., and Sen. Susan Collins, R-Me., introduced new legislation on Monday aimed at cracking down on gun trafficking. It’s one of the first bipartisan gun-control measures introduced after Newtown. If it passes, gun trafficking would be a felony and violators could face up to 20 years behind bars for engaging in straw purchases—those who buy guns and sell them off to those who can’t legally buy them. The Judiciary Committee will hold a mark up on the bill on Thursday.
The Judiciary Committee is also expected to consider other gun control-bills, including a proposed ban on assault weapons—an initiative that will be much harder to pass in Congress.
This isn’t the first time the NRA has dabbled in NACAR. Last year, the group sponsored Atlanta’s NRA American Warriors 300, a second-tier race. This sponsorship, however, is the NRA’s first in a major Cup.
Guns are already part of the tradition at the Texas Motor Speedway. The winner of the Cup race gets to fire off a six-shooter in the victory lane. Plus, the winner of the pole wins a rifle.
Whether the latest move will hurt NASCAR and be seen as thoughtless in the wake of Sandy Hook, is yet to be seen.
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