NASCAR racing is a pretty closed sport; you either love it or hate it, follow it or not. This weekend at the Texas Motor Speedway it was different. In early March, the NRA, following two months of being pummeled by the press and public for a tone-deaf response to the massacre at Sandy Hook decided to sponsor itself a race. So, this weekend we had the NRA 500.
But it was different in two ways. First, an argument broke out in the infield of the race and a man decided to kill himself with a handgun. Second, and more significant [except to the family and friends of the dead man] was that Fox Sports seemed to bend over backwards to NOT use the name of the race. In every instance of the pre-race show and the race they referred to it as the Texas 500 or the Texas Motor Speedway 500.
First, to the death in the infield. At this time there are not many details, but the basics are that Kirk Franklin, 42, of Saginaw, Texas got into an altercation at the speedway during the race. He ended the altercation by shooting himself to death. Alcohol may have been involved.
Normally, and by that I mean over the past 30 years or so a hallmark of NASCAR races is the way that announcers and drivers do everything they can to repeat the names of the sponsors as many times as possible. It is not “fill up with gas;” rather, “fill up with Sunoco Racing Fuel.” It is not, “I want to thank my team;” instead, “I want to thank the crew for setting up the awesome Dupont, Pepsi MAX, Quaker State, AARP Drive to End Hunger, Rick Hendricks Motorsport Chevrolet SS today for the Subway 500.”
The announcers have been particularly guilty as they work in any and all references to race sponsors, from the Sharpie500 to the Kobalt400 to the Budweiser Shootout. But it didn’t happen that way this weekend. This weekend, the name “NRA 500” was not mentioned a single time. That extended to the pre-race, showing of logos and photo-ops.
At least two of the drivers were told not to mention the sponsor and to not be shown by the logos.
To be fair, they also did not mention, or show up close video of the [takes a deep breath] Michael Waltrip Racing Number Fifteen Clint Bowyer Gander Mountain With Rights Comes Responsibility Secure Your Firearms Camry; and Michael Waltrip and his NASCAR champion brother Daryl were both part of the Fox Sports announcing team. This change in sponsor name dropping seems to have started with the broadcasters last week, when they didn’t readily promote the STP Gas Booster 500 by name, though they did promote the STP 500 next week in Kansas by name.
NASCAR itself has spent a month distancing itself from the NRA 500 and the controversy that it created. Facing backlash in the sponsorship agreement NASCAR spokesman David Higdon spoke to ESPN where he said “in light of this weeks race, NASCAR will be examining its rules moving forward as to who can be allowed to sponsor races.”
The controversy took a national turn when Connecticut Senator Chris Murphy asking that Fox network not broadcast Saturday night’s NASCAR Sprint Cup race sponsored by the National Rifle Association. If the broadcast was any indication, it seems that Fox Sports did make a conscious decision to minimize NRA promotion.
In early December, 2012 Bob Costas jumped into the politics of gun violence with an extended comment during halftime of Sunday night football in the wake of the murder/suicide of Jovan Belcher and his girlfriend and other shootings that had occurred. Conservatives jumped all over Costas and NBC for his introduction of the politics of gun violence into the world of sports…Four months later those same conservatives are jumping all over Fox Sports because they did not introduce politics into the world of sports.
That insular world of NASCAR opened up a bit this week, the outside world spilled into their lives as the bigger middle of America, that large group that is neither pro-gun nor anti-gun violence found their actions…well, tacky. The outside world questioned that they should have known better, that they should have been more sensitive to the zeitgeist of the nation rather than bring partisanship into the NASCAR world. But most of the outside world would be even more appalled to know that it was as late as 2004 when the Southern 500 finally caved to end its Rebel Flag waving showcase race.
In the end, the controversy is on what was not said, what was not shown, rather than what was. Oh, and Kyle Busch in the Number 18 Interstate Battery, M&Ms, Joe Gibbs Racing Camry took a bow with the Sunoco Checkered Flag™ for the first, umm NRA 500 at the Texas Motor Speedway.
McAllister is a life long liberal, environmentalist, Eagle Scout, and even gun owner – born in Harlan, Kentucky and has lived in Southern California, New York City and now resides in Lexington, Kentucky as a Systems Analyst.
You can read more of McAllister’s observations and opinions at Shoot From the Left Hip.