FORT WORTH, Texas — The National Rifle Association is taking its relationship with racing to a new level as the title sponsor of a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race.
The deal with Texas Motor Speedway comes at a time when the NRA is involved in a renewed debate on gun violence.
“It’s not about politics. It’s about sports marketing,” TMS president Eddie Gossage said Monday after the announcement of the one-year agreement with the NRA, which includes a renewal option.
The April 13 race at Texas, the first night race in the Cup Series this season, will be the NRA 500.
The NRA sponsored the second-tier Nationwide race last September at Atlanta, a track also owned by Speedway Motorsports Inc.
NASCAR said in a statement that “race entitlement partnerships” are agreements directly between the track and the sponsor, though NASCAR reserves the right to approve or disapprove those sponsorships.
“The race sponsor for Texas Motor Speedway’s April event falls within the guidelines for approval for that event,” NASCAR’s statement said.
Wayne LaPierre, the NRA’s executive vice president and CEO, expressed his excitement about the deal in a video message played during the track’s media day.
“The NRA 500 is the latest announcement in the long history of a growing partnership between the NRA, Speedway Motorsports and the NASCAR community,” LaPierre said.
The sponsorship seems like a natural fit. It’s been a tradition at Texas Motor Speedway that the winner of the Cup race gets to fire off a six-shooter in Victory Lane, and the winner of the pole gets a rifle as a prize. NRA officials first expressed interest last fall to Texas officials about sponsoring the track’s spring race.
The event previously had Samsung Mobile as a title sponsor since 2002, but the company didn’t renew its contract after last April’s race.
Without a title sponsor, Texas had been promoting next month’s race as the Texas 500.
“We’ve had other (sponsor) offers but a lot of people wait and expect you to drop your price. That’s not something we do. We’re not going to be a discount speedway,” said Gossage, not revealing specific details. “They were willing to meet the price. They afford us some great marketing opportunities as well with their membership to reach out to them and try to bring their members to attend the race here.”
Gossage said TMS and the NRA reach similar audiences and that he expects a lot of tickets being bought by NRA members and people who support the group’s position.
“Obviously we know the NRA well and I can tell you from just looking at the demographics, I can tell you from the social media that I’ve been sitting here monitoring since that announcement was made, it’s probably 99 percent supportive. Some wildly supportive,” he said. “The public, it doesn’t seem to be they’re going to have any issue with it, and I’m not sure why anybody would think they would.
“Like I said, know your demographic and we pride ourselves on being good at what we do,” he said. “So we know what we’re doing and who we’re partnering with.”