If the “Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race” sounds to you like some sort of crazy twist on Black Friday where people stampede into airplane hangar-sized shops for outdoorsmen and load up on as many guns as they can, well, that may give them an idea, but as currently constituted, you would be wrong.
The Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race is scheduled for August 18 at Bristol Motor Speedway in Tennessee, and this will be the third running using this name for NASCAR’s signature short track event, which debuted in 1961 as the Volunteer 500 and also has been run as the Volunteer 400, Busch Volunteer 500, Busch 500, Bud 500, Goody’s 500, Goody’s Headache Powder 500, goracing.com 500, Sharpie 500, and Irwin Tools Night Race. So, it’s not like they’re locked into the National Rifle Association for tradition’s sake or anything.
But, even as corporate America has spent the aftermath of the Parkland shooting turning away from the NRA, that isn’t NASCAR’s way. It wasn’t in 2013, when NASCAR ran the NRA 500 at Texas Motor Speedway, months after Newtown, and it isn’t now.
And why would it be? NASCAR team owner Richard Childress, whose No. 3 car won the Daytona 500 last month with Austin Dillon at the wheel, is first vice president of the NRA. Childress not only personally designed a gun rack for an NRA pickup truck sweepstakes last month, he actively used a gun in December, when he fired at three men who broke into his home. That’s a reasonable use of a firearm, if such a thing can be said to exist, but it’s also worth noting that under North Carolina law, he could have killed those burglars and borne no legal responsibility, which stands in contrast to the prison term Oscar Pistorius is currently serving in South Africa.
While there’s no chance that NASCAR, which put Childress in its Hall of Fame last year, was going to back away from an association with the NRA, that does not mean everything is going great on the stock car circuit when it comes to corporate partnerships.
Monster Energy, the drink that sponsors NASCAR’s top series, is waffling about whether it will continue paying for those naming rights, having requested a second extension on the deadline to decide about renewing for 2019 and 2020. The primary car sponsorships for Daytona, the biggest NASCAR race of the year, included zero beer companies, one with a completely blank hood, and two featuring Bass Pro Shops.
When the race ended, the top finishers were cars sponsored by Dow Chemical, Click N Close Mortgage – which operates under the umbrella of the not-quite-national lender Mid America Mortgage, and FedEx, which happens to be one of the few companies not discontinuing its discount programs for NRA members.
It’s sports, so it could have wound up with the winner being a car adorned with the logo of Lowe’s, Pennzoil, or McDonald’s. Or it could have been Lordco Auto Parts, Schluter Systems, or OmniCraft, whatever any of those things are. The way that it worked out is the way that it worked out, doing nothing to quell the image that NASCAR, after knocking on the door of the major sports last decade, is retreating into its past – maybe not as specifically Southern anymore, but appealing primarily to a distinct demographic. Last season’s TV ratings were dismal, and while an exciting Daytona race did good numbers for Fox, the slide continued when the series moved on to Atlanta last week.
The reason that companies have turned their backs on the NRA, after all, is not a sudden surge of moral courage on their part. It’s the same thing that leads companies to do everything that they ever do: it’s what’s best for business. Continuing on hand in hand with the NRA, NASCAR knows exactly what it is doing, the only question is when or if doing so will be harmful enough to NASCAR for NASCAR to do anything about it.