Cuts to National Guard Motorsports Sponsorships Draw Mixed Reviews

Earnhardt Jr., in victory lane following Sunday's 400 at Pocono Raceway (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Earnhardt Jr., in victory lane following Sunday's 400 at Pocono Raceway (Jerry Markland/Getty Images)
Posted August 7, 2014 at 1:10pm

Lawmakers are predictably split on the National Guard’s announcement it will be slashing motor sports sponsorships — just days after a car sporting the Guard’s livery won a major NASCAR race.  

Sen. Claire McCaskill was among those who lauded the news.  

“I’m a NASCAR fan, and I love the National Guard — but spending tens of millions of taxpayer dollars on a recruitment program that signed up zero recruits, and that has been abandoned by other service branches as ineffective, just makes no sense,” the Missouri Democrat said in a statement.  

McCaskill led a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee hearing in May that was critical of sports-marketing efforts by the military. The primary function of such campaigns, including NASCAR and IndyCar sponsorships, has been as a recruiting tool.  

Dale Earnhardt Jr., the NASCAR fan-favorite currently sponsored by the National Guard, won Sunday’s 400-mile race at the Pocono Raceway in Long Pond, Pa., giving him three wins on the season. The National Guard colors were featured prominently in victory lane.  

Several House members have long fought to end military sponsorships of such events, including not only NASCAR, but bass fishing and mixed martial arts. Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum and Georgia Republican Jack Kingston, are also appropriators who have pushed — with mixed success — for amendments along these lines to spending bills over the past several years.  

McCollum and Kingston have both argued that Pentagon spending on sports sponsorships while two wars rage overseas is not a responsible use of taxpayer dollars, and note that the sponsorships have not resulted in any substantial volume of new military recruits — one of the stated purposes of of such partnerships.  

Others lawmakers, especially those hailing from North Carolina, disagree.  

“The motor sports industry is a critical economic driver in North Carolina and states across the country, and I am disappointed that the Army National Guard chose to end its sponsorship of NASCAR,” Democratic Sen. Kay Hagan of North Carolina said in statement. “With a strong fan base of 77 million men and women, this partnership with NASCAR has resulted in significant exposure for the Army National Guard that has strengthened recruitment and retention.”  

Rep. Richard Hudson, R-N.C., expressed a similar view.  

“The success of the National Guard using professional motorsports to recruit young men and women has been proven and well-documented,” said Hudson, who issued a statement Wednesday morning decrying the sponsorship’s cancellation as due to “political pressure” from Senate Democrats. “Instead of actually looking at the facts, there was a clear effort to put pressure on the National Guard to end this valuable program. If we’re going to spend money on recruiting, then we should stop playing politics and spend it wisely by investing the best resources available.”  

Hudson also happens to hail from an area in the state that’s home to the Charlotte Motor Speedway.  

Newly appointed Chief Deputy Whip Patrick T. McHenry, R-N.C., might also be riled up about the decision given previous statements opposing an end to military sponsorship of NASCAR.  

“The vast majority of NASCAR fans, 1 out of 5, have served or are currently serving in the U.S. military,” McHenry said on the House floor in 2011 during debate on an amendment to sever Pentagon ties with the association. NASCAR events, he argued, provide a “target-rich environment for the military’s recruiting message.”  

The National Guard announced the news Wednesday.  

“Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business,” Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons said .  

But, as Sports Illustrated and others reported, there seems to be a disagreement between the National Guard and Earnhardt’s team Hendrick Motorsports as to the length of the existing sponsorship contract.