The gang that couldn’t shoot straight
It seems only yesterday that track owner and promoter Bruton Smith first floated the idea of a NASCAR superspeedway in North Texas. Instead, it’s been almost two decades since the discussion started, and over sixteen years since the inaugural race at Texas Motor Speedway. I attended that first race, whose duration was roughly the same as the time necessary to crawl on I-35 from downtown Fort Worth to the track. In that time TMS has seen its share of burned gas and burnt rubber, swell racing and spilled beer. And through the ups-and-downs of a new track and (relatively) new audience the track management has behaved in a manner appropriate to both its sanctioning bodies and community.
Until, that is, the track’s recent agreement with the National Rifle Association, signed as title sponsor of this weekend’s NRA 500. Less than two weeks after Major League Baseball honored the Sandy Hook Elementary victims at all of its season-opening games (Robbie Parker, the father of 6-year-old Emilie, threw out the first pitch at the Rangers’ home opener), the Speedway’s Eddie Gossage will welcome the politically charged – and fully loaded – NRA into its 1.5-mile oval. Given that within the last two years we’ve had the near-fatal wounding of Representative Gabbie Giffords, the massacre of theater patrons in Aurora, Colorado, and the killing of twenty kids (and six adults) in Newtown, it seems – at least to this fan – that a commercial alliance with the NRA is wholly inappropriate, and Mr. Gossage’s assertion that the alliance isn’t political wholly inadequate.
Although the speedway’s hook-up with the NRA shouldn’t come as a surprise, the passivity on the part of NASCAR’s participants – Chevy, Ford and Toyota – certainly does. Global corporations known for their extreme dislike of controversy, their lack of public reaction to the sponsorship agreement is beyond curious. To be sure, the NRA sponsorship apparently serves NASCAR’s core audience very well, but Chevy, Ford and Toyota are serving a clientele far broader than that of NASCAR. And if you win the NRA 500, how do you celebrate the victory in Tucson, Aurora or Newtown?
All of the above, of course, preceded the killings in Kaufman, Texas over the last two months. And while the political debate over gun regulation looks to continue, the agreement between the speedway and the NRA should not. When TMS owner Bruton Smith co-opted ‘Texas’ in naming his speedway, it came with an unspoken agreement to act only in a manner appropriate to a statewide constituency. Today’s association with the NRA isn’t even close.
Dave Boldt, Just a Buzzard
Come and Take It
It’s little known outside of Texas, but the “Come and Take It” flag was raised by Texas settlers at the Battle of Gonzales in October 1835 after Mexico attempted to retrieve a cannon which had been granted to the town of Gonzales for protection against raids by the local Indians. The battle, such as it was, resulted in a single Texican casualty and a symbolic victory over the troops of the Mexican central government. It’s been called the “Lexington of Texas” and in Texas lore, ranks with the Alamo as a rallying cry that led to the formation of the Republic of Texas.
Which brings us to the current so-called controversy over the National Rifle Association’s sponsorship of this weekend’s NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway. Leaving aside for the nonce the merits of disarming the American people, it’s hard to believe that an affiliation of NASCAR with the NRA, particularly in Texas, is a bad public relations move. Controversial? If anything, it’s a bonanza—and cue Bonanza theme music—for the race track from the media attention it has been receiving. And no doubt it’s a plus for NASCAR.
It’s no secret that the viewership numbers for NASCAR television viewing is down, and one can speculate that it’s because of the organization’s emphasis on professional wrestling-type soap opera antics over racin’, as well as the only recently-altered drift away from racing vehicles even remotely resembling actual stock cars—the sanctioning body’s middle name—but NASCAR needs something to boost its standing with racin’ fans.
The NRA at TMS is a natural fit. If drinking milk is a tradition in the winner’s circle after the Indy 500, firing a pistol into the air is what the winner does at the Texas 500. What’s more, a rifle is given as a prize to the winner of the driver who took the pole for the race.
So having a Connecticut Yankee politician berate NASCAR, with its traditional Southern base, well, it’s a goldmine. There’s nothing that will get Southern hackles up more than a Northerner telling a Southerner what to do. The same goes for Texans, most of whom believe that the Lone Star State has a legal right to secede from the United States of America. One might say there’s a stubborn streak south of the Mason-Dixon Line. And south of the Red River, too.
And that includes firearms. Contrary to what some might think, the NRA and gun rights activists do care about the safety of school children. They just believe that the ultimate confiscation of firearms, the posting of gun-free zone placards and suspending gradeschoolers for biting a cupcake to make it look like a piston won’t do anything to protect children in schools.
And the worst thing for NASCAR to do would be to knuckle under to a bunch of Yankees who wants to separate a good ol’ boy from his gun. As Texas said 178 years ago, come and take it.
John Matras, Buzzard-in-Chief