As the gun debate rages in the wake of the Newtown shootings, the National Rifle Association has revved up its relationship with NASCAR.
The NRA will title-sponsor its first NASCAR Sprint Cup race on April 13 at Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth, Texas, USA Today reports. The former Texas 500 will now become the NRA 500. The race will air live on Fox.
Individual tracks can negotiate their own sponsorship deals, but NASCAR gets final approval, the racing body explained in a statement to The Huffington Post.
"The race sponsor for Texas Motor Speedway’s April event falls within the guidelines for approval for that event," the statement concluded.
Track president Eddie Gossage said the naming extended the speedway's business relationship with the NRA.
"It's not about politics. It's about sports marketing," Gossage said, according to the Associated Press. The deal is for one year with a renewal option.
In a video message, NRA Executive Vice President and CEO Wayne LaPierre said "NRA members and NASCAR fans love their country and everything that is good and right about America," the news outlet notes.
Texas Motor Speedway's post-race celebration already features guns, Sporting News points out. Winners traditionally fire blank-filled six-shooters in the air, and the pole winner wins a rifle, AP added.
A public advocacy group that criticized the NRA's reversal of its support on universal background checks several weeks after the Sandy Hook Elementary School massacre said the sponsorship move wasn't surprising.
"I think it is obvious that the NRA believes that they have an open, fruitful ground to plow and generate support for their extreme position among NASCAR fans," Agenda Project founder Erica Payne told HuffPost.
Payne cited recent surveys that showed that the vast majority of Americans and NRA members support background checks on gun purchasers. She also mentioned a previous study that indicated most NASCAR fans were in favor of an assault weapons ban.
Payne also took race officials to task over a car in last month's Daytona 500 that advertised a Newtown victim's relief fund. She criticized driver Michael Waltrip and NASCAR officials for remaining mum on gun policy.
Last September, the NRA served as the name sponsor of Atlanta's NRA American Warriors 300 on NASCAR's lower-profile circuit, the Nationwide Series. But its title-sponsorship on NASCAR's major circuit is a first.
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