The gun control debate has collided with the world of race car driving, with the National Rifle Association's announcement last month that it was sponsoring Saturday's NASCAR Sprint Cup at the Texas Motor Speedway. In response to concern over the partnership, organizers are assuring attendees that the gathering will not be turned into a political rally and will be free from propaganda by the gun lobbying group.
"Saturday night, no one is going to force any NRA literature in your hands. No one is going to be making political speeches or anything like that,” said TMS President Eddie Gossage. "It's going to be a race. We are going to have a winner and have a lot of fun, and that's going to be the extent of it."
NASCAR's announcement of its partnership with the NRA ignited strong criticism from Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.), who asked it to drop the sponsorship.
"After the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Conn., which claimed the lives of 20 children and six educators, the NRA has taken an unprecedented, extreme position in the debate over the proper response to this tragedy, placing themselves at odds with the overwhelming majority of the American people, and even their own members," Murphy wrote in a letter to NASCAR's CEO last month. "Given the emotional state of the national conversation, I believe it would be imprudent for NASCAR to step into such a heated political debate and take sides in this debate by allowing the NRA the title role in the race."
While the NRA won't be handing out literature at the race, at least one car will be carrying a message related to guns on Saturday. NASCAR driver Clint Bowyer's car will be sponsored by Gander Mountain Co., and the hood will read, "With Rights Comes Responsibility; Secure Your Firearms."
"As a leading outdoors retailer, Gander Mountain is committed to the mandate of responsible firearms ownership, and the importance of guarding against firearms getting into the hands of the underaged, untrained and unauthorized," said Steve Uline, executive vice president of marketing for Gander Mountain, in a statement on April 3.
"Most people think they are responsible firearm owners, but we want to make sure that when firearms are stored they are secured and locked up -- meaning with gun safes and trigger locks," added Bowyer.
There's a tradition at TMS of having the winning driver fire blanks from six-shooters. Gossage considered cancelling the display in light of the controversy over the NRA sponsorship, but he recently announced it would go forward.
"The more I thought about it, the more I realized it's a celebration," Gossage told USA Today Sports. "Nobody in their right mind uses it anything more than a celebration. It'd be different if it was our first time doing it."
TMS said 92 percent of the feedback its received about its NRA partnership has been positive, with just two complaints from people who have attended a race.