Pro-Gun Control Senator Asks NASCAR to Change Name of the 'NRA 500'

Michael James | March 11, 2013 | 3:23pm EDT
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Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) (AP)

( -- Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) urged NASCAR CEO Brian France to not take sides in the national gun control debate following the Newtown massacre, and to reconsider a sponsorship deal with the National Rifle Association (NRA) for the upcoming NRA 500 race in Texas.

In a Mar. 7 letter to CEO France, Murphy wrote, “After the horrific mass shooting in Newtown, Connecticut, 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.”  (Letter to NASCAR.pdf)

“Given the emotional state of the national conversation,” said Murphy, “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.”

Senator Murphy continued, “By giving the NRA sponsorship of a major NASCAR race, NASCAR has crossed a line – you have decided to put yourself in the middle of a political debate, and you have taken a side that stands in opposition to the wishes of so many Newtown families who support common-sense gun reform.”

“Whether or not this was your intention, your fans will infer from this sponsorship that NASCAR and the NRA are allies in the current legislative debate over gun violence,” wrote Murphy.  “By announcing this new partnership at the very height of Congress’ deliberations over gun reform, NASCAR has inserted itself into a political debate that has nothing to do with the business of NASCAR.” (Letter to NASCAR.pdf)

NASCAR CEO Brian France. (AP)

The NRA 500 is scheduled to run April 13 at the Texas Motor Speedway in fort Worth, Texas, where previous winners of the Sprint Cup Series race have traditionally fired a pair of six-shooters in Victory Lane, and past top qualifiers have won a rifle.

Senator Murphy, 39, represented Newtown as a member of the U.S. House of Representatives for six years before becoming the youngest current U.S. senator in January.

In his letter to NASCAR’s France, Murphy further said, “The NRA increasingly relies on support from the firearms industry, including manufacturers of military-style assault weapons that have been used at Newtown and other mass shootings.”

“The NRA also pushes an extreme agenda in state capitols across our nation,” wrote Murphy.  “Defying common sense, the association has backed laws that allow gun owners to bring concealed weapons into bars, restaurants and sports stadiums. In possibly the most egregious example, the NRA supported an Indiana law that proscribed when an individual can use force, including deadly force, against a police officer.”

Adam Lanza, who killed 26 people, including 20 children,  at the Sandy Hook Elementary School in Newtown, Conn., on Dec. 14, 2012. (AP photo)

“Why take sides against the families of Newtown, Connecticut, by teaming up with the NRA in the middle of an intense legislative fight over gun laws?” said Murphy in his letter to NASCAR. (Letter to NASCAR.pdf)

On Mar. 1, NASCAR had released a statement about the partnership with the NRA for the Texas race, explaining that such sponsorship deals were negotiated between the track and the sponsor.

"The race sponsor for Texas Motor Speedway's April event falls within the guidelines for approval for that event," said the NASCAR statement.

Last September, the NRA sponsored the American Warrior 300 in Atlanta, a Nationwide Series race one level below the Sprint Cup. Ricky Stenhouse Jr., the winner of that race and current boyfriend of fellow driver Danica Patrick, conceded a widely-held view about NASCAR’s main demographic.

“The NRA is our core fan base, and we all have guns, and all us racers love to go out and shoot. It's part of who we are," Stenhouse said on March 4 at Texas Motor Speedway’s media day. “Anytime you have a sponsor that embraces their market and who their core customers are, it's great for us.”

“I was able to win the NRA race in Atlanta and those guys were great to work it,” said Stenhouse. “They take their stuff serious, they're concerned with the tragedies that we've had throughout the nation. I think they do a great job at working from their side to help things as well. I think it's a great partnership here at Texas.”

During the Daytona 500, which opens the Sprint Cup season and is the most significant race on the NASCAR calendar, two-time winner Michael Waltrip drove a car numbered 26 in honor of the 26 victims at Sandy Hook, and the car’s hood displayed a green and white memorial ribbon flanked by thirteen stars on each side. Decals on the sides of the car gave fans watching at home and at the track information on how to make a $10 donation to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund. NASCAR itself donated $50,000 to that fund, which Murphy acknowledged in his letter.

At the time, Waltrip recognized the ability to make a difference to Newtown, saying in a statement on, “Driving the No. 26 Sandy Hook School Support Fund Toyota is like nothing I have ever been part of in my NASCAR career. It will be an emotional week knowing that we have the potential to do so much good for the Newtown community. I’m racing for a reason.” contacted the offices of Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) and the NRA for comment but neither party responded before this story was posted.

Louis Mora, a spokesman for the Texas Motor Speedway, declined to comment but noted that in the Mar. 4 press release on the NRA 500, NRA CEO Wayne LaPierre was quoted as saying, "The NRA 500 is the latest announcement in the long history of a growing partnership between the NRA, Speedway Motorsports and the NASCAR community. NRA members and NASCAR fans love their country and everything that is good and right about America. We salute our flag ... volunteer in our churches and communities ... cherish our families ... we We LOVE RACING! On April 13, we'll all come together at Texas Motor Speedway."  (NRA 500 Release.pdf)

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