OPINION: Cutting Military Funding Of NASCAR Teams Is Right Move

TALLADEGA, AL - MAY 04: Dale Earnhardt Jr., driver of the #88 National Guard/Diet Mountain Dew Chevrolet, signs autographs in the garage area during practice for the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series Aaron's 499 at Talladega Superspeedway on May 4, 2012 in Talladega, Alabama. (Photo by Tom Pennington/Getty Images for NASCAR)

The National Guard says it's spending $26 million to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s No. 88 car this year and added a total of zero recruits through the program last year.

If you haven't heard by now, there's a bill in the U.S. House of Representatives that includes an amendment that would ban military sponsorships of NASCAR race teams.

Not surprisingly, all of NASCAR seems completely outraged by this. From drivers to media to fans, there's a level of disgust that Congress would dare cut the amount of tax dollars being spent on sponsorships for Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s National Guard car and Ryan Newman's U.S. Army car, among others.

But is Congress really doing the wrong thing?

USA Today quoted a National Guard spokesman last week who revealed some shocking numbers: In the 2012 fiscal year, nearly 25,000 individuals contacted the Guard because of Earnhardt Jr.'s sponsorship.

But of those people, only 20 people were actually qualified candidates. And get this: NONE actually joined the National Guard.

So at a cost of $26 million to taxpayers, the National Guard added a total of zero recruits directly due to its sponsorship of the No. 88 car.

I don't know about you, but that seems like wasteful spending to me. Yes, the Guard gets exposure through TV and merchandise sales.

But in a political environment where there's more pressure than ever on our elected officials to cut costs, it seems obvious that the reported $80 million per year spent on sports sponsorships could be better used elsewhere.

The thought of military sponsorships being banned, though, makes some people act like lunatics. Rep. Betty McCollum, a Minnesota Democrat who first tried to ban the sponsorships last year, received loads of outraged Twitter messages last week.

Some samples:

Judging by the responses on McCollum's Twitter feed – the more civil ones – the main argument against banning military sponsorships of race teams is that NASCAR is the most patriotic sport and does so much for the military.

Of course, that's true. But I highly doubt NASCAR is supportive of the military just because of sponsorship dollars, and I'm certain NASCAR would continue to be the most patriotic sport even if taxpayers weren't spending tens of millions of dollars per year to sponsor a car.

The bottom line is NASCAR has a proud tradition of being the most military-friendly sport in the country and there's a great connection between the two. But in a time when "fiscal responsibility" is being preached, Congress is correct in taking a hard look at whether taxpayer sponsorship of race cars is truly justified.

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