National Guard NASCAR sponsorship questioned

Todd Warshaw

Due to the costs associated with being involved in NASCAR and the low returns, politicians are wondering if the Army National Guard should continue as the sponsor for Dale Earnhardt Jr.

The future of Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s Army National Guard sponsorship is very much in doubt following Senate hearings Thursday on Capitol Hill.

During a Homeland Security and Governmental Affairs subcommittee on financial and contract oversight, senators questioned whether the National Guard was getting an adequate return on its investment.

The hearing follows the disclosure that the $26.5 million in federal money the National Guard spent on NASCAR sponsorship in 2012 failed to produce any new recruits, according to USA Today.

The Guard received 24,800 recruiting prospects from the program in 2012, documents show. In those cases, potential recruits indicated the NASCAR affiliation prompted them to seek more information about joining. Of that group, only 20 met the Guard's qualifications for entry into the service, and not one of them joined.

The National Guard is spending $32 million this year, which includes a 20-race primary sponsorship of Earnhardt's No. 88 car and additional related marketing activation. That figure has led some to call for the abolishment of the program.

"How can you justify the fact that nobody is getting recruited (from the NASCAR sponsorship)?" said subcommittee chairman Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Mo.). "The facts speak for themselves. The data is very clear. You're not getting recruits off of NASCAR."

The Marines, Army, Coast Guard and Navy have all ceased NASCAR sponsorship in recent seasons, citing among the reasons the ineffectiveness of meeting recruiting quotas due to the higher age demographic of the average NASCAR fan.

"The regular Army ended its sponsorship in NASCAR in 2012 after concluding that the program had the highest cost per lead in the Army's portfolio of sponsorships," McCaskill said. "Only 10 percent of NASCAR viewers are between 18 and 24. And the average age of an IndyCar fan is between 35 and 54 years old.

"I'm a fan of NASCAR myself, but I don't think I'm exactly the demographic the National Guard is aiming for."

The National Guard operates on one-year contracts with Hendrick Motorsports, and also sponsors Rahal-Letterman Racing in the Verizon IndyCar Series with driver Graham Rahal.

Acting director of the Army National Guard, Major General Judd H. Lyons, said he was evaluating NASCAR sponsorship and would provide additional details for the record at a later date.

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