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2013 NRA 500: NRA sponsorship stirs controversy

U.S. senator calls for Fox to pull NASCAR broadcast due to NRA sponsorship.

Tom Pennington

Saturday's NASCAR race at Texas Motor Speedway is sponsored by the National Rifle Association, marking the first time the organization has sponsored a Sprint Cup Series race.

This has created an outcry whether the NRA should be involved in sponsoring a sporting event at a time when Congress is hotly debating gun control legislation following a December school shooting in Newtown, Conn.

The stance of Texas Motor Speedway officials all along is that this sponsorship deal is about marketing and not politics.

However, not everyone agrees with that position.

In a letter to Rupert Murdoch, U.S. Senator Chris Murphy (D-Conn.) asked the Fox network not to broadcast the NRA 500.

By airing the race Murphy stated Fox is providing "national attention to an organization that has been the face of one side of this heated debate." He also took issue with the traditional post-race celebration at Texas where the winner fires a pair of pistols filled with blanks into the air.

"This celebration of guns is inappropriate in the immediate wake of the Newtown massacre," Murphy wrote. "But most importantly, broadcasting this race, which will highlight the NRA and its radical agenda during this time, sends a harmful signal to the families affected by gun violence, as well as the millions of Americans who support sensible gun control measures and enjoy your sports programming."

In comments made to ESPN.com April 3, Texas president Eddie Gossage vehemently defended the customary way drivers celebrate winning at the speedway.

"Any rational person clearly understands it is part of the celebration and is not any kind of political statement,'" Gossage told ESPN.com. "This is a race, not a rally for any cause. Period. End of story."

While each track negotiates its own sponsorship deals, NASCAR has final approval and signed off on the NRA attaching its name to this weekend's race.

Last September, the NRA sponsored the Nationwide Series race at Atlanta Motor Speedway with little uproar. But that was before a lone gunman opened fire at Sandy Hook Elementary School, killing 20 schoolchildren and six educators.

And in light of recent events and the controversy surrounding the NRA, NASCAR seems to be reevaluating its position.

In a statement released Thursday afternoon, NASCAR spokesman David Higdon indicated the timing and impact of public opinion could determine whether an organization is granted approval to sponsor an event.

"NASCAR has no official position on the gun rights debate," the statement read. "Our fans, racing teams and industry partners come from all walks of life, and thus have varying points of views and opinions. As a sport, we are in the business of bringing people together for entertainment, not political debate.

"However, this situation has made it clear that we need to take a closer look at our approval process moving forward, as current circumstances need to be factored in when making decisions."

Some in the garage want the issue to go away entirely.

Reigning Sprint Cup Series champion Brad Keselowski is among those who want the spotlight focused on what's going on the track and not off of it.

"For me, I really just wish Tony Stewart or someone would throw a helmet or a punch so it wouldn't be a story," Keselowski said Thursday at Texas Motor Speedway. "I don't think it is a story and maybe that is part of who I am.

"I own rifles and those things and I don't own pistols but I would like to own two of them after Saturday night. I enjoy that style of life and I think we should all move on with it and let people have fun. That is all I can say. Let us have fun. I don't think we need to take ourselves that seriously."