Wednesday, March 6, 2013

NASCAR and the N.R.A.

Well, crap. It's just been announced that the NASCAR race in Texas will be sponsored by the N.R.A. It will be known as the N.R.A 500. I'll admit it is sort of a natural fit. Texas being Texas, the race has always given guns as the trophy. Winners stand in Victory Lane, wearing a ten-gallon hat, and happily firing off their six shooters.

I have no problem whatsoever with the guns themselves but I do have a problem with the N.R.A. Back in the day, when I worked in law enforcement, I even considered joining. I thought of the N.R.A primarily as promoting hunting, including working for ways to preserve wildlife habitat. I thought of them in terms of gun safety and training youthful shooters to be responsible. Yes, the N.R.A. was always a strong advocate for the Second Amendment but so was I, then and now.

Of course, even then there were flashes of the radical group the N.R.A. would ultimately become when Wayne LaPierre called federal agents "jack-booted thugs" causing President George Bush the First to withdraw his N.R.A. membership. (Oh, for Republican politicians to show that kind of guts today!)

In the 90's even old radical Wayne believed in background checks and closing the gun show loophole, just as most mainstream politicians, Democrats and Republicans alike, supported an assault weapons ban. But, as with so many other right-wing groups, Obama Derangement Syndrome has sent the N.R.A. to the far edge of the lunatic fringe. Now, they are opposed to any gun control measures whatsoever. The only answer is more guns and more guns. Gun in schools, guns in church, guns at sporting events. Except, wait a minute, Eddie Gossage, who runs the Texas Motor Speedway, is a promoter extraordinaire but he isn't stupid. Firearms, except for the trophy guns, will be banned at the N.R.A. 500.

So, does the National Rifle Association approve of assault weapons and high clip magazines? Yes! I presume they'd promote machine guns and tanks and hand-fired missiles if they thought they could get away with it. Hey, maybe at some point in the future, we'll all have our very own Predator Drone in the garage.

Eddie Gossage has accomplished his mission. He's gotten tons of publicity for his track. The N.R.A.'s sponsorship has been the source of 1000's of comments on the NASCAR websites and probably 1000's more other place. Media sources that usually don't bother with NASCAR have weighed in.

Is this ultimately positive or negative for the sport itself? NASCAR began as a rough and tumble redneck activity, originating in the South. NASCAR still celebrates those roots, as well it should. On the other hand, in a time of an abundance of cable and satellite channels, when viewers can choose among hundreds of athletic offerings, from football to baseball to basketball to golf to rodeo to tiddley winks, every sport is desperately trying to find ways to expand their fan base. In NASCAR's case, they probably already have most of the pro-gun conservatives. It's the more liberal-leaning audience they most need to appeal to if they want to grow.

As a liberal Democrat myself, I take a lot of heat from both sides for being a passionate NASCAR fan. Some foaming-at-the-mouth Tea Party types would like to kick me out altogether. There is no place in NASCAR, they say, for commie-pinko, socialist, gun-banning, Muslim-loving, Obama voters. It is almost as bad from my "own kind" who can't understand who I would align myself with a bunch of fascist, beer-swilling, gun-toting, filthy mouthed Neanderthals.

The truth lies somewhere in the moderate middle, of course, as it usually does. NASCAR fans are mostly generous-hearted, patriotic people with whom I often disagree politically. Most liberals don't want to ban guns or turn the country over to the Muslim brotherhood. And none of that would matter anyway because I simply love the sport. I love the sounds and the sights and the smells and the speed and the spectacle. I love the cars and the drivers and the strategies. The political leanings of the fans in the grandstands are beside the point.

I do know people who will "make a statement" by boycotting the race but not me. I wouldn't let the N.R.A. win by driving me away from something I enjoy. The only thing that could change my mind? If they invite Ted Nugent to give the command, that might be a bridge too far.

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