- David Newton, ESPN Staff Writer
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The National Rifle Association announced on Monday that it has reached a deal to sponsor the April 13 Sprint Cup race, known as the NRA 500, at Texas Motor Speedway.
It will be the first NRA-branded race in NASCAR's premier series. The organization sponsored a Nationwide Series race at Atlanta last season.
Sports Business Journal reported the story earlier Monday.
"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 executive vice president and CEO Wayne LaPierre said Monday. "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 ... and we love racing! On April 13, we'll all come together at Texas Motor Speedway."
Eddie Gossage, president of Texas Motor Speedway, said the agreement is for one year with a one-year option. Financial terms were unavailable, but the SBJ said Cup sponsorship typically sells in the high-six- to low-seven-figure range.
"It's an organization we've enjoyed a long-standing relationship within the industry, including Speedway Motorsports [Inc.] and Speedway Charities," Gossage said during the announcement at the track.
The deal comes on the heels of NASCAR announcement last month in Daytona Beach about its efforts to raise funds and awareness for the 20 children and six adults killed as part of a mass shooting in Newtown, Conn.
NASCAR partnered with Swan Racing to put a Sandy Hook School Support Fund paint scheme on the No. 26 car driven by Michael Waltrip in the Daytona 500.
Sources told ESPN.com there were concerns during Speedweeks that the TMS deal might become public and impact NASCAR's efforts for Newtown.
Swan Racing, with David Stremme as the full-time driver, is not scheduled to have the Sandy Hook paint scheme for any other races. The organization will begin a 10-race deal with Lean1 on the car at Texas.
In a statement released Monday afternoon, NASCAR said that race sponsorships are between the track and the sponsor, although NASCAR "reserves the right to approve or disapprove those sponsorships."
"The race sponsor for Texas Motor Speedway's April event falls within the guidelines for approval for that event,'' NASCAR spokesperson David Higdon said in the statement.
Ed Clark, the president of Atlanta Motor Speedway, said there weren't any negative comments when the NRA sponsored his Nationwide race.
"All favorable,'' Clark said. "We didn't get one piece of negative response that I'm familiar with. Of course, there are a lot of people more protective about their rights being taken away, but we didn't have any negative comments at all.
"I understand the sensitivity with some of the things that have gone on the last two or three years. But they [NRA] do a lot more things than just protect your rights to bear arms. They do a lot of education programs, too. People really need to be objective and look at all the positive things they do across the board.''
During the announcement of the Sandy Hook paint scheme, NASCAR chairman Brian France said the trip to Newtown to introduce the car "was one of the hardest things and best things I've ever done.''
France personally donated $50,000 to the fund.
"Being in Newtown last week and delivering a moment of happiness to that community was unlike anything I've ever experienced,'' France said at the news conference. "Looking out at a room of smiling faces amidst the aftermath of a horrible tragedy was very powerful.
"It hit me that the NASCAR industry and our passionate fan base have an unbelievable opportunity to rally around this cause and make a huge difference for a community in need. I am excited to witness firsthand the NASCAR community's embrace and support of the Sandy Hook School Support Fund."
Bruton Smith, the chairman of Speedway Motorsports Inc. that owns TMS, has no concerns about partnering with the NRA.
"It's not a touchy issue at all,'' Smith told ESPN.com. "We're at Texas. I guess if you want to find any state in the United States that is pro guns, Texas would be it. You have more hunters per capita in Texas than any place I know.
"The sponsor is a great sponsor. We'd welcome them if they wanted to sponsor another event.''
Smith added that the NRA has been one of the "greatest contributors'' to the Speedway Children's Charities, which he founded, for the past 12 years.
Speedway Children's Charities helps serves impoverished, marginalized and vulnerable children and families in more than 120 nations.
"We are very appreciative of them,'' Smith said of the NRA for its support of the charity. "I know a lot of people in the NRA. They do a good job. It [sponsoring Texas race] has nothing in the world to do with what happened at Newtown.'' Smith added that he personally is opposed to automatic rifles, such as the one used in the Newtown shooting, being sold to the public.
"No one individual needs one of those guns,'' he said. "I wish we could get them all and melt them down.''
Smith said NASCAR isn't typically consulted by a track when seeking a sponsor, and he wasn't aware that was done in this case. He applauded his marketing department for making the deal.
"I would certainly say, 'Good job,''' Smith said. "That's good marketing. They're very legitimate, very legal. As long as we're legal, you're morally right.''
The race winners at TMS traditionally are photographed with empty six-shooters and a cowboy hat in Victory Lane.
5mMichael C. Wright