Texas willing to tone it down

Updated: March 6, 2013, 8:29 PM ET
By David Newton | ESPN.com

CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- A photo depicting the winning driver firing blanks from six-shooters is part of the tradition of Victory Lane celebrations at Texas Motor Speedway. But if a Sprint Cup team or sponsor is opposed to the practice for the April 13 National Rifle Association-sponsored Sprint Cup race, track president Eddie Gossage is willing to alter it.

Gossage said he will begin meeting with team owners this weekend at Las Vegas Motor Speedway to see if a potential conflict exists.

"I want to be sensitive to the teams and their sponsors and didn't want to place anybody in a potentially compromising position," Gossage told ESPN.com on Tuesday, the day after he announced his upcoming Cup race would be called the NRA 500.

"Shooting those blanks in Victory Lane, that's all in good fun. But I want to make sure we don't step on somebody's toes and make somebody uncomfortable. It could be a sponsor on the driver's uniform or something like that just because this race has the very direct connection to the NRA."

Gossage said no driver or organization has questioned the celebration in the past. He made it clear that opinions on guns in Victory Lane won't be sought before the June IndyCar race or November Cup race, for which the NRA is not a sponsor.

"If a driver ever says, 'don't give those to me,' OK, fine," Gossage said. "Usually, they're hollering at me from inside the car, 'Eddie, bring me my hat and the guns! Let's go!'

"It's a big part of the celebration, one of the things that makes us here unusual. It's kind of our sip of milk in Victory Lane or the green jacket of Augusta. I think they'd rather do that than get the check."

[+] EnlargeDenny Hamlin
John Harrelson/Getty ImagesAs is tradition for champions at Texas Motor Speedway, Denny Hamlin shoots blanks from revolvers after winning a Sprint Cup race in November 2010.

Gossage said the response in the Dallas-Fort Worth area has been "overwhelmingly positive" since Monday's announcement. He also is sensitive to the fact that some around the country will look at it negatively based on political positioning between the NRA and government on gun control following the Newtown, Conn., mass shooting in December.

He also is sensitive to the fact that NASCAR partnered with Swan Racing to run a special Sandy Hook School Support Fund paint scheme on the No. 26 car driven by Michael Waltrip in the Daytona 500 to help raise money and awareness.

"The car that Michael ran at Daytona was entirely appropriate," Gossage said, "but there's no correlation between this crazed shooter and the NRA. There's just none.

"In looking at it [Victory Lane celebration], I just wanted to be sensitive to everybody involved because today it's so difficult with anything you do ... there are people that are opposed to it that you've got to be careful. This was probably more than most."

Gossage said he has declined to appear on many national television shows that are discussing the sponsorship as though it is a political statement.

"I might as well go ahead and hit myself in the head with a hammer because they're not going to be very objective," he said. "This is a sports marketing proposition. It's not a political platform, and none of us intend for it to be. It's a sponsor.

"Everybody else is trying to make it a political statement or a lot more complicated than it is. We sell tickets and sponsorship opportunities. The teams sell sponsorship opportunities. That's the extent of it. Nothing more."

NASCAR's response to the NRA's sponsorship came in the form of a statement.

"Race entitlement partnerships are agreements directly between the track and the sponsor. 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," the statement read.

Race sponsors typically pay the track millions of dollars to have their name associated with a Cup event. Gossage said the track needs race sponsors to offset promotions such as TMS cutting ticket prices and creating an unprecedented rainout policy.

"You've got to underwrite it somehow, someway," Gossage said.

But if teams or drivers have issues with the Victory Lane celebration with six-shooters or the pole winner celebrating by handling a shotgun, Gossage is willing to make adjustments.

"Initially, I thought I'd err on the side of caution and pull them out of Victory Lane," he said of the guns. "But I know drivers and teams can't wait to get in Victory Lane with the guns and hat. I just want to make sure we don't step on anybody's toes, to make sure everybody's comfortable."

David Newton | email

ESPN Carolina Panthers reporter

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