FORT WORTH, Texas -- NASCAR will allow the National Rifle Association to sponsor a NASCAR race, with the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race scheduled for August at Bristol Motor Speedway.
After unsuccessful calls from politicians and fans asking NASCAR to force Texas Motor Speedway to drop the NRA as the title sponsor of its spring race in 2013, NASCAR instituted a new clause in its sanction agreements starting in 2014 that it had to approve race sponsors.
Bass Pros Shops founder Johnny Morris said the idea of the sponsorship was to salute hunters and anglers as heroes of conservation.
"So many fans are supporters of the NRA," said NASCAR team owner and NRA Second Vice President Richard Childress. "They made the right decision putting the NRA back in because so many of our fans are NRA members.
"Johnny Morris is one of the largest conservationists in the country. ... The NRA is involved in a lot in preserving our hunting heritage. We have 5 million members of the NRA; 3 million of them are hunters and outdoorsmen. We're just trying to get more people to come onboard that are hunters that are not members."
There was no immediate comment from NASCAR.
The 2015 NASCAR sanction agreement, according to a public filing by Dover International Speedway, states: "[NASCAR] will disapprove of a prospective entitlement sponsor only if such prospective entitlement sponsor's brand has been tarnished by, controversy, crisis or circumstance such that its association with the event would damage the NASCAR brand or the image of the sport, or ... would damage the [television] network's ability to sell advertising for the live event broadcast."
Bristol Motor Speedway general manager Jerry Caldwell said his track, located on the Tennessee-Virginia border, is a perfect location for the outdoors theme. He said he didn't have much trouble persuading NASCAR to approve the sponsorship.
"Once it was laid out to them and they understood the partnership, they were OK with it," Caldwell said. "They know it's a great partnership. Their big push around this is celebrating what's American: freedom, the outdoors and sports. That is what this is all about."
Among those calling for NASCAR to remove the NRA as sponsor of the race in 2013 was U.S. Sen. Chris Murphy (D-Conn.).
"Whether or not this was your intention, your fans will infer from this sponsorship that NASCAR and the NRA are allies in the current legislative debate over gun violence," Murphy wrote in April 2013, less than four months after 26 people died in Connecticut's Sandy Hook Elementary School shootings, in a letter to NASCAR.