Michael Waltrip's Daytona 500 car, with Sandy Hook/Newtown decals (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
FORT WORTH, Texas
NASCAR, Texas and guns.
Hard to imagine any controversy. Not in a sport with legendary hunting exploits by Dale Earnhardt and Richard Childress and so many others.
But here's CNN, and who knows who else, at the main gate to Texas Motor Speedway, asking fans about this NRA sponsorship of Saturday night's Texas 500.
Yes, timing is everything, and timing for this may not be great.
If not for the timing, this might be just another interesting but nondescript stock car sponsorship.
But it's not like this is the first time NASCAR and its teams have done business with the NRA.
Just last Labor Day the NRA sponsored the Nationwide race, billed as the 'NRA American Warrior 300.' With an interesting trophy, and a Bushmaster Patrolman's Carbine to the winner, Ricky Stenhouse.
And Childress, for one, has long been a staunch NRA member.
In this sport, as expensive as things are, it's hard to turn down sponsorship. And the NRA deal here is estimated at $1 million.
This NRA deal apparently got in motion last fall, when race sponsor Samsung (whose U.S. offices are in nearby Richardson) decided not to renew.
And it's not like guns aren't part of Texas tradition, and Texas Motor Speedway tradition. This town is home to the famed Chisholm Trail, it's known as the gateway to the great American West.
And the last few years part of this track tradition has included trophy guns to winners, from Turnbull, which specializes in high-quality antique arms. Expensive, classic rifles and revolvers.
An interesting part of this NRA sponsorship -- a number of Cabela's stores have been giving away race tickets to anyone showing an NRA membership card.
Another twist to all this is Daytona's Sandy Hook sponsorship only two months ago, with NASCAR CEO Brian France front and center.
Michael Waltrip and NASCAR officials had gone to Sandy Hook earlier to talk with people there about that tragedy and how this sport might help out. So in the Daytona 500 Waltrip's car was decaled with a special tribute Newtown logo inviting fans to make donations to the Sandy Hook School Support Fund.
The fund was established to support the healing process for townfolk. ( Here )
Waltrip talked about the emotional impact of meeting people in Sandy Hook immediately after that tragedy.
France himself offered a $50,000 donation, and talked about his own children.
Another interesting twist -- After NASCAR's David Higdon issued a few 'comments' in response to questions about NASCAR's feelings about this NRA sponsorship, Eddie Gossage, Texas track boss, fired back sharply:
"Mr. Higdon is new to the sport, and doesn't quite understand how it all works. He could have just as easily put out a quote that said 'CYA'. That's what that is. And it's a PR mistake to have made that statement. I think they should have conferred with some other folks before they issued that. I think they probably wish they hadn't."
That was an interview Gossage had Friday with ESPN.
Nobody said much when the NRA sponsored a NASCAR race last summer at Atlanta (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)