N.C. Congress members helped preserve sponsorships

- McClatchy Newspapers
Thursday, Jul. 19, 2012

North Carolina members of Congress helped lead the charge to block an effort to cut military spending on NASCAR and other sports.

U.S. Reps. Larry Kissell, Patrick McHenry and Sue Myrick were among the most vocal members advocating to continue the recruiting spending and reject an amendment by Reps. Jack Kingston, R-Ga., and Betty McCollum, D-Minn that would have cut $72.3 million in defense spending. On Wednesday, members voted 216-202 to continue the spending.

Kissell, a Biscoe Democrat, said the special relationship the sport has with the military would be tough to replicate elsewhere if cuts were made.

“I don’t think it’s any coincidence that when we look at our military forces, about 41 percent of our military is from what we describe as rural America, which is only 17 percent of our population,” Kissell said speaking from the floor. “And that relationship between the military and rural America is very important.”

While the $72.3 million would have also impacted spending on the Ultimate Fighting Championship, National Hot Rod Association drag racing and bass fishing tournaments, the majority is spent on NASCAR.

Much of Wednesday’s debate was on the $26.5 million the National Guard spends to sponsor Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s most popular driver.

The Army announced last week that it was stopping its 10-year relationship with NASCAR. It spends $8.4 million to splash its name and colors across Ryan Newman’s car. Aric Almirola drives the blue and white Air Force car for a handful of races this year. The Navy ended its NASCAR sponsorships in 2008. The Marines ended their relationship in 2006.

NASCAR’s roots in North Carolina go back to the stock-car racing sanctioning body’s inception in 1948. The majority of teams are based in the state, and the NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte.

Eleven of North Carolina’s 13 member House delegation voted against the proposed cuts. Rep. David Price, a Chapel Hill Democrat, and Walter Jones, a Farmville Republican voted in favor of the amendment.

The Department of Defense is facing nearly $500 billion in defense spending over the next 10 years. Proponents to stop the NASCAR spending have argued its not an effective recruiting tool. McCollum said the Pentagon is spending billions on projects, including military bands, that do not enhance national security.

“We must come to the realization that not every defense program is necessary, not every defense dollar is sacred and well spent, and that more of everything is simply not sustainable,” McCollum said. “Protecting every single defense dollar means shifting the burden and the pain for billions of additional budget cuts onto local communities, middle class families, seniors, the poor, and vulnerable children.”

Kingston questioned the effectiveness of the dollars spent on NASCAR. The National Guard received 24,800 inquiries because of the racing sponsorship in fiscal 2012, Kingston said, quoting a USA Today story. Just 20 were qualified, and none joined the guard.

“I want to say again, $26 million, 24,000 inquiries, zero – zero –recruits. It’s not effective,” he said speaking in favor of the amendment on the House floor.

But McHenry, a Cherryville Republican, countered that the National Guard saw a nearly 300 percent return on its investment.

“That comes from $68 million in media exposure,” he said. “It comes from 5.5 million pieces of merchandise and apparel that has ‘National Guard’ on it, which has a value of roughly $70 million. This is a huge return for the buck.

“This is why Fortune 500 companies actually advertise through NASCAR – not because it feels good, but because it delivers results.”

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