NRA sports spectacular!

NRA sports spectacular!

Mehall, Karen

NRA/NASCAR ties run deep. NRA members and racing fans are cut from the same all-American cloth. Fueled by the exciting NRA Million Dollar Speedway Tour Sweepstakes, our Association is racing to gain an all-time-high 5 million members!

In a nutshell, when it comes to the NRA/NASCAR connection, it’s a case of parallel lines-lines made up of shared all-American values and interests that stretch our racetracks to the homes of NRA families across the country.

The NRA/NASCAR Connection Unfolds

I’d never been to a NASCAR event before I hit the Dodge/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, Calif., June 23, to experience our partnership with NASCAR firsthand and feel the excitement generated by NRA’s new Million Dollar Speedway Tour Sweepstakes. As for the NASCAR fans, NRA Executive Vice President Wayne LaPierre was on the mark:

NASCAR fans are gun owners, hunters and sportsmen dedicated to our American shooting traditions-just like NRA members-and he was right. At the pre-race activities, standing with the NASCAR crews down in the pits-not bad positioning for a first-timer-we celebrated the “Star Spangled Banner,” ending with a display of fireworks and U.S. Air Force jets. Could anything top that shot of patriotism, which felt even more fitting when I learned the pilots were NRA members?

Amid all the cheers from the countless fans at Infineon Raceway that day, the connection was clear. It’s all about freedom, about pride in our American traditions. It’s about love of family and the outdoors, about the inspiration of sharing common ground. Similar to our shooting sports heritage, NASCAR represents a fun, challenging, wholesome, family activity growing larger every day. Though it comes with responsibilities, it’s a safe sport that covers broad demographics, including increasing interest by women. And it overrides all demographics, placing everyone on equal footing. cont,rued on p. 90

Diehard Fans

As I walked around the track, I committed all the NASCAR scents to memory-burning rubber and oil, mixed with the smells of concession stands and the smells and noises of the great outdoors-noises that were dominated by the roar of some powerful engines, from Air Force jets to racing machines. As I breathed it all in, I spotted them on the hill, leaning into the fence that framed the raceway-a group of guys in their glory wearing their NASCAR T-shirts and trying to talk-or yell-over the noise. Struggling to be heard over the “zoom, zoom” as the pack of cars flew by, I asked if anyone was an NRA member. NRA was the magic word because a fellow wearing a Ward Burton shirt immediately stepped forward to talk!

“The same thing that drives you to hunt-that primal, basic quest-is what drives you here,” said NRA member Dave D’Amico of San Jose, Calif. “It’s a demonstration of what we can do. It’s innate to challenge yourself, and it represents a pastime truly American-just like the NRA hunting tradition. This country was built on hunting and firearms. God knows where we’d be without ’em!” Talking about the natural link between NRA and NASCAR, including his hope to win an NRA Speedway Tour Sweepstakes prize, he also mentioned NRA American Hunter’s April issue and its conservation theme. “That issue ensured NRA members understand NRA conservation efforts,” he said, “while promoting NRA-member conservationists like NASCAR’s Ward Burton, my No. 1 driver, and Burton’s Wildlife Foundation.”

Formula No. 1: NRA Members = NASCAR Fans

As I moved along I heard the announcer say, “It’s all about handling and shifting and having patience,” and I again thought of parallels. On the political front, we gun owners are constantly shifting gears to stop anti-gunners from closing our gun shows and rationing or confiscating our guns. And when we’re hunting we’re always responding to some deer or turkey trying to outmaneuver us, shifting from Plan A to Plan B.

Wondering whom to approach next, I flashed back to a day about 10 years ago when a woman told me, “But you don’t look like an NRA member!” Of course, we know there’s no “typical” member since we cover the gamut of demographics and come from all walks of life. So as I turned the corner of the grandstand, I went to the first person I spotted-a tall man in a 10-gallon hat and cowboy boots. I put my money on Texas as I asked him if he belonged. “Hey! I’m from Houston-where everybody’s a member!” And not just a member, but a card-carrying member as he dug his wallet from his jeans to flash his NRA membership card, introducing himself as proud NRA member Chris Williams. Then I ran into “Awesome Dad,” according to the label on his T-shirt, and got to add father Nathan Zieman and his young son, Jeremy, of Roseville, Calif., to my NRA=family traditions=NASCAR list.

And, while you surely don’t find NRA members among media types every day, I even found one of those at NASCAR as I ran into 15-year NRA member Ray Jonathans of the raceway’s press team. At that point I thought it sure was a good thing I was a pro-firearms, pro-freedom American because when it came to NRA, I was surrounded! Anti-gunners hear this: A NASCAR race is no place for you!

As I continued my random pursuit, I didn’t exactly have the advantage of being able to pluck out the ones in NRA paraphernalia. The most vocal, supportive NRA/racing fans all were wearing NASCAR gear, just like NRA members/racing fans do at NRA’s Great American Hunters Tour (GAHT) clinics, donning GAHT T-shirts and spending time following their favorite hunting experts. But my spotting job was still easy because people kept approaching me, thanks to my NRA name tag.

“Hey, NRA! We’re from your area in Virginia,” said one mother as she squeezed past me in the crowd, trying to keep up with her son. He had somehow heard what she’d said to me as he scurried ahead of her saying, “Mommy, I saw the black NRA truck today, remember, remember?” I smiled as they faded into the masses. But maybe the most impressive person of all was the man who actually jumped out of line as I was taking photos, introducing himself in what seemed to be all one breath, “Hi! I’m NRA member Steve Holland, I get the magazines, we’re sitting in the family section, I’ve hunted since I was a kid and now I’ve got my brother and nephews here and they love it, and the weather’s great.”Way to blend in the whole NRA/NASCAR/outdoor connection.

Reminiscing about the morning’s patriotic display sent chills down our backs all over again. What awesome feelings freedom inspires. As this Concord, Calif., member took me over to meet his family, he brought me up to speed on his “real American family.” His half brother, Ross Martin, is from Reno, Nev., and though they had to miss the NRA Annual Meetings in Reno in May, at least they’d gotten in a family vacation to Disneyland. I met the older nephew, Matthew, first because young Ryan was busy right above us getting a temporary tattoo of #6 on his arm for his No. 1 driver, Mark Martin.

“His last name’s Martin-like a member of the family– so we all root for Martin,” Holland explained as Ryan rushed over, sporting a hunter-orange hat to help Dad keep tabs on him. As Ryan flashed me his cool tattoo, Holland explained how he’d gotten brother Ross “real big” into shotgunning and bird hunting, all thanks to his dad, Jim Holland, who had raised the family on NRA.

When Ross broke in to yell, “Ricky’s gonna win it,” we’d actually been in such deep NRA conversation that we’d lost track of the fact we were on lap 109 of 110! I stood and cheered with my NRA family as Ricky Rudd crossed the finish line. As for “family member” Mark Martin-the famous #6-he held his own, placing seventh. As I headed for the winner’s circle I thought, look at the great NRA family I just metall thanks to my NRA name badge! These were people I’d remember forever because the moments over which we share and connect today are the moments we cherish and value tomorrow.

Formula No. 2: Hunting Shooting Sports = Racing

As I positioned myself up front in the winner’s circle, the “Iron Man of Racing,” Ricky Rudd, and company were holding the trophy, doing the same kind of victory celebration we shooters might do when hard work pays off on the firing line. I was so close when he popped the 2-foot bottle of Korbel champagne a bonus of the winery being a track sponsor-that I got sprayed and had to add the scent to my earlier “scents” list.

As Rudd talked about his surprise win after the frontrunner blew his transmission on lap 109, he explained he’d made his share of mistakes, too, saying, “So many things go wrong, but that’s racing”… and shooting and hunting! Just like the drivers go for that little opening on the track– maneuvering, edging closer, getting into position-we’re strategizing on how to make our own moves on the firing line and in the field. How many times has a buddy gotten the chance at that big buck because we missed?

Standing there changing countless hats for all the sponsor photos, Rudd was doing something NRA members do every day: changing hats from hunter to shooter to political activist as necessary, covering the entire spectrum of gun ownership whether to win a title, safeguard our rights or simply enjoy a day outdoors.

Addressing the mental aspects of his sport, Rudd hit on another NRASports parallel regarding the need for concentration and discipline, and even a little bit of luck. But my favorite comment was, “This deal is not made of superstars. Everybody works hard to have the best car, and driver strategy plays a factor like you’d expect, but in the end it all depends on how conditions play out. You plan your pit strategy and track acquisition according to that.” In general outdoor terms, I think all NRA members would agree!

Talking about the need to promote all the young drivers getting started, he again could have been talking about the shooting sports. The same way shooters compete shoulder to shoulder on the firing line, regardless of sex or age differences, is the way NASCAR drivers race. Once the helmets are on, you can’t tell who’s who. Like Rudd, as NRA members support the shooters and hunters of tomorrow-and all our favorite NASCAR drivers, of course-we never stop thinking about building the future and never stop focusing on how to go farther!

By Karen Mehall


Copyright National Rifle Association of America Sep 2002

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