National Guard, senator defend funding for military NASCAR sponsorships

The National Guard defended its sponsorship of NASCAR Wednesday as a senator from one of the biggest auto-racing states indicated he will fight a ban on the sponsorships that passed the House Appropriations Committee.

Sen. Dan CoatsDaniel (Dan) Ray CoatsOvernight Hillicon Valley — Scrutiny over Instagram's impact on teens Former national security officials warn antitrust bills could help China in tech race Cyber preparedness could save America's 'unsinkable aircraft carrier' MORE (R-Ind.) said at a Senate Appropriations Committee hearing Wednesday that Congress should not be micromanaging the funds that the Guard spends on recruiting.

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Coats comes from Indiana — home of the Indianapolis 500 and NASCAR’s Brickyard 400.

“My preference has always been we direct money for recruiting to you, and you decide how best to utilize that money,” Coats told the heads of the Air and Army National Guard. “And you do that in areas I think where the potential for recruiting is very high and a lot of attention is paid to that sport.”

The House Appropriations Committee voted to strip out $80 million in funding for sports sponsorships this year, the majority of which goes to auto racing. Rep. Betty McCollum (D-Minn.), had attempted unsuccessfully to kill the funding last year, but this year she had the help of Rep. Jack Kingston (R-Ga.) to push it through.

Coats’s statement Wednesday was the first indication that the cut could face resistance in the Senate, which has yet to mark up its defense appropriations bill.

McCollum argued that the NASCAR sponsorships are “wasteful Pentagon spending” at a time when budgets are tight, and says that sponsoring race cars does not help recruiting.

But Army National Guard Director Lt. Gen. William Ingram Jr. said at Wednesday’s Senate Appropriations hearing that the sponsorships were an effective tool for the Guard, making a comparison to Tide laundry detergent sponsoring NASCAR.

“The Army National Guard, because of the target audience that we’re looking at for our band of recruits, that is an interest to those people,” Ingram said. “When they watch sports on television, they see the Army National Guard. It’s a national branding opportunity that is of great value.”

After the Appropriations Committee passed the sponsorship ban last week, NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. took aim at Kingston. Earnhardt, whose car is sponsored by the National Guard, said that Kingston needed to do his “homework” about NASCAR.

“I think the Republican from Georgia that is heading the bill hasn't even been to a NASCAR race," Earnhardt said.