The U.S. Army has announced it is pulling out of NASCAR sponsorships this year, fueling a proposal by Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum that would ban all military sponsorship of sports.
The Army cited budget concerns in its decision. But it will not head off debate on McCollum’s measure, which targets more than $70 million remaining in the Defense Department’s sports sponsorship programs for auto racing, bass fishing and ultimate fighting.
McCollum’s bill has made it through the House Appropriations Committee, though it faces potential hurdles in the coming weeks when a defense spending measure is expected to come to the House floor.
The House rejected a similar McCollum measure on defense NASCAR sponsorships last year.
"By ending its sponsorship of NASCAR, the Army made the right move to eliminate a wasteful program and protect taxpayer dollars – which has been my goal all along,” McCollum said. “Congress is facing a very difficult budget environment, and I want taxpayer dollars protected – even at the Pentagon. I applaud the Army’s decision to terminate its funding of NASCAR. The Army now joins the Navy and Marine Corps in terminating its NASCAR partnership.”
Stewart-Haas Racing said Tuesday it is pursuing a new sponsor.
"The U.S. Army has been a great partner of Stewart-Haas Racing since the team's inception," said Brett Frood, executive vice president of SHR. "It has been a mutually beneficial relationship, with the U.S. Army introducing training regimens that improved our pit crews while instilling the mental, physical and emotional strength of the U.S. Army Soldier in all of us."
The Army has been in NASCAR for 10 seasons, and at one point was a primary sponsor. It moved to SHR to sponsor Ryan Newman in 2009 when the team was formed.
"The sport, our drivers and the passionate NASCAR fans embraced the Army's participation and created a tremendous opportunity for Americans to learn more about the profession of the Army Strong Soldier," Army marketer John Myers said in a statement.
It's not clear how the Army's decision will effect SHR, which currently fields two full-time teams — one for three-time NASCAR champion and team co-owner Tony Stewart, and one for Newman. The plan was to expand to three teams next season with Danica Patrick, who is running 10 Sprint Cup Series races this year for SHR.
Although Stewart has said he wants to bring Newman back next year, the driver is in the final year of his contract and the sponsorship loss will likely slow contract extension talks.