Congress cuts ad budget for National Guard’s racing sponsorships

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A little more than four months after the National Guard announced the end of its motorsports sponsorships, Congress has cut the Guard’s advertising budget by $13.8 million.

A Guard spokesman, Maj. Earl Brown, confirmed to USA Today that the $13.8 million was the same amount that his service had requested to sponsor race cars.

In recent years, the Guard has been arguably one of the most prominent sponsors in American racing – largely due to its association with NASCAR superstar Dale Earnhardt Jr. and his Hendrick Motorsports team.

This year, the Guard spent $32 million to back Earnhardt and Hendrick, plus an additional $12 million on an IndyCar sponsorship with Graham Rahal and Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing.

But the sponsorships came under fire this season for their apparent failure to sign up new recruits for the military service. A previous USA Today report from February said that the Guard spent more than $26 million on the NASCAR program in 2012, but out of more than 25,000 prospects that the Guard received through it, only 20 of them met entry qualifications and none of them ultimately joined.

Sen. Claire McCaskill (D-Missouri), who counts herself as a NASCAR fan but criticized the sponsorships’ value during a Senate subcommittee hearing in May, said in a statement that she hoped the Guard would look at less costly ways to get better results in recruiting.

“Aggressive recruiting is key to maintaining the strength of our military, but Congress has a responsibility to ensure that every taxpayer dollar spent produces measurable results, especially in an environment of diminishing recruiting budgets,” she said.

“For too long the Army National Guard maintained sports sponsorships that failed to reach target recruiting demographics and provided less value per dollar than other forms of marketing — so it’s my hope the Guard will be encouraged to take a hard look at better, more cost effective ways to get the right return on their investment.”

The Guard recently completed its seventh season of sponsoring Earnhardt in NASCAR. Its IndyCar sponsorship shifted from the now-defunct Panther Racing to the Rahal camp just this past year.

Helio Castroneves ‘hustling’ for IndyCar, IMSA rides; talking with four to five teams

Helio Castroneves IMSA IndyCar
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As his season gathers steam, Helio Castroneves said his prospects for finding new rides for 2021 in IMSA and IndyCar also are gaining momentum.

The three-time Indianapolis 500 winner said Monday he is optimistic about landing in either or perhaps a combination of both series when Team Penske and Acura end their DPi partnership after this season.

“A lot of people I spoke with, four to five teams, are interested,” Castroneves said. “Whether it’s doing Indy 500 only, whether it’s pushing to do full time or do the sports cars as well. It’s been a very nice conversation.

LOOKING AHEADTeam Penske drivers seeking new rides for 2021

“I have a lot of respect for all the teams that have been talking, and I feel the same feedback. We just have to wait for their (sponsor) connections, and I’m also looking for some connections on my side as well, so hopefully we’ll be able to put this together and get something very soon.”

Given two decades of success with Penske in IndyCar and IMSA, Castroneves’ resume hardly needs burnishing. But the Brazilian has combined with co-driver Ricky Taylor in the No. 7 Acura DPi to win the past two overall victories at Road America and Michelin Raceway Road Atlanta.

But Castroneves, who doesn’t have a manager, said he has been working the phones hard rather than wait for the strong results to bring in the calls.

“At this point, I feel like I’m the one who needs to be talking to them because people need to know I want to continue racing and understand my desire,” Castroneves, 45, said. “There is opportunity, no question, in both (IndyCar and IMSA), which I’m really happy about it. However, because of the COVID-19, a lot of things sometimes have to be a little delayed. But I’m excited. Whatever the opportunity and whatever destiny guides me, whether IndyCar or sports cars, trust me I’ll be as happy as it could be and doing my 100 percent like I always did.

“It’s like politics, you need to be out there, good news or bad news. People have to make notice of your presence. I’m hustling. I want to continue to keep it going. Hopefully, we’ll have good news very soon.”

The news has been all good lately on track for Castroneves and Taylor, who hope to continue their run Sunday at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course.

The No. 6 duo has surged to sixth in the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship standings, 10 points out of the lead with four races remaining. After thinking there was “no hope” to be competitive after opening the season with three consecutive poor finishes, Taylor now sees an opportunity for a happy ending.

“With the program going away, Helio has won all the big races and given so much back to the team and left such a mark, he’s really part of Penske history,” Taylor said. “For me, it’s been an opportunity of a lifetime to be a part of it. I’d like to leave my little mark as well. Helio has won everything except for a championship.

“Obviously, we’ve won races already together, but we can win a championship now. I think if both of us can do that together and both win our first championship for ‘The Captain,’ that would be an absolute dream come true, and we can tie a bow on it and be happy.”