CONCORD, N.C. – Although he’s never been to a race, Jack Kingston is a NASCAR fan. And he has a Dale Earnhardt license plate to prove it.
The Republican from Savannah, Ga., helped push an amendment through the House Appropriations Committee last week that strips $80 million annually from the military budget used for sports sponsorships.
Almost immediately, Dale Earnhardt Jr. suggested Kingston would change his mind if he went to a race.
“I think the Republican from Georgia that is heading the bill hasn’t even been to a NASCAR race,” Earnhardt said. “I would encourage them to do more homework, get more facts, understand the situation a little more. I know just talking to the (U.S. National) Guard, and we went through this before, and talking to them, they can’t express to me enough about how much this program helps their recruiting.
“I think it’s good and healthy for them to be here. I think it works for them or they wouldn’t be a part of it.”
Kingston had an Earnhardt tag on the front of his pickup truck for five years, but his decision to get behind Minnesota Democrat Betty McCollum’s annual push to get the government out of sports sponsorships was based on finances, not fanfare.
“If we don’t start separating our needs from our wants, we’re in trouble as a country,” Kingston said. “I know compared to everything else this isn’t a lot of money, but we have to start somewhere. We can’t keep spending money we don’t have.
“I may not have been to a NASCAR race, but I have been to Iraq and Afghanistan and I’ve seen our men and women who fight for us.”
McCollum lost a House vote 281-148 a year ago to put the brakes on NASCAR sponsorships. Even with Kingston’s help, the proposed amendment to the $608 billion defense budget still faces an uphill battle.
“The old question always in politics is, ‘If not here, where, if not now, when, if not us, who?’” Kingston said. “I am a conservative Republican. I’m very pro-military, but at some point, we have to get in the habit of cutting programs that are less efficient, less effective. Would you still spend this money if it was you?
“They can still go to events. They can still put up banners. They can be all over the high school sporting events. But $20 million for one NASCAR race (team)? Have we lost our minds?”
Kingston said his committee asked the Pentagon for figures to show how many recruits are directly related to the $20 million a year sponsorship of Earnhardt Jr.’s car, an estimated $10 million with Ryan Newman, at-track activations and flyovers. He said the military didn’t respond.
Earnhardt Jr. believes Kingston will change his mind if he comes to a race.
“Yeah, just because he’s a Republican from Georgia he should have seen a NASCAR race by now,” Earnhardt said of Kingston. “He could come along and visit with the Guard and talk with the Guard. Talk to the people that are at the particular races and see what the experience is like for them. See how the Guard utilizes their program and they’re marketing within the sport. If he hasn’t been to a race, he’s not seen it firsthand. Then he can make his decision.”
“I’d love to go to a race,” Kingston said. “I don’t have my head in the sand when it comes to NASCAR.”
The amendment also would end similar funding for programs in professional wrestling and fishing.
Tony Stewart, who owns Newman’s car, believes the military has been getting a good bang for their buck.
“I think the U.S. Army and the National Guard have seen that value as well,” Stewart said. “They are not in the habit of spending money to spend money. I think they see the value in it, whether legislature understands that or not, they may not be familiar with all the things and how it benefits those programs.
“You have to look at the numbers, but I think you have to do your homework and they also have to look and see the value that they are getting for that.”
Kingston said that’s exactly what he’s doing. And he doesn’t need to be at the race track to figure it out.