A pair of gun companies said this week that NASCAR rejected their rifle ads because of the racing company's "gradual shift on guns."
Dark Storm Industries said an ad it submitted featuring one of the company's AR-15s was rejected and online retailer K-Var Corp. said an ad featuring an AK-47 and 9mm handgun was also rejected. Both said a NASCAR advertising agency solicited ads from them for NASCAR publications. They submitted ads but were told NASCAR would not accept them.
"NASCAR decided to turn their back on their customer base, joining the likes of Yeti, Dick's and Under Armour," Dark Storm wrote in an Instagram post. "We were approached by a NASCAR publication eager to earn our business, but after submitting our ad it was immediately rejected, stating that we cannot depict 'assault weapons.'"
An April email exchange between K-Var and National Event Publications, which books ads for NASCAR publications, obtained by the Washington Free Beacon shows the ad booker working with the gun dealer on final details of an ad for the souvenir program sold during the Race for the Cup series. Dave Dolbee, general manager of K-Var, said the company thought the ad would be good for brand awareness since the NASCAR audience is considered to be very gun-friendly and notable gun companies had previously advertised in the program. However, the ad company emailed Dolbee in August to say NASCAR rejected K-Var's ad because of the firearms included in it.
"We just heard back from NASCAR on a number of gun related ads and unfortunately due to a gradual shift in their position on guns, these ads must be edited/changed– especially those that are depicted as assault style rifles/sniper rifles," Sunny Berlin, art director for National Event Publications, told Dolbee in an email. "They are still open to some ads featuring some of the less controversial gun accessories, concealed carry, or classes. Can you supply a new ad that would fit more along these guidelines? NASCAR will then review again."
Dolbee said the company refused to submit another ad.
"Naturally we took the position 'absolutely not,'" he told the Free Beacon. "You can't do 'this gun's good, that gun's bad.' You know? I said we wouldn't deal with them at all if that was going to be the case. We could never go forward with that type of a policy."
Neither National Event Publications nor NASCAR responded to requests for comment on the policy change.
Dolbee said K-Var was unable to get any clarification from NASCAR on what it considered an "assault style rifle" or "sniper rifle," or other details of their "gradual shift" on guns.
Dolbee said National Event Publications "were even cagey about it when they gave me that 24-hour deadline to resubmit an ad." He added that NASCAR had not even been clear with National Event Publications, saying the ad bookers "weren't even given clear enough guidelines to say 'it was exactly this in your ad or it was exactly that in your ad.' They were kind of reading the blurb and going off of that."
There is no official data on exactly how many AR-15s, AK-47s, and similar semi-automatic rifles—referred to as "Modern Sporting Rifles" by industry professionals and "assault weapons" by many gun control activists—there are in America. The best current estimate comes from the National Shooting Sports Foundation (NSSF), a non-profit that represents the shooting industry. It said in 2018 there were more than 16 million civilian-owned ARs and AKs in the United States.
"Modern sporting rifles remain the most commonly purchased rifle by Americans today," Lawrence G. Keane, NSSF's senior vice president, told Guns.com last September.
Though there is no official data on the exact number of ARs and AKs in the country, there is a broad consensus that they are the most popular rifles in America. Media outlets like CNN and NPR have referred to them as the most popular and so have gun rights groups like the National Rifle Association.
Dolbee and Dark Storm Industries both said NASCAR's anti-gun shift will alienate fans.
"It's just bad for business," Dolbee told the Free Beacon. "I'm somebody who grew up on NASCAR. My father was a huge fan. So, he of course brought me into the sport as a fan. And you see something with that type of a legacy and heritage, instead of being a sporting organization, try and play politics."
"As we have learned, NASCAR has made a 'gradual shift' but this doesn't seem very gradual to us," Dark Storm said on Instagram. "It seems as though NASCAR has turned their back on the overwhelming majority of their fan base in the most embarrassing way possible."
As the companies predicted, backlash to the ban was swift in the outdoor community.
"Turning Left: NASCAR Bans Firearm Ads, Cites 'Gradual Shift' on Guns," a headline at Outdoor Hub said. "NASCAR Goes Anti-Gun, Bans Black Rifle Ads," read another at All Outdoor. Radio show host and lifelong NASCAR fan Mark Walters said the shift in gun ad policy tells him the racing association is "no longer the NASCAR I thought I knew" in a piece for Ammoland.
"Go ahead NASCAR, try to fill the stands with a bunch of David Hogg, Moms Demand Action, Everytown for Gun Safety, urban, progressive, skinny jean wearing, soy sipping, man-bun wearing, Antifa loving, gun-hating socialists," Walters wrote. "I won't be around to see how that turns out for you."