By Tim HippsFebruary 22, 2011
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla., Feb. 18, 2011 -- On the day the House voted 281-148 to allow the U.S Army to continue its NASCAR sponsorship, Lt. Gen. Benjamin Freakley explained the importance of the relationship to the media at Daytona International Speedwaym, Fla.
Rep. Betty McCollum (D) of Minnesota introduced a measure to ban Department of Defense spending on NASCAR sponsorship as an amendment to the House's spending bill. On Feb. 18, the House rejected the proposed sponsorship ban.
Freakley, the commanding general of U.S. Army Accessions Command, said the Army spends $7.4 million per year on NASCAR and $3.9 million on NHRA sponsorships. Another $8 million goes toward activation of the motorsports sponsorships - all the moving parts that complete the Army experience for fans attending race tracks across America.
"We have brought those dollars down over the years," said Freakley, whose Recruiting Command sponsors driver Ryan Newman in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series and Top Fuel dragster driver Tony "The Sarge" Schumacher on the National Hot Rod Association circuit. "In the three and a half years I've been engaged, we have shaped the races that we're in and we have shaped our sponsorship because it's the American peoples' money.
"We recognize that. But regardless, I have to invest in awareness," Freakley explained.
Freakley said studies indicate that NASCAR provides the best return for the Army's investment in the marketing of military recruiters' desired audience.
During the past three years, the Army got out of the business of sponsoring arena football, motorcycle racing and rodeo bull riding, but stuck with NASCAR, the NHRA and the U.S. Army All-American Bowl, the premier all-star football game for high school seniors.
"We run the Army's marketing and advertising programs to make Americans aware of the American Army opportunities, options, education and what young people can find if they come to serve us in the Army," Freakley said. "In September 2000, we were directed by the Congress to direct a pilot through NASCAR from all services to connect with the American people through this venue, this great motorsport called NASCAR. We did the pilot and we liked it so much in the Army that we kept it going.
"In my mind, after three and a half years of working with NASCAR, we have a treasured relationship with NASCAR because it gives us a great venue to tell our story as Soldiers where people are receptive - as we call it, a passion point."
In 2010, the Army generated more than 150,000 recruiting leads from its sports-marketing program. One third of those - 46,000 - came from NASCAR and the motorsports programs, Freakley said.
"It's not a day at the track," he explained. "Many people think, 'Why are we spending this amount of money for a day at the track'' This is a yearlong engagement by the Army where we go into high schools, go onto the tracks and use this venue to talk about this discourse about serving in the Army.
"We do know that young people and their parents have this passion point about NASCAR. We do know that they come to the races. We do know, as you will observe this weekend, they come to the Strength in Action Zone. They talk to our Soldiers. They talk to our sergeants. We have a common dialogue on no threatening ground.
"You're not standing in a recruiting station on the brink of a decision. You're at a NASCAR event to have a discussion and a deep dialogue," Freakley added. "We get a much richer dialogue on this common ground than if we were not here."
Another 25,000 students and teachers attended the Army's education outreach programs that stress the importance of graduating from high school, Freakley said.
"It's not about Army recruiting, it's about awareness and staying on track so you can qualify into the Army," Freakley said. "Only one of four of our youth, 17-to-24-year olds, can qualify to join the military because of education, obesity or other health issues, and conduct. And those same young people probably can't work on a race car because they're not physically fit to work on a race car."
The outreach programs provide youngsters with different perspectives of Army life beyond the battlefields. In some instances, the Army's affiliation with NASCAR actually helps give recruiters access to students.
"Off and on in the American experience, we've had recruiters and ROTC and West Point outreach fully allowed into high schools, and other times we've seen the doors closed," Freakley said. "And sometimes NASCAR opens those doors."
Freakley said the relationship also helps the Army connect with mainstream America, an issue that recent media reports indicate needs addressing.
"Long ago, a philosopher said that to have a great nation, you have to have a Congress, the people and the Army interconnected, and if you break any of those connections, that's where things fail," Freakley said. "This keeps us connected to the American public in this triad partnership."
"We also know that once someone has come to a race and witnessed and visited the Army Strength in Action Zone, visited with our Soldiers, and seen the Army car, they have a 37 percent higher positive feeling about the Army from this experience of the Army in NASCAR.
"Year by year, we review these programs to try to look at the best return on investment that's possible and make the best investment for America to build an all-volunteer Army."
Car owner/driver Tony Stewart, owner of Newman's No. 39 U.S. Army car, was delighted to hear the House's decision to let the Army remain involved with racing.
"We're pretty excited about that," Stewart said. "Obviously, this is a program that works for them or they wouldn't be a part of this sport. It's been a very successful tool for the U.S. Army and hopefully we get to continue that program with them.
"Definitely, from a car owner's side, that was good news today."
The U.S. Army will sponsor Newman for 15 races this season. Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR's most popular driver, has a half-season sponsorship from the National Guard, and the Air Force will sponsor several races for A.J. Allmendinger. The Navy, Marine Corps and Coast Guard dropped their NASCAR sponsorships in recent years.
"I just think there's a nexus of this is sort of America's sport, and the United States Army is America's team," Freakley said. "We talk to ourselves about, 'We are America's Army. We represent America.'
"There's just a lot of common ground between the teamwork, the power, the passion, the competitiveness and the patriotism that finds us overlapping one another as we come to these events."