NASCAR rejected advertisements for its souvenir programs from multiple firearms companies earlier this summer as part of what is being seen as a "gradual shift" in its position on guns.
The move may be another example of how major companies are adjusting as the nation grapples with guns in America.
While the move did not get widespread notice, NASCAR'S apparent shift stunned gun enthusiasts who said there is a large overlap between NASCAR fans and gun owners, and left some in the firearms industry questioning why NASCAR's viewpoint has shifted and where the racing organization now stands on Second Amendment issues.
"They've got the drivers shooting off blanks in the winner's circle. It doesn't make any sense," David Dolbee, the general manager for K-Var Corp., a large distributor of firearms, which submitted an advertisement that was rejected featuring an AK-47 and various accessories.
After a third-party advertising vendor solicited ads for an official NASCAR program earlier this year, the vendor followed up with gun companies in August to inform them NASCAR had rejected advertisements that depicted "assault-style rifles/sniper rifles."
The advertising vendor, National Event Publications, sent an email to some gun companies saying, "We just heard from NASCAR on a number of gun related ads and unfortunately, due to a gradual shift in NASCAR's position on guns, these ads must be edited/changed — especially those that are depicted as assault-style rifles/sniper rifles. NASCAR is still open to some of the less controversial gun accessories, concealed carry, or classes."
The news of those rejections was first reported by the Washington Free Beacon .
NASCAR's response via a vendor came as a shock to those in the firearms industry.
"This is a colossal mistake. Do they not understand their own base?" Dolbee said. "They are a sporting organization trying to take sides on a political issue. That never goes well for any company."
NASCAR's position "seems like a pretty rapid and dramatic shift to me," said Ed Newman, one of the founders of New York firearms manufacturer, Dark Storm Industries LLC.
Newman said his company submitted an ad that was also rejected by NASCAR. The company posted about the rejection on its Instagram account. "We have seen a significant response on social media with the majority of NASCAR fans expressing their disapproval of this shift in policy," Newman said via email.
So far NASCAR has appeared unwilling to explain its shifting viewpoint on the gun industry. It still partners companies like Gander Outdoors and Bass Pro Shops, which sell guns, as well as Henry Repeating Arms, a gun manufacturer.
NASCAR did not respond to several requests for comment for this story.
NASCAR's apparent shift comes as other US companies have begun reevaluating their relationship with the gun industry.
Walmart announced earlier this month it will reduce gun and ammunition sales, a month after more than 20 people were killed in a mass shooting at an El Paso, Texas, Walmart. Dick's Sporting Goods stopped selling semi-automatic, assault-style rifles and high-capacity magazines after a mass shooting in Parkland, Florida. Earlier this year it announced it stopped selling guns and ammunition at 125 of its stores where sales have lagged.
In a show of force Thursday, 145 business leaders penned a letter to Congress demanding action on gun violence.
Lawrence Keane, senior vice president for government and public affairs at the National Shooting Sports Foundation, initially expressed frustration about NASCAR's apparent shift.
"I don't know what they hope to accomplish by refusing advertising of a legal product that their fans are interested in purchasing," Keane said. "If this is an attempt at virtue-signaling, they didn't put their blinker on."
But on Friday he said the trade group has begun a "respectful and productive" dialogue with NASCAR to figure out what is going on.
The National Rifle Association's lobbying arm, in the meantime, made its displeasure apparent in an online post .
"It is not clear if NASCAR is now taking an official position in opposition to semi-automatic rifles —with the AR-15 variants often referred to as America's Rifle — and bolt action rifles," according to the NRA post. "What does seem clear, however, is that NASCAR doesn't want to see such things advertised in its official publication in the future: a decision that could easily alienate a great many of its most ardent fans."