Obama’s Ill-fated NASCAR Sponsorship

By Beacon Staff

In case you missed this crucial piece of presidential political news, the campaign of Democratic candidate Barack Obama reportedly turned down an offer from a NASCAR racing team to sponsor a car in the Sprint Cup series later this year. It’s news I greet with mixed emotions, since a politician-sponsored stock car could turn out to be an advertising masterstroke. Yet on the other hand, Obama probably made the right choice, for no one can escape the power of metaphor.

Sports Illustrated broke the news of the NASCAR offer last Thursday, but within 24 hours, Obama’s campaign had put it to rest.

“The Obama campaign will not be sponsoring a car in the Sprint Cup series, though we will continue to look for ways to reach out to voters and convey Senator Obama’s message of change,” Bill Burton, an Obama campaign spokesman, was quoted as saying.

It is surely every national politician’s dream to become as omnipresent in the households of Americans as other prominent NASCAR advertisers, fine products like Tide, Budweiser and Viagra.

And the sheer originality of any presidential candidate, but particularly a Democrat, making inroads (yes!) among NASCAR’s fan base, through the sheer repetition of having one’s face plastered on the hood of a stock car endlessly circling the track, is a stroke of political advertising almost, dare I say, Rovean in its cynical genius.

But I understand why Obama turned it down. First and foremost, this racing team was not very good, suffering from sponsorship issues and a relatively weak track record, with six top-10 finishes in 167 career starts in the Cup series dating back to 2002, according to autoracingdaily.com.

Even more importantly, Obama’s campaign likely understands the myriad ways in which a racecar with his likeness on the hood will become an irresistible metaphor for the political media. It’s just too good.

Think about the headlines! “Wheels Come Off Obama’s Car, Campaign” or “Obama’s Candidacy, Car Hits Wall” or “Car Goes Up In Flames, Slammed Into By Other Cars, Rescuers With Extinguishers Drag Driver from Smoldering Wreckage of Obama’s Presidential Aspirations” You get the picture.

Sigh. Yes, it’s probably better for the Obama campaign to play it safe, and if it opts to get involved in sponsoring an athlete, do it for a sport where no parallels can be drawn with politics, maybe something like … horse racing.