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Military Racing Sponsorships In Limbo

Last updated on Friday, June 1, 2012

(SPEEDWAY) - As Congress considers a ban on military sports sponsorships, auto racing in Indiana is going on the defense.

On Memorial Day weekend in Indianapolis, the nation and drivers honor fallen heroes. The Indianapolis 500 is watched by millions, including deployed American troops.

National Guard patriotism is driven by Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR and the National Guard branded IndyCar of JR Hildebrand and Panther Racing. That's under fire in Washington, though, as a House committee voted to strip $80 million in sports sponsorships - the majority of which goes to auto racing.

One congresswoman called it "wasteful spending." But Indiana Sen. Dan Coats disagrees and is working to block the proposal in the Senate.

"I would hope we don't micromanage," Coats said in a hearing, He said he doesn't believe Congress should tell the National Guard how to advertise.

"We are trying to put a stop from someone going forward saying, 'Well, I don't like that, and you need to do this,'" Coats said. "That is not the job of Congress."

The issue even surfaced at the 500 Victory Banquet.

"There has been all this stuff lately about military sponsorships ... ," Hildebrand said. He continued, saying: "It's about the soldiers and their families, unemployment issues, kids who have dropped out of high school."

Panther Racing participates in the 400 job fairs that are part of the Hiring Our Heroes campaign across the country.

"They have to have jobs to keep the existence of the National Guard. It has to happen," said Panther Racing owner John Barnes.

Panther has also shared their racing technology with the Army to keep soldiers safe through ear sensors.

"They have those things now in theater," he said of the technology.

For Panther Racing it is more than a partnership.

"We are not just put a sticker on your car and drive away," Barnes said. "We have been blessed to be a part of their family."

The Minnesota congresswoman trying to cut the funding says the sports sponsorships "have nothing to do with our national security."

According to the National Guard, in 2008, nearly 17,000 people cited NASCAR as the source of their interest in joining.

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