The National Guard will end its NASCAR sponsorship of the No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports team and driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. following the 2014 season, according to a statement posted on the organization's website.
The move is part of an overall budget cutback of the Guard's sports sponsorship program, which also includes funding for IndyCar driver Graham Rahal.
Earnhardt Jr. has carried National Guard sponsorship since moving to Hendrick Motorsports in 2008. This year's agreement called for funding for 20 NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races. The agreement with Rahal Letterman Lanigan Racing is for 12 events.
"Significantly constrained resources and the likelihood of further reductions in the future call for more innovative and cost-effective ways of doing business," Maj. Gen. Judd H. Lyons, acting director of the Army National Guard, said in the statement. "We believe industry and open competition can help us identify effective and efficient solutions to help us meet our marketing and recruiting objectives within budget constraints."
According to the statement, the National Guard spent $32 million on the Sprint Cup sponsorship and another $12 million for the IndyCar program. The funding included at-track and off-site recruiting programs in addition to what was paid to the individual teams.
Hendrick officials said they were unaware of the Guard's decision to end its association after this season.
"Our team has a contract in place to continue the National Guard program at its current level in 2015," HMS said in a statement. "We have not been approached by the Guard about potential changes and plan to honor our current agreement."
Earnhardt Jr., the son of seven-time champion Dale Earnhardt, is enjoying his most successful season since joining Hendrick, with three wins, a second-place position in the points standings and a spot in this year's championship-determining Chase for the NASCAR Sprint Cup already secured.
Lt. Col. Christian Johnson, who oversees Army National Guard marketing, said "motorsports partnerships, including NASCAR, played an important role in helping the National Guard build strong brand awareness and in turned helped us achieve extraordinary recruiting and end-strength objectives over the past decade.
"Our NASCAR sponsorship was principally a marketing program, intended primarily to build awareness of the National Guard as a career option. The … sponsorship allowed the National Guard to leverage a 77 million fan base and the sport's most popular driver."
In addition to the National Guard, PepsiCo and Kelley Blue Book have provided primary sponsorship for the No. 88 team this season.
It was announced earlier this year that Nationwide Insurance will be a primary sponsor for 12 races in 2015.
Several branches of the military have spent millions of dollars in sponsorship of various sports-related programs, including NASCAR, as part of their overall recruiting efforts. Those sponsorships, however, have come under scrutiny in recent years.
Two years ago, the Army announced that it would not return as a primary sponsor, ending a 10-year association with NASCAR. While the stock-car racing fan base is one of the largest in professional sports, an Army study found the demographic targeted by recruiters was not large enough to warrant sponsorship.
Both the Marine Corps and Navy ended similar sponsorships prior to the Army’s pullout.
According to the Guard, sponsorships of six programs, including professional fishing and motorcycle racing, have been reduced until only the NASCAR and IndyCar deals remained in place. The Guard's marketing budget for 2015 is expected to be approximately one-half of what it was in 2012, it said.
Politicians aren't the only ones that have questioned military funding of sports programs.
Dakota Meyer, a United States Marine Corps veteran and recipient of the Medal of Honor, told NASCAR.com earlier this year that the money used for sponsorships could be better spent elsewhere.
Meyer is a race fan, and attended this year's Coca-Cola 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He also races on the local level.
He received the Medal of Honor for his actions in the Battle of Ganjgal on Sept. 8, 2009. During that battle, Meyer, a sniper, rescued as many as 12 wounded soldiers and provided cover for the escape of two dozen more.
Today, he runs his own construction company in Greensburg, Kentucky, and speaks on behalf of the Hire Our Heroes program run in conjunction with Toyota.
"I'll tell you this," Meyer said. "I think it's insane for anyone to consider putting that much money into an outside organization when I don't even have the correct gear that I need over there.
"I think that these drivers should be so grateful for what this country does that they should want to do this on their own."
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