The United States Army’s long-running sponsorships of competitors in National Hot Rod Association drag racing will end with the conclusion of the 2018 season. The NHRA made the announcement earlier this week.
The announcement means the end of the Army’s involvement with the NHRA’s Youth and Education Services program, which the NHRA says reaches 30,000 high school kids a year.
While the decision means the end of the Army’s multiple-decades long involvement in motorsports and will leave a gap in the fabric of the sport going forward, it does not come as a surprise. Some of the purse holders, the people who decide where money is spent (and mis-spent) every year, have been critical of the military’s sponsorships in motorsports for roughly the same length of time the military has sponsored cars and races.
Congress will find other ways to spend money for it’s all volunteer force to recruit new members. It is sort of hard to figure what those other spending plans might be. The NHRA presents an opportunity for marketing that is unique in sports: A face-to-face, handshaking opportunity with every paying customer.
Don Schumacher Racing’s Army-sponsored Top Fuel car, driven by Tony Schumacher, will be sponsored by another entity next season and both the team and driver will do the same stellar job of addressing its sponsor’s intended audience as it has for the US Army all these years. Tony Schumacher will do the same high-quality job of inspiring car salesmen or beer makers or store clerks as he has done while addressing all those high school kids for the last decade or more.
The handwriting was on the wall a few years back when the Army’s recruiting command was asked to show how many of its new recruits could be traced back to a visit to an NHRA race. The same question was asked of the National Guard when it sponsored some of Dale Earnhardt Jr’s NASCAR efforts. Someone did not like the answer and the military’s sponsorship of NASCAR teams ended in 2012.
According to an Arizona Republic report in 2016, the Army’s goal was to recruit roughly 65,000 new soldiers for active duty and 15,000 more for the United States Army Reserve in fiscal 2017. A Reuters report from 2016 indicated that, at that time, less than half of Army recruits were accepted for various reasons ranging from health and physical conditioning to background issues. If we understand those reports and if both reports are still accurate today, then the Army must attract the attention of 160,000 would-be recruits to fill the goal of 80,000. It is hard to see a better platform than the one offered by the NHRA.
Obviously, we want the best for the Army. It is the best-equipped, hardest-fighting and best-led army in the world. Our soldiers, men and women, stand guard so that we might sleep at night. The same is true for our Navy, Marine Corps, Air Force and Coast Guard. Our point is that in this era of an all-volunteer military, the best marketing practices are needed to continue to attract the best sort of volunteers.
Just as drag racing has increasingly become a technology-driven sport, so has the US Army’s way of protecting our freedoms become increasingly technical in nature. You’d think the two would be good for one another but if you did so, you wouldn’t be a decision maker.
The US Army appears to understand the appeal of NHRA racing for the age 18-24 demographic. The purse-string holders in government do not.
We regret that.