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NASCAR Nationwide Series driver Blake Koch’s
sponsor’s ad rejected by ESPN
NASCAR driver Blake Koch, who drives the #41 Rick Ware Racing entry in the NASCAR Nationwide Series, has found himself in a unique situation when it comes to the promotion of his car’s primary sponsor. While car sponsorship and advertising go hand in hand for most drivers, teams, and broadcasters, with drivers routinely appearing in commercials for their sponsors which are then aired during the race by whichever network is broadcasting the event, Koch’s ad for his primary sponsor, the voter registration group Rise Up and Register, is not following suit following ESPN’s refusal to air the ad during its broadcasts of NASCAR Nationwide Series events. ESPN’s stated reason for rejecting the ad was “political and religious overtones.”
Koch, who finished second in the 2011 NASCAR Nationwide Series Rookie of the Year competition to RWR teammate Timmy Hill, was informed of ESPN’s decision in a voice message, left for his father, by ESPN Senior Vice President Rosa Gatti. Ms. Gatti said (text courtesy Race Talk Radio), “It was declined for political and religious overtones, which we avoid by all of our standards. We looked at the website, you know, as well as Blake’s website, and do see the religious aspects of this. So those are the reasons.”
It was originally reported that Rise Up and Register had, as a result of ESPN’s refusal to air the ad, pulled its sponsorship from Koch’s car. A spokesperson for the organization has stated to Dennis Michelsen of Race Talk Radio that this is not the case, noting the organization has not changed its plans to serve as the car’s primary sponsor for twenty races in 2012 (the NASCAR Nationwide Series season contains thirty-three races) and will return as the primary sponsor for the next race on the NASCAR Nationwide Series schedule, the O’Reilly Auto Parts 300 to be held at Texas Motor Speedway on Friday, April 13th.
The mission of Rise Up And Register, based in Alexandria, Virginia, as stated on its Facebook page is to “register over one million new voters this year to help become part of the solution to saving our great nation.” The organization does not promote any specific party or candidate, nor does it promote any religious beliefs in and of itself. The organization’s website has a link for those interested in having Koch speak at their church, but does not promote this as a ministerial outreach; rather, it is designated as an effort toward voter registration.
Koch is open about his faith. As noted on his website, “The 2012-2013 NASCAR Season is all about reaching out to NASCAR fans with the message of the Gospel. Blake will be speaking and sharing his testimony in churches all across America. Blake is strong encouragement to young and old and he shares the challenges of Christian life as a top NASCAR driver, and the ultimate victory in Christ.”
FOX, which televises the first thirteen NASCAR Sprint Cup races of the season, has run the ad during its broadcasts.
ESPN’s decision is curious in light of both the open embrace of faith NASCAR permits at every race, with chapel events for the drivers on race morning and an opening prayer prior to the National Anthem before the race gets underway, and ESPN’s own spotty record when it comes to its broadcasters making their political views known. In August of last year, golf analyst Paul Azinger was publicly scolded for criticizing President Obama on Twitter, yet a tweet two months earlier by SportsCenter anchor Kenny Mayne stating “almost rammed car with palin bumper sticker. with intent.. held up..coulda been kids in car” passed without comment from the network.
Koch, who with his wife Shannon is expecting the birth of a son in the next few months, is currently twentieth in the NASCAR Nationwide Series points standings.
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