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National Guard dumps Dale Earnhardt Jr.; GOP cites Obama pressure

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Sports,Paul Bedard,Washington Secrets,Barack Obama,Senate Democratic Conference,NASA,National Security,Charlotte,National Guard

The National Guard is ending its sponsorship of NASCAR and IndyCar racing teams and top racers Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Graham Rahal, in a shocking move that some are blaming on President Obama and Senate Democrats.

The Guard said it will cut funding at the end of the year, claiming its contract is up after investing $44 million in the two sports. However, Hendrick Motorsports, the NASCAR team the Guard supports and the owner of Earnhardt's No. 88 Chevrolet, said the contract extends through 2015.

For fans, the decision means that the most popular driver in NASCAR is now without one of his top sponsors — and next year, his car, firesuits and hats will no longer carry the National Guard logo in huge letters.

Democrats had pushed the National Guard to stop spending money on the sponsorships, which were used for recruiting.

The Guard's decision, announced in a statement, drew an attack from North Carolina Rep. Richard Hudson, who blamed political pressure for the sudden move.

“In May of this year Senate Democrats held a hearing and asked for a review of the program. Unfortunately, instead of actually looking for the facts, this was a clear effort to put pressure on the National Guard to end this valuable program. If we’re going to spend money on recruiting, then we should stop playing politics and spend it wisely by investing in the best resources available,” said Hudson, a Republican.

Earnhardt, the son of the racing legend by the same name, is from North Carolina, and many of the top NASCAR teams and drivers are based there. The NASCAR Hall of Fame is in Charlotte.

“I am deeply disappointed that extreme political pressure from the administration and Senate Democrats led to an irresponsible decision to end the Army National Guard’s partnership with our motorsports industry. The success of the National Guard using professional motorsports to recruit young men and women has been proven and well-documented,” Hudson added.

Charlotte Motor Speedway is in Hudson's district.

Earnhardt, 39, who has won the last 11 straight NASCAR "most popular driver" awards, has appeared at dozens of events for the National Guard as part of the sponsorship deal. He is currently in first place in NASCAR's premiere level of racing, the Sprint Cup Series, and is in third place in its second-tier series, the Nationwide. Earnhardt won last Sunday's Sprint Cup race at Pocono, Pa.

Hudson also provided the following background:

-- Since 2007 when the Department of Defense first began their use of professional sports sponsorships for recruiting purposes, they have added more than 400,000 new soldiers.

-- According to the National Guard Association, ninety percent of the brave men and women who enlisted or reenlisted in the Army National Guard from 2007 to 2013 said they were exposed to the Guard through recruiting or retention materials featuring NASCAR.

-- The National Guard’s sponsorship with NASCAR allows them to leverage the largest American spectator sport with a loyal fan base of over 75 million people.

Paul Bedard, the Washington Examiner's "Washington Secrets" columnist, can be contacted at pbedard@washingtonexaminer.com.