The number 26 Air Guard car races at Bristol Motor Speedway in March. The car will race in this weekend's Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, Calif. (Senior Master Sgt. Rob Trubia / National Guard)
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The Air National Guard is sponsoring a NASCAR team for five races this season, officials announced June 15.
The first race for the Air Guard car, owned by Bill Jenkins and his Latitude 43 Motorsports team, will be June 18-20 at the Toyota/Save Mart 350 in Sonoma, Calif.
Jenkins, a new owner in NASCAR, was looking for sponsors when he decided to pay tribute to the military.
When he learned that the Air Guard had the lowest awareness rating in the military, he decided to wrap his car with the Air Guard logo for the Bristol Motor Speedway race in March, said Capt. Rondal Perry, division chief of marketing for the Air Guard, in a statement.
"With the Air Guard only having a 1 percent awareness rate in the entire U.S., getting any kind of message out there about the Air Guard and what it can bring is a great thing," Perry said.
The Air Guard had talked about sponsoring a race team in the past, and after Bristol, the issue came up for discussion again.
"It seemed like a good idea to investigate it further, and it turned out that Latitude 43 was the best investment [for us]," Perry said.
The Air Guard hopes its car will spread awareness among NASCAR fans but also individuals in the community who see the fans out in public wearing Air Guard memorabilia.
To boost that effort, the Air Guard plans to beef up its presence at sponsored races.
"There will be a recruiting booth and times when the car will be out there and the driver to sign autographs and do interviews," Perry said.
Officials also plan to visit local schools or attend community events in the week leading up to various races.
"Partnering with NASCAR is a great opportunity for us to get our message out there," Perry said, "and to let the public know that the Air Guard exists and that we have great opportunities for people."
After the first race in Sonoma, the new number 26 car will bear Air Guard advertising for races in Indianapolis, Talladega, Ala., Loudon, N.H., and Richmond, Va.