Former SME exec Seagraves passes away
WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Sept. 28, 1998) William Ralph Seagraves, who guided R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. into its sponsorship of motorsports in the early 1970s, died Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 69.
Funeral arrangements are incomplete as of Monday afternoon.
Ralph Seagraves headed Reynolds Tobacco's Special Events Operations, now known as Sports Marketing Enterprises (SME), from 1972 until his retirement in January 1985. During that period, RJR forged sponsor relationships with several motorsports sanctioning bodies, including NASCAR and the National Hot Rod Association.
RJR's NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series are two of the longest-running sponsorships in all of sports. "This is a sad day for everyone in the RJR family," said Cliff Pennell, president of SME since January of this year, when Seagraves' successor, T. Wayne Robertson, died in a Louisiana boating accident. "Ralph was the man who put this company in a leadership role among sports sponsors.
"He was instrumental in working with Bill France Sr. and Bill France of NASCAR and Wally Parks of the NHRA in establishing our involvement with those two organizations."
France, president of NASCAR, based in Daytona Beach, Fla., said "We are saddened to hear of the loss of Ralph Seagraves. NASCAR and Winston have one of the longest league-sponsor relationships in all of sports, not just motorsports. In fact, it could be said the blueprint for that type of relationship was developed by Ralph Seagraves. A lot of the things the younger drivers in this sport see were initiated by Ralph. This sport will truly miss him."
"Ralph was certainly the patriarch of motorsports' sponsorships, but Ralph's real legacy is that he always considered R.J. Reynolds as a partner in building motorsports, not (just) a sponsor," said Dallas Gardner, president of NHRA in Glendora, Calif. "His contribution to the success of NHRA is immeasurable. We will miss him."
During Seagraves' reign, RJR began its practice of helping race track operators upgrade their facilities. At his direction, the company funded building projects at tracks across the country, most noticeably, but limited to, the many NASCAR Winston Racing Series short tracks located from coast to coast.
"Ralph was always insistent that in order for a sport to grow, the venues had to be first-class," Pennell said.
Seagraves also helped link race teams and potential sponsors. It was at his urging that Piedmont Airlines agreed in 1982 to become the first sponsor for Richard Childress' race team. Childress' organization has since gone on to capture six NASCAR Winston Cup titles, all with driver Dale Earnhardt.
Seagraves, who began his career at RJR in 1955 in the sales department, was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1993.
He is survived by his wife, Ardette, and son, Colbert.
Source: NASCAR Online