R.J. Reynolds leaves as short track series sponsor

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Oct. 12, 1999) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has decided that its Winston brand's NASCAR sponsorship cannot continue to include the NASCAR Winston Racing Series, the weekly short-track racing program that it has been primary...

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. (Oct. 12, 1999) R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company has decided that its Winston brand's NASCAR sponsorship cannot continue to include the NASCAR Winston Racing Series, the weekly short-track racing program that it has been primary sponsor of for 26 years, after the conclusion of the 1999 season. Winston's sponsorship of the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and NASCAR Winston West Series are not affected by the decision.

NASCAR officials said at this time there is no definite replacement sponsor in place for the 2000 short track program, whose details will be announced in the near future, but which will continue in a similar manner.

"It is essential that RJR sponsorships fully comply with the letter and the spirit of the Master Settlement Agreement between tobacco manufacturers and state attorneys general," said Rick Sanders, president of RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises (SME). "It is unfortunate that we have to relinquish our involvement in this great series after 26 years as the title sponsor. We have reached the conclusion, however, that the NASCAR Winston Racing Series was unlikely to fulfill the requirements of the Master Settlement Agreement due to long standing rules regarding driver eligibility."

Competition rules for the NASCAR Winston Racing Series allow for the possibility that 16- and 17-year-olds might participate in races in which they can earn championship points. In limited situations, this has been the case. Participation in a cigarette brand name sponsorship by drivers under the age of 18 is incompatible with the terms of the Master Settlement Agreement (MSA).

Sanders reports that commitments for the 1999 NASCAR Winston Racing Series were made prior to the signing of the MSA. Therefore, at the beginning of the season NASCAR worked with RJR to implement a temporary modification of the series rules, making drivers under the age of 18 ineligible for series points-fund awards.

"RJR and its Winston brand would have liked to continue this portion of our NASCAR sponsorship," Sanders said. "It was decided, however, that making permanent rule changes to exclude 16- and 17-year-old drivers from the series -- and thus continue to comply with the MSA -- was not in the best interest of the sport, which serves as the grass roots program for NASCAR. As a result, we have ended our sponsorship of the NASCAR Winston Racing Series, and are working through an orderly transition plan to disengage from this part of our NASCAR sponsorship."

In making this announcement, however, Sanders emphasized Winston's long tradition of commitment to its NASCAR sponsorship.

"Our partnership with NASCAR is highly valued," he said. "We are constantly evaluating new opportunities with NASCAR, as well as improving programs currently in place."

In 1999 the NASCAR Winston Racing Series included nearly 100 short tracks in 10 regions and featured thousands of competitors racing at some of the leading paved and dirt tracks around the country. This national series is locally focused with teams competing in a variety of divisions designated by the tracks.

The series provides hometown competitors with local, regional and national recognition and offers these drivers a $1.4 million championship fund, which has been sustained by RJR's Winston brand as part of its overall NASCAR sponsorship.

According to Mike Helton, senior vice president and chief operating officer for NASCAR, the NASCAR Winston Racing Series is the foundation of NASCAR racing.

"Winston and NASCAR have built a national short-track program that is second to none in this country," Helton said. "This important part of NASCAR will continue, and we are excited about the future of our national short-track series. NASCAR, with a great deal of confidence, looks forward to continuing to build and enhance Winston's involvement in the NASCAR Winston Cup Series and the NASCAR Winston West Series."

Tom Deery, vice president of the NASCAR Winston Racing Series agreed.

"The commitment at NASCAR to continue building our short-track program remains as strong as ever," he said. "We remain committed to developing new ideas, like ChampionsWeek. We look forward to moving our program to even higher levels and continue building a solid weekly program for competitors, promoters and fans."

nascar.com

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Series NASCAR
Drivers Mike Helton