So Long Farewell

I hate smoking. It's harmful, irritating, disgusting and annoying. I have to question the mental capacity of someone who knowingly kills themselves by smoking. I don't understand how anyone could pick up this habit and ingest their lungs and body with toxins and poison. And I don't comprehend how the people who do can complain about their right to pollute the air in public places so clean lunged folks like me have to breathe their garbage.

That said, I love R.J. Reynolds.

Yes, RJR produces a lethal product that I can't stand, but without them NASCAR racing would still be a backwoods sport with limited appeal. And after a 33-year marriage, just like that, it's over.

The growth of the Winston Cup Series point fund is always pointed to as RJR's major contribution to the sport. And indeed it's impressive, growing from $100,000 in 1971 to $17 million this season. Over the years, RJR continuously poured money into NASCAR drivers' and car owner's pockets including the point fund, "The Winston" all-star race, the "Winston Million," "No Bull 5" and numerous other promotional programs.

But it's the stuff Reynolds did off the track that molded NASCAR into the mainstream sport it is today. Cleaning up and updating race tracks, advertising and marketing blitzes, promotional campaigns, media relations efforts - all things that prior to 1971 weren't part of the NASCAR world. Back then, for the most part tracks opened their gates and the crowd would show up. There were only a handful of promoters and track owners with the knowledge and ability to market their events. That all changed when RJR came on board.

Without Reynolds, sure we'd probably still have North Wilkesboro and Nashville Fairgrounds on the schedule and Rockingham and Darlington wouldn't be in danger of joining the extinct list. But NASCAR wouldn't have grown to other geographic regions and become a nationwide sport. And the wall-to-wall television exposure the sport receives would probably have come at a much slower pace.

It's been a relationship unparalled in sports marketing history and one the NFL, NBA or Major League Baseball would love to have. Unfortunately for RJR, times have changed and the product they manufacture and market through NASCAR racing isn't as accepted a part of our society as it was 33 years ago. So under pressure, the company had no choice but to bow out gracefully.

Time will only tell is Nextel can even scratch the surface of what its predecessor brought to the NASCAR world. It will be a strange sight indeed to roll into Daytona next February and be greeted by splashes of yellow and black rather than the familiar red and white.

There are those that will argue cellphone use is as annoying as cigarette smoking. To a degree I can't argue the point. But I'll take a cellphone ring over a nose full of smoke any day.

Thanks RJR for all you've done. But I've always wished that the company could have attached one of its other products to the sport rather than its cigarette brand. The Oreo Cup would have been outstanding.




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NASCAR Sprint Cup, 2003

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