Road Racing Rigs
RJR – under the Winston brand – spent roughly $45 million per year on what will still be known as the NASCAR Winston Cup Series until the end of the 2003 campaign.
“Nextel is a partner with a strong brand, a bright future and a vision for growing our sport,” says NASCAR President Bill France Jr. “They are one of the most technologically advanced and an acknowledged leader in a sector that helps drive the U.S. economy.”
The deal, which begins with the 2004 racing season, marks an end to a long and storied relationship between the stock car series and tobacco company.
The pair joined forces in 1971, and soon the top level of NASCAR became the Winston Cup Series, and its all-star race was known simply as The Winston.
Due to heavy restrictions on cigarette advertising, it was only a matter of time before RJR was forced to pull out of its huge sports investment. Cigarette advertising is banned from television and radio, and tobacco cannot be marketed to people under the age of 18.
Nextel, on the other hand, is free to pursue the youth market that NASCAR longs to tap.
Aside from the loss of Winston in the series title, the all-star race will also get a new name. Lowe’s Motor Speedway in Charlotte is the longtime site of The Winston, which will tentatively be renamed the NASCAR All-Star Race presented by Nextel. While thanking RJR for all it has done for the sport, LMS owner Humpy Wheeler warmly welcomed the new title sponsor.
“The Nextel announcement is a real breath of fresh air,” Wheeler says in a statement. “Our good friends at Winston have been so saddled by regulation that it made for a difficult environment. This clears the air and brings us a partner that’s a huge player in the enormous communications industry.
“This will do a number of things. First, we believe they’ll be open to new ideas that will make this sport even stronger. Second, it gives our television partners a vital anchor advertiser. It’s only a little over a year and a half before negotiations on a new TV contract begin, so the timing is outstanding. And third, it gives us a strong marketing boost among our current and potential new advertisers.”
The sponsorship gives Nextel a stronger presence in the sports world. Already affiliated with the NFL, major league baseball and the NHL, it now will underwrite a sport second only to the NFL in TV viewership.
Ned Leary, president of sports marketing enterprises for RJR, released a statement congratulating NASCAR and Nextel.
“We’ve enjoyed a 33-year relationship with an outstanding partner in NASCAR,” Leary says. “We’ve been very fortunate to be part of this dynamic and unique sport. We appreciate everything NASCAR, the drivers and teams have done for us over the years.”