I think I'm speaking for everyone in racing when I say we are sad to see our old friend R.J. Reynolds pull out of the sport. It is especially an unhappy time for those of us who were around when the tobacco company got into stock car racing.
The Winston-Salem, North Carolina-based company entered NASCAR in 1971 and has done so much for our sport you cannot begin to describe all the many ways those people helped.
At the time, the sport was in desperate need of money and promotion. Then Reynolds announced it would sponsor the series. It called the series Winston Cup, and Winston did everything it could do, and more. Just the fact that such a company would become involved was a major step forward for our racing. Winston's involvement brought other major companies into the sport as sponsors. People came down out of their Madison Avenue offices to see how Reynolds was using racing as a sports marketing vehicle, and many of them stayed.
Winston picked up the sport when it was just about flat on its face. These people, and there was a whole department of them headed by the late Ralph Seagraves, promoted the sport every way possible, and dressed up racetracks with red and white paint. In other words, they let everybody know the races were coming to town.
The U.S. government kept Reynolds from advertising on television, and that is one of the big reasons the Winston people turned their attention toward stock car racing in 1971. Then, all along, the government kept putting the clamps on what Reynolds was doing. Reynolds folks even had to be careful with their cigarette signs, and not get them in front of a television camera.
The smoking thing, the cigarettes, the government, the whole bit-it all just kept getting bigger and bigger until it had gotten to the place where Winston was not holding us back, but it wasn't moving us forward, either.
Nextel comes into the sponsorship picture now, and there are certain advantages over our former series sponsor. It's up to these people to carry us to the next level. They can do it because they will be able to reach the younger market. Nextel can advertise and promote on the high school level, or even to kids down in the grades. Winston could not do this. I think you will see Nextel go after the youth market right away.
We hate to see Winston leave, but we welcome Nextel.
RealignmentNow, another thing I have mixed emotions about is the future adjustment of the schedule: the Southern 500 date being moved to California, and Rockingham losing its fall date.
Don't forget, I've been going to Darlington on Labor Day weekend since the first Southern 500 in 1950. I helped Daddy get his car ready for that very first race. So, what I am saying is that I have a lot of grand memories about Darlington and those Southern 500 weekends. That was always one of the best weekends of racing for NASCAR drivers. We seemed to have a lot of fun during the week of the Southern 500, and I think the fans did, too.