Thank You RJR
by Stan Creekmore, NASCAR Editor

February 7, 2003

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Most of us can remember those years in our youth when every time we donned an old pair of pants or a favorite shirt it someone just didn’t seem to fit anymore. We were growing, moving from being a child to being a teenager, into the awkward years. Then, six years later, we grew again, taking on the responsibilities of being an adult.

Life in the world of NASCAR racing is no different. Since it’s inception in 1949, NASCAR has grown. Some years the growth appeared non-existent. However, some years the growth was so huge and so quick the sport seemed like it was busting at the seams on a daily basis. Tracks couldn’t add enough seats; seats they now struggle to sell. Finding a team sponsor was almost as easy as going to the bank of the river and waiting for a fish to jump into your arms.

Those times never last. The bountiful feast can easily be picked clean by even another spurt of huge growth.

NASCAR has never been more popular than right now. The foundation of a regional sport has been built upon. The house resting on that foundation is national in scope. However, there is a new house under construction. A house that will span the globe – an international house.

Like those old clothes we sadly passed down to a sibling, or sold at a garage sale as we passed out of childhood and into our teenage years NASCAR is faced with clothing itself with newer, stronger, international partners.

Last year Gatorade decided the sport demanded more of its marketing dollars than the company could invest in a single program. Therefore, the company stepped back from being the “Official Sports Beverage.” It doesn’t mean they went away. Gatorade still blankets the sport at all of the ISC tracks and has a family of drivers who promote their product.

Now ConocoPhillips, through their Union 76 brand, is saying they are giving up their status as the Official Fuel of NASCAR. That decision has nothing to do with losing interest in the sport. Companies must be able to leverage their marketing dollars to gain the greatest return. There are oil companies who meet the international standard NASCAR has set for the future. A replacement will be found.

Now, to the issue of R.J. Reynolds. While it is true the lawsuits of the past two decades have handcuffed the marketing arms of the tobacco companies, it has not prevented them from presenting their products to the public.

It is inevitable that as we continue to educate our children about the dangers of smoking the number of smokers will continue to dwindle. Yes, there will always be smokers. However, anytime a company faces a dwindling number of consumers they also face a dwindling bottom line.

R.J. Reynolds posted a loss in the most recent quarter. After decades of huge profits, more money went out the door than came in. The top executives at RJR would be remiss in their duties if they didn’t consider cutting expenses. Moreover, yes sports marketing is an expense. A cost of doing business that can be controlled.

Like a good partner should, the folks at RJR alerted NASCAR to their plight. There is a five-year contract in place that RJR will honor, however, the likelihood of that contract extending past the five-year mark has diminished considerably. Not wishing to damage the sport, RJR has told NASCAR to start looking for a replacement. Go out and find a company that meet the new international standard being set in Daytona.

This is not a divorce by any means. RJR is shrinking as NASCAR grows bigger and those fine folks in Winston-Salem (NC) do not intend to hold back a sport they so artfully pushed into the international arena.

Thank you, RJR.

The author can be contacted stanc@autoracing1.com

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