Tobacco Money Makes Its Move Into Auto Racing
One of the most significant events in auto-racing history occurred on April 1, 1970, but went virtually unnoticed by the motorsports community and wasn’t reported in the pages of this publication.
The milestone moment took place in Washington where President Richard Nixon signed the Public Health Cigarette Smoking Act. Included in the bill was a provision that took effect Jan. 2, 1971, banning cigarette advertising from television.
Even though no one realized it at the time, the ban would forever change the motorsports industry as tobacco companies redirected large portions of their advertising budgets to racing sponsorships.
Phillip Morris, Inc. was the first to step to the plate.
On May 28, 1970, during activities surrounding the Indianapolis 500, Phillip Morris officials signed a two-year agreement making Marlboro the title sponsor of the USAC National Championship Series.
Renamed the Marlboro-USAC National Driving Championship, officials said the 1970 champion would receive the Marlboro Cup with $50,000 earmarked for the top-three men in the point standings. For 1971, the agreement called for $300,000 to be divided among the top drivers in the championship standings.
Then, officials of Liggett & Myers announced the company’s L&M cigarette brand would increase its support of the Sports Car Club of America’s Continental Championship for Formula 5000 cars.
Now known as the L&M Continental 5000 Championship, officials said Liggett & Myers would provide more than $60,000 for event advertising and promotion along with $2,500 and the L&M Trophy for the series champion.
But what proved to be the most significant announcement came during the second week of December at a meeting of NASCAR track operators and publicists in Southern Pines, N.C. At that gathering, officials of NASCAR and R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. revealed that NASCAR Grand National competitors would race for the Winston Cup and a $100,000 prize in 1971.
“We are very excited about starting our association with NASCAR and intend to work closely with them in making 1971 the best year ever for the sport of stock-car racing,” said R.A. Rechholtz, vice president of marketing for R.J. Reynolds.
NASCAR President Bill France said, “The $100,000 posted by Reynolds for the Winston Cup will assure the Grand National division of one of the largest point funds in automobile racing and one of the largest in NASCAR’s 23-year history.”
Just days later, R.J. Reynolds was also introduced as the sponsor of the Winston 500 NASCAR Grand National race to be run May 16, 1971, at Alabama Int’l Motor Speedway.