Sunday, August 17, 2003

Auto racing insider

Tobacco bans are creating wrinkles; NASCAR, F1 face promotion issues in future races

There once was a time when tobacco advertising was king in auto racing.

To a certain extent, tobacco is still very much involved in the sport, but recent signals suggest the future might bring less advertising from cigarette companies.

The glaring evidence is, of course, the end of the 31-year partnership between RJ Reynolds Tobacco Co. and NASCAR, which had teamed to present the Winston Cup series, the most successful racing series in the nation. Nextel, a less controversial mainstream wireless communication company, takes over for tobacco next season.

There is no next season for the Canadian Grand Prix, a Formula One race in Montreal that drew 300,000 fans a year. The reason is tobacco and its involvement with F1, which runs deeps.

The Canadian government placed a ban on tobacco-related advertising, which begins in October. That prompted F1 to cancel the Canadian Grand Prix per the racing league's contract with individual races that allows F1 to cancel a race where tobacco sponsorship is not allowed.

Three F1 teams, Ferrari, Renault and McLaren, are sponsored by tobacco companies that play a large role in funding racing leagues. But it is unfortunate when those leagues choose advertisers over fans.

Canadian officials will lobby the league and teams to work out a deal that could save the event, but essentially if F1 wants to race there, it's going to have to change the way it deals with sponsors in the future.

FALSE ALARM: NASCAR received a cancellation scare of its own this week when the power went out Thursday in the Northeast, including Ohio and Michigan. Initial published reports stated that because of power losses, today's GFS Marketplace 400 at Michigan International Speedway was in jeopardy of being postponed. By Friday, however, MIS officials said operations had returned to normal.

CROSSING OVER: NASCAR owner Richard Childress confirmed this week that he is interested in becoming involved with IRL, particularly Sam Hornish Jr. and Panther Racing engineer Andy Brown. That combination eventually could allow Hornish to do some crossing over of his own - in the Daytona 500.


E-mail This is the last auto racing insider of the summer. Look for its return in 2004.

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