The Walkie-Talkie Cup?

Published 7:57 am Friday, June 20, 2003

By Staff
Thursday was a sad day for NASCAR fans as the organization which governs stock car racing announced that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. will no longer be the title sponsor of the Winston Cup Series.
Thanks to "big" government's settlement back in 1998 with state lawsuits against the tobacco industry, RJR has been limited in what advertising it can do.
So, back in February, RJR decided to let NASCAR search for a new title sponsor. Apparently that search is over and Nextel was to be announced today as its top sponsor.
Where does that leave the Winston Cup?
For the past 31 years, racing fans have come to know Winston not as RJR's top cigarette brand, but the sponsor of the fastest growing sport in America.
It truly is sad that some type of provision in the settlement couldn't have been agreed upon to allow RJR to keep its sponsorship.
R.J. Reynolds is as big a part of NASCAR's dramatic growth as the people who participate in NASCAR.
Bigger purses and development over the years has allowed the former Grand National Series to grow into this mega-giant NASCAR.
I'm not sure that Nextel is ready to commit to this series the way RJR did. That group sank tons of money into the Winston Cup Series and turned it into a cash crop.
NASCAR has an estimated 75 million fans throughout the world. More than 100 different countries tune into the sports each season.
What this new agreement will allow NASCAR to do is reach a younger audience which RJR cannot devote its advertising to because of the 1998 agreement.
Nextel will be able to market NASCAR to those under the age of 18, although I think just about everyone from ages five on up understand and realize what NASCAR is all about.
Heck, my daughter is already a devoted Dale Earnhardt Jr. fan at the age of nine and has been one for several years.
In fact, her devotion is so strong that she ridicules her grandmother because she likes Rusty Wallace.
R.J. Reynolds isn't just jumping ship on NASCAR. In fact, RJR just recently had signed a five-year extention to "drive" the Winston Cup Series to even bigger heights.
However, with its limitations and an uncertain climate in the tobacco industry, RJR decided to do what was best for the sport and step aside.
It is speculated that RJR spends anywhere between $30 and $60 million on NASCAR each year. Will Nextel be able to produce the same types of numbers for the series?
Also, since Nextel is a wireless company, will it block others from coming into the series? Cingular Wireless and Alltel already exist in the Winston Cup Series on the cars of Robby Gordon and Ryan Newman. What will happen with those sponsorships?
Plus, AT&T is the official telecommunications company of NASCAR. Will it be forced to give up that sponsorship?
Then there is the name.
What is to become of the Winston Cup?
Is there to be a Nextel Cup? Doesn't sound right to me.
Or maybe it will be the Wireless Cup Series. Then at least you keep the same initials.
Better yet, let's name it the Walkie-Talkie Cup since Nextel is best known for its walkie-talkie feature on its cellular phones.
Scott Novak is sports editor of the Dowagiac Daily News. He can be reached at