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Farewell Winston, Welcome NEXTEL

Winston has been great for NASCAR but NEXTEL can take the sport further

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It is now done. Bobby Labonte is the last NASCAR Winston Cup race winner and Matt Kenseth is the last NASCAR Winston Cup Champion, ever. While this is clearly the end of an era it may also be the beginning of bigger and better things for NASCAR.

Thanks For The Memories

RJ Reynolds and the Winston brand have done a lot for NASCAR since 1971. They have paid millions of dollars in post-season awards, created drama and given out millions more with the Winton Million and No-Bull programs and paid millions more in sponsorship of The Winston All-Star race and sponsoring individual race teams. Winston and NASCAR were good for each other.

Winston has been a loyal supporter for many years. I sincerely thank them for their support and nurturing of NASCAR.

A Whole New World

NASCAR has reached the point though where being associated with Winston is holding it back. For a number of years now tobacco advertising has been severely restricted. There are strict limits on where the Winston brand can be shown. These limits have affected NASCAR's ability to market and strengthen its primary product.

NEXTEL brings no such social baggage to the brand. Now that the tobacco restrictions no longer apply there is an entire crowd of young NASCAR fans that can be aggressively marketed to. NASCAR can now freely advertise their top series to teens and even children. Toys, video games and Hot Wheels cars can now have the correct 2004 NASCAR NEXTEL Cup logo on them instead of a generic NASCAR logo.

This also opens up Canadian and European markets that have tobacco restrictions that are even more stringent than the US has. NASCAR now has the entire planet open to its marketing message, much of which was off limits before.

Now What?

You think that NASCAR has been an advertising machine before? You haven't seen anything yet. Now that the marketing handcuffs are off you can expect an all-out blitz. Where attendance and TV ratings had seemed to flatten out in 2003 you can expect NASCAR to push hard into a younger demographic to start selling tickets, merchandise and attracting new viewers for 2004 and beyond.

Some of it will be painful for long time NASCAR fans to watch. We will all have to remember that growth of the sport is better for all of us. These younger fans will attract more, and larger, sponsors who will put money into the currently-underfunded teams. Wouldn't you like to see Kenny Schrader in victory lane with BAM Motorsports and a top-dollar sponsor?

Winston was great for NASCAR. I'd like to thank them for 30 years of support like no other in sports. But at the same time I'm excited for the opportunities that NEXTEL represents for NASCAR as we race through the 21st century.

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