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SPORTS WEEKEND | MOTOR RACING

Boating Accident Robs Sport of Powerful, Popular Figure

January 16, 1998|SHAV GLICK

Motor racing lost one of its most powerful and popular figures when T. Wayne Robertson was killed in a boating accident Wednesday while duck hunting in a Louisiana bayou.

Robertson, 48, was president of R.J. Reynolds' Sports Marketing Enterprises, which controls the vast race-sponsorship empire that includes NASCAR's Winston Cup, the National Hot Rod Assn. series and a number of other sporting activities, among them the Vantage senior golf tournament. He was also a senior vice president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.

"T. Wayne was a partner in building NHRA Winston drag racing, and his positive impact on the series was immense," Dallas Gardner, NHRA president, said Thursday at ceremonies opening a new drag-racing museum at the Pomona Fairplex.

"He was more than a sponsor, he has been a partner. He deeply cared about the racers, the promoters, the sanctioning organizations and the fans, and it always showed. The thing I probably admired most about Wayne is that there was absolutely no quit in him. I think he was very proud of that. He was steadfast in his convictions and would not waver."

Robertson, who took over the RJR sports marketing reins from founder Ralph Seagraves in 1984, grew up in racing. He drove a station wagon called "the Orange Crate" in super stock drag races before starting out with RJR in 1971 as a show car driver.

"Wayne was a very special person," said Wally Parks, 85-year-old NHRA founder. "He never wavered in his support of our program. We were looking forward to seeing him at the Winternationals."

The NHRA season opens Jan. 29-Feb. 1 at the Pomona Fairplex strip.

Robertson had also planned to be at Daytona Beach, Fla., for the Daytona 500, opening race of the Winston Cup season, on Feb. 15.

"Wayne was a great personal and professional friend to me and his death will be felt terribly by everyone involved in NASCAR racing," said Bill France Jr., president of NASCAR. "As an individual, he is to be credited as much as anyone in the growth of the Winston Cup series. His efforts were tireless in working with the sanctioning body and the sport's drivers, teams and tracks to grow the sport."

Although Roberton's popularity with drivers peaked when he was handing out millions of dollars in checks at season-ending awards banquets, he was also known for a hands-on approach that endeared him to drivers, crewmen and team owners.

A few years ago, SME sponsored an unlimited hydroplane, Smokin' Joe, owned by Steve Woomer. Robertson was in the pits when it won its first race, after which Woomer remarked, "T. Wayne was so proud and excited, you'd have thought he owned the boat."

Robertson was recognized as one of the top executives in sports marketing. In 1991, the Sporting News listed him as one of the 50 most important people in sports.

Robertson was in a 28-foot aluminum hunting boat with six others when it collided about 6:15 a.m. with a 110-foot oil rig crew boat near the intracoastal waterway on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico. According to Associated Press reports, the hunters' boat capsized and sank in 12 feet of water. Five members of the party, including Robertson, were pulled from the boat after it was raised by the Coast Guard.

It was raining when the accident occurred. William C. O'Malley, president of Tidewater Inc., said the hunters' boat collided with one from his company, which had been headed for an offshore oil rig, but turned back because of bad weather.

One of the hunters, Matt Dobson of Franklin, Tenn., survived, jumping from the aluminum boat before the collision. Margaret Maddox, of Nashville, the lone woman in the group, was listed as missing. Her husband, Dan, was among those killed.

Services for Robertson will be held Saturday at the Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C.

Robertson is survived by his wife Dana and their children, Toby and Kim.

AMA SUPERCROSS

After starting the season with 61,855 at the Coliseum watching 19-year-old Frenchman Sebastien Tortelli's come-from-behind 250cc victory over Jeff Emig, Jeremy McGrath and Doug Henry, the stadium motocross series moves to the Houston Astrodome on Saturday night. Tortelli, who is running only seven rounds before returning to France for the world 250cc Grand Prix championship series, was a surprise to most fans, but not to those close to the sport. The French teenager had defeated Emig, his Kawasaki teammate, in a stirring race at the Goat Breker Invitational at Perris only six days earlier.

In the Coliseum, Tortelli was 12th after the first lap, eighth at the 10-lap halfway mark and passed leader Henry two laps from the end.

The 61,855 fans did not constitute a Coliseum record, as reported. When Mike Goodwin, the father of Supercross in 1972, was still running the show, 74,065 showed up in 1979 to watch Mark Barnett edge Mike Bell.

The Supercross season will return to the Southland on Feb. 7 at San Diego's Qualcomm Stadium.

WHAT GOES UP MUST COME DOWN

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