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SPORTS WEEKEND | Motor Racing

Seagraves Spurred Growth Via Big-Time Sponsorships

October 09, 1998|SHAV GLICK

The most important men in motor sports' climb to the position of importance it now occupies would probably be Bill France and Bill France Jr., Tony Hulman, Roger Penske and Wally Parks.

Their contributions are well known, the Frances with NASCAR, Hulman with Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Penske with Indy cars and racing in general, and Parks with drag racing.

Not so well known, but just as important, was Ralph Seagraves, a former tobacco salesman who brought big-time sponsorship to racing with the Winston Cup, the Winston Racing Series and the Winston Drag Racing Series.

Seagraves, who retired in 1985 after overseeing the tremendous growth of racing, died last week in Winston-Salem, N.C., after a lengthy illness. He was 69.

In the early 1970s, Seagraves approached Junior Johnson about sponsoring his stock car racing team. Johnson suggested that R.J. Reynolds Tobacco sponsor the entire NASCAR series. Seagraves and Bill France hammered out the details and in 1972 the Winston Cup was born with a $100,000 point fund. This year's is $5 million.

"Ralph was certainly the patriarch of motor sports' sponsorships, but Ralph's real legacy is that he always considered R.J. Reynolds as a partner in building motor sports, not a sponsor," said NHRA President Dallas Gardner.

France Jr., NASCAR president, said that Seagraves "developed the blueprint" for modern series sponsorship, adding that "a lot of the things the younger drivers in this sport see were initiated by Ralph."

It was Seagraves who insisted that racetracks upgrade their facilities to make them more spectator-friendly, and he helped finance improvements with RJR funding.

"Ralph was always insistent that in order for a sport to grow, the venues had to be first-class," said Cliff Pennell, president of Sports Marketing Enterprises, which handles RJR's sports sponsorships. "He will be sorely missed."

FOUR FOR FOUR

Jack Hewitt, 47, swept all four main events--Silver Crown, modified, sprint and midget--at the Four-Crown Nationals last week at Eldora Speedway in Rossburg, Ohio.

"It was a fairy-tale night," said the popular U.S. Auto Club veteran. "Snow White and Cinderella have nothing on me. I thought winning three was possible, but four, that was just awesome."

IRL driver Davey Hamilton hopes to at least approach Hewitt's record at Irwindale Speedway.

"For sure I'll be there when Ray Wilkings opens his new half-mile track next March," Hamilton said. "When I was passing through L.A. on my way home to Vegas, I stopped by and was amazed what a job they've done at Irwindale.

"I plan to run a midget, a sprinter and a super-mod all on the same opening night," said Hamilton a four-time winner of the super-modified race in the Coppler World Classic at Phoenix.

Irwindale is scheduled to open March 27 with a U.S. Auto Club tripleheader.

DECIDER AT DEL MAR

One of the closest AMA Grand National dirt track motorcycle championships in history will end Sunday with the running of the Del Mar Mile on the Fairgrounds horse racing track.

Chris Carr, back after three years of road racing on pavement, has a two-point edge over nine-time champion Scott Parker. In five of Parker's championship seasons, Carr was runner-up. Both ride Harley-Davidsons.

"It's going to be a fight to the finish, and hopefully I'll come out on top," said Carr, the 1992 champion. "I really love dirt-track racing and to end my first year back as the champion would be awesome."

Parker, however, has won at Del Mar three of four times. He was the leader going into last week's race at Las Vegas, but after suffering a twisted knee shortly before the race, managed only a seventh-place finish. Carr finished second, behind Steve Morehead.

"I'll be ready," Parker said. "I'm looking forward to running Del Mar again. With a little luck, we will pull it off."

Also in contention are Honda's Rich King, seven points behind Carr, and Will Davis, series runner-up last year on a Harley.

Also on the Del Mar program will be a lap of legends, featuring three-time world champion Kenny Roberts, riding the TZ750 Yamaha he rode in beating Jay Springsteen by inches in the 1975 Springfield Mile. The bike was barred after that race, AMA officials saying it was too fast, and too dangerous.

LAST LAPS

Juan Pablo Montoya, a Formula One test driver for the Williams team, will replace two-time CART champion Alex Zanardi on Chip Ganassi's Target team next year. Montoya, a Colombian, was being groomed to drive in F1, but Frank Williams decided to have him gain some experience in champ cars. It is a trade of sorts, since Zanardi is leaving Ganassi to return to F1 with Williams next year.

A number of Southern California drivers will be at Mid-Ohio this weekend for the annual Sports Car Club of America's national runoffs. Among those seeking titles are Cal Club champions Mark Rodrigues of Van Nuys, Formula Atlantic; Adam Dupre of Anaheim, Formula Ford; Kurt Jechel of San Juan Capistrano, Formula 500; and Barney Moen of Hesperia, Spec Racer Ford.

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