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Deal Could Go Up in Smoke

February 07, 2003|From Associated Press

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — The millionaires sat at their tables, discussing the latest business deals and how their portfolios might be affected.

A convention of Fortune 500 execs?

No, just a bunch of NASCAR drivers at media day, the kickoff to a new season that got a jolt when R.J. Reynolds, the sponsor of the Winston Cup Series, said it might sever sponsorship ties with NASCAR.

"It's really not a sponsorship," NASCAR's chief operating officer George Pyne said Thursday. "It's more like a marriage."

The possibility that it might end was the main topic at media day, the six-hour question-and-answer festival NASCAR began three years ago to make the lead-up to the Feb. 16 Daytona 500 feel more like the Super Bowl of the sport.

"I'm not sure how it's going to affect everybody, because NASCAR is such a big sport," driver Jeremy Mayfield said. "But I'd hate to see that. They've been so good to the sport."

NASCAR and the Winston brand have had a relationship since 1971. RJR's contract ends in 2007, and if the company is serious about moving on, the top series in NASCAR will no longer be known as Winston Cup.

Other issues on the 2003 ledger include the partial closing of the garage area to fans, who have had free reign in there for years.

In the old days, unfettered garage access was one of the most fetching notions about the sport -- the idea that the average fan could mingle with stars and ask for autographs, sometimes minutes before the competition.

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