Winston Cigarettes did a small activation at an adult-only area at North Wilkesboro Speedway during last month’s NASCAR All-Star Race, as the former longtime title sponsor of the series appears to be re-connecting with its past. Winston was the longest-serving title sponsor in the history of NASCAR — and one of the longest in sports history — with its 33-year premier series deal that started in 1971 (when it was owned by R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co.) and lasted through 2003. ITG Brands is now the owner of Winston, which had a signage and data collection activation going on at the renovated track in North Carolina related to its Winston Rewards loyalty program. The activation took place in a small age-restricted “speakeasy” building at the track where the official moonshine of the track, Call Family Distillery, was also selling cocktails. Tobacco brands are heavily regulated and restricted in how they’re able to advertise in America after the Master Settlement Agreement of 1998, but they can still do some limited activations. Vaping brands have also gotten involved in racing; British American Tobacco is a major sponsor of McLaren Racing to this day and deploys its Vuse vape brand in F1 and IndyCar. ITG is based in Greensboro, N.C., and is owned by the U.K.-based Imperial Brands. Its cigarette brands include Winston, Kool and Salem, and it also owns the Blu vape brand and cigar brands like Dutch Masters and Backwoods.
CAUTIOUS APPROACH: While tobacco brands haven’t been allowed on race cars or merchandise for years in NASCAR and IndyCar, you can still find brands like Grizzly Smokeless Tobacco, Vuse or nicotine-patch companies activating on sponsor thoroughfares at tracks with enclosed areas where fans need identification cards and to be 18 or 21 years or older to enter. What makes the Winston activation unique is that the company used to be the sport’s most visible partner and the brand has a long history in motorsports. An example of how careful NASCAR is with the Winston name was even visible on new licensed merchandise just released by Abercrombie & Fitch. A shirt that has the 1995 Cup Schedule on the back says “All-Star Race” instead of the name it was known as at the time, the Winston Million. At the 2023 All-Star Race last month, the old Winston Tower near Turn 4 remained up and still had a faded Winston Cup Series logo on the back of the building. ITG Brands did not respond to a request for comment, but it has posted about at least one other recent activation related to racing. On its sole social media page, a Facebook account, Winston posted about a Race Fan Sweepstakes that ended on Wednesday night, with a grand prize that included an all-expenses-paid trip with trackside RV camping at Charlotte Motor Speedway’s fall NASCAR weekend plus $20,000 cash.