DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- NASCAR lifted its ban on hard-liquor ads on cars Wednesday, easing restrictions aimed at cleaning up the image of a sport that
traces its roots to good ol' boys running moonshine through the
hills of Georgia and the Carolinas.
"We felt the time was right,'' NASCAR president Mike Helton
said. "Attitudes have changed, and spirits companies have a long
record of responsible advertising.''
NASCAR already allowed beer and malt liquor sponsorships.
Budweiser sponsors Dale Earnhardt Jr.'s car, for example, and Busch
sponsors a lower-tier racing series.
But NASCAR restricted what liquor companies could do since the
sport's modern era began in 1972, most recently denying a bid from
Roush Racing in June to put a liquor company on the car that Jeff
Burton drove. International Speedway Corp., a sister company also
controlled by NASCAR's founding France family, has agreements with
Crown Royal, however.
Diageo, a British liquor company that was already an associate
sponsor for Matt Kenseth with its Smirnoff ICE malt beverage,
immediately announced Wednesday that its Crown Royal distilled
whiskey will be the sponsor on another Roush car next season.
"Our association with this world-class racing team will allow
us to connect with millions of adult consumers, who are devoted
NASCAR fans, and remind them about the importance of responsible
drinking,'' Diageo spokesman Mark Waller said. "A multimillion
dollar marketing budget supporting this sponsorship will include
dedicated social responsibility messaging.''
Enjoying tremendous growth in mainstream popularity lately, the
racing league landed a $2.8 billion television contract with NBC
and Fox that began in 2001, and this season switched the
sponsorship of its top division from cigarette-maker R.J. Reynold's
Winston brand to telecommunications giant Nextel.
As part of the scrubbing-up process, Helton told drivers in
February to watch their language on radio and television, and
Earnhardt Jr. was fined and lost points for uttering a vulgarity in
a postrace interview on TV.
Helton said any liquor companies entering NASCAR must follow
advertising guidelines set by the sanctioning body.
"Any spirits company involved in NASCAR will have marketing
campaigns strongly grounded in responsibility and will follow
advertising and marketing guidelines set by NASCAR that are
consistent with the Distilled Spirits Council's advertising code,''
NASCAR's review before deciding to lift the ban included
outreach to advocacy groups such as the National Commission Against
Drunk Driving, Mothers Against Drunk Driving and industry groups
such as the Distilled Spirits Council of the United States.
John Moulden, president of the National Commission Against Drunk
Driving, said he is impressed with the way NASCAR has approached
the change of policy.
"They appear to be trying to do it right,'' Moulden said.
"When we talked with NASCAR, I stressed to them how important
NASCAR is to young males, who make up the majority of drunk
drivers. They told us that any advertising done in NASCAR by
breweries or distillers, they'll make sure it is directed at the
legal age audience and not to kids and that they will require 20
percent of advertising dollars go toward promoting responsible
"We'd like to see that same type of responsibility by all
sports and advertisers.''
Helton said internal discussions about allowing distilled
spirits companies into the sport have been going on for at least 12
years, but the topic kept coming up this season.
"I can't point to a specific issue that made us change our
opinion as much as the topic just recurring to the point where we
said, `Look, what's wrong with this? Why should we not do this?''
"I think the feedback that we get is that the core fan of
NASCAR, which we feel like represents Americana as much as any
sport does, is OK with spirits whether they are here or not as
sponsors,'' he said. "And we also feel like the American public in
general understands and accepts the fact that that's part of