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Monday, 11 January 2016 00:00

Up in smoke: The rise and fall of tobacco sponsorship


Money makes the world go round. And V8 Supercars is no exception, with television revenue and sponsorship dollars the lifeblood for teams.

V8X Supercar Magazine issue #90 takes a look at how the sponsorship game has evolved over the decades, from humble beginnings to the complex industry we see in action today.

Issue #90 is on sale now in stores with the digital edition available in the official V8X app (in the App Store and Google Play), online at DigitalEdition.V8XMagazine.com.au and in the Magzter app store.

CLICK HERE for more information on V8X Supercar Magazine issue #90.

For a two-decade period from the mid sixties to mid nineties, tobacco was the main source of sponsorship, as the Australian series followed in the footsteps of Formula 1 with the likes of Marlboro, John Player Special, Benson & Hedges and more backing leading entries with their distinctive branding and colours.

Marlboro, John Player Special and Winfield are arguably the most recognisable names in the industry, enjoying dominant periods with a string of championship wins and Bathurst victories.

Winfield, for example, the Australian variant of the Rothmans brand, partnered with Gibson Motorsport for the 1992 season at the peak of the Nissan Skyline GT-R's power.

A $4 million dollar budget from Winfield could fund the development and cost of running the Skylines and pay drivers Jim Richards and Mark Skaife without the concern of chasing secondary sponsors.

But the bubble would soon burst, as governments sought to ban tobacco advertising as the devastating effects of smoking emerged. The Tobacco Advertising Prohibition Act 1992 Act of 1992 deemed tobacco sponsorship would be phased out by December 1995.

While there was a special dispensation for visiting Formula 1 teams to run tobacco branding, the locals had to do away with their addiction by the 1996 season.

Gibson Motorsport and Glenn Seton Racing were the hardest hit as Winfield and Peter Jackson departed. Their reliance on the tobacco brands had been total, so it left the championship-winning teams on the brink.

Ford Credit stepped up for Seton, in a deal that opened the way for Ford Australia to fund the team as its factory outfit in the coming years. But Gibson scaled back to one entry in an unbranded Commodore, bringing down the recently dominant team.

Alan Jones caused a stir by poaching Peter Jackson from Seton to back his own team in 1996. With the anti-tobacco legislation in place, the sponsor ran under the Pack Leader Racing pseudonym.

The controversial branding only lasted a season, though. And, fittingly, tobacco sponsorship ended up in smoke when an engine failure caused Jones' Falcon to catch fire at Bathurst.

But the legacy of tobacco advertising remains, two decades on from the ban. Tobacco sponsorship elevated the status of the series and professionalism of the teams, highlighting once and for all how vital big budget sponsors were to success on and off the track.

For more on the history of tobacco sponsorship and other advertising forms in Australian touring cars, grab a copy of V8X Supercar Magazine issue #90.

CLICK HERE to purchase the print edition of V8X Supercar Magazine issue #90, including the 2016 Castrol EDGE V8 Supercars calendar.