CUP: Cool Weather Evokes Warm Memories

As the cooler weather arrives in the old neighborhood here in the vicinity of Atlanta Motor Speedway, it’s time to get out the winter clothes and pack away the t-shirts for the time being.

As I reached in the back of the closet the other day, I pulled out a favorite sweatshirt, a black one with red “Winston Cup Series” logos front and back.

It’s about 10 years old and it’s been worn regularly every winter since, but it looks like brand new.

Back in the days when Winston and R.J. Reynolds and their sports marketing types were on the NASCAR circuit, everything they did was first class, all the way down to the sweatshirts they passed out to the media. And this was at a time newspapers allowed reporters to accept items like that. The rule back then, at most papers, was something that was worth less than $25 was OK to keep.

Over the years, I’ve wondered if that sweatshirt actually violated the paper’s rules. It sure has turned out to be a well-made and durable piece of clothing.

It’s like a lot of little things in NASCAR from the Winston era, things that look more impressive in hindsight than they did at the time. The RJR reps knew how to help reporters do their jobs, and it wasn’t just giving them a sweatshirt on a special occasion.

Everything the RJR folks were involved with was first class, and it was reflected in every aspect of the sport in those days.

I can’t say the same about the current title sponsor. I’ve never really had many dealings with their media liaisons. They seem mostly interested in selling cell phones, which is fine. They’re paying the bills, so they can do what they want.

I did get some help getting a replacement for a phone that died at the track, but I wound up with an extra five bucks on my bill every month because the new phone had a “NASCAR” package, which included things like ring tones that were supposed to sound like race car engines.

And I was able to swap a dead battery for a charged one on a weekend I left the phone charger on the counter at home.

I wonder how NASCAR would look today if the Winston people still worked their magic with the media and drivers and track operators and NASCAR officials and fans.

I also find myself thinking back to the old days when it comes to the sport’s most popular driver, who got himself a new car and crew chief as part of a big shuffle at Hendrick Motorsports.

I keep thinking about the days when Tony Eury Sr. was Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s crew chief, back when Earnhardt actually won races and contended for championships.

It looks like Junior did better when he had a father-figure type for a crew chief, someone who was as much boss as buddy.

The latest pick for Earnhardt’s crew chief, Steve Letarte, is being praised for his people skills and his ability to communicate with Earnhardt.

It sounds like they’ll have a big time together. But whether they’ll win races and contend for championships is another story.

Personally, I hope they’re wildly successful. It’ll make for a lot better story than a continuation of the struggles, and it’s a lot more fun to write about winning than losing.

Rick Minter is a veteran, award-winning sports journalist who joined The Atlanta Journal-Constitution in 1991 covering motorsports as well as serving as a bureau chief. From 2000-2008 Minter focused on racing exclusively, traveling the NASCAR circuit as the paper’s motorsports writer. Rick can be reached at