RJR's T. Wayne Robertson dies in accident

Reprinted from the Jan. 30, 1998 issue of National DRAGSTER

INTRACOASTAL CITY, La. -- T. Wayne Robertson, president of R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. Sports Marketing Enterprises and a longtime friend and supporter of NHRA Drag Racing, was killed in a boating accident in Louisiana early Jan. 14. He was 48.

Robertson was one of seven members of a duck-hunting expedition aboard a 28-foot aluminum hunting boat that collided with a 110-foot supply vessel near the intracoastal waterway in Vermilion Parish.

Robertson, the man responsible for the sports marketing programs at R.J. Reynolds that included the NHRA and NASCAR Winston Cup series, and five others were killed in the collision.

Rain, fog, and poor visibility may have contributed to the accident that happened at 6:15 a.m. about 29 miles southwest of New Iberia in a bayou that leads into Vermilion Bay, on the edge of the Gulf of Mexico.

William C. O'Malley, president and chief executive officer of Tidewater Inc., said the hunters' boat collided with a boat from his company, which was headed for an offshore oil rig but turned back because of bad weather. The Coast Guard said the hunters' boat capsized after the collision, then sank in 12 feet of water.

Robertson is survived by his wife, Dana and two children, Toby and Kim. Services were held Jan. 17 at Wait Chapel at Wake Forest University in Winston-Salem, N.C. Robertson was laid to rest later that day at Westlawn Gardens in Clemmons, N.C. Memorials can be sent to The Foundation Fighting Blindness, 11350 McCormick Road, Executive Plaza 1, Suite 800, Hunt Valley, MD 21031-1014.

Winston motorsports pioneer Seagraves dies

Reprinted from the Oct. 9, 1998 issue of National DRAGSTER

WINSTON-SALEM, N.C. -- William Ralph Seagraves, who guided R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Co. into its sponsorship of motorsports in the early 1970s, died Sunday after a lengthy illness. He was 69.

Ralph Seagraves headed Reynolds Tobacco's Special Events Operations, now known as Sports Marketing Enterprises (SME), from 1972 until his retirement in January 1985. During that period, RJR forged sponsor relationships with several motorsports sanctioning bodies, including NHRA and NASCAR.

RJR's NHRA Winston Drag Racing Series and NASCAR Winston Cup Series are two of the longest-running sponsorships in all of sports.

"This is a sad day for everyone in the RJR family," said Cliff Pennell, president of SME since January, when Seagraves' successor, T. Wayne Robertson, was killed in a Louisiana boating accident. "Ralph was the man who put this company in a leadership role among sports sponsors. He was instrumental in working with Bill France Sr. and Bill France Jr. of NASCAR and Wally Parks of NHRA in establishing our involvement with those two organizations."

Said NHRA President Dallas Gardner, "Ralph was certainly the patriarch of motorsports' sponsorships, but Ralph's real legacy is that he always considered R.J. Reynolds as a partner in building motorsports, not a sponsor. His contribution to the success of NHRA is immeasurable. We will miss him."

Bill France Jr., president of Daytona Beach, Fla.-based NASCAR, said, "We are saddened to hear of the loss of Ralph Seagraves. NASCAR and Winston have one of the longest league-sponsor relationships in all of sports, not just motorsports. In fact, it could be said the blueprint for that type of relationship was developed by Ralph Seagraves. A lot of things the younger drivers in this sport see were initiated by Ralph. This sport will truly miss him."

During Seagraves' reign, RJR began its practice of helping racetrack operations upgrade their facilities. At his direction, the company funded building projects at tracks across the country. "Ralph was always insistent that in order for a sport to grow, the venues had to be first-class," Pennell said.

Seagraves also helped link race teams and potential sponsors. It was at his urging that Piedmont Airlines agreed in 1982 to become the first sponsor for Richard Childress' race team. Childress' organization has since captured six NASCAR Winston Cup titles.

Seagraves, who began his career at RJR in 1955 in the sales department, was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1992 and the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 1993.

He is survived by his wife, Ardette, and son, Colbert.

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