NASCAR museum forced to close and sell collection due to dispute over ‘Winston’ name

By | December 19, 2023

The Winston Cup Museum facilities before closing

The Winston Cup Museum facilities before closing

An independent NASCAR Cup Series museum has closed after almost two decades following a lengthy legal attack by the company that bought the Winston brand. The company reportedly tried to wrest the rights to the museum’s artifacts from the collector who collected them, burdening the owner with frivolous lawsuits for years.

The dispute centers on the Winston cigarette brand, which was founded in 1954 in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. At the direction of Ralph Seagraves, president of RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company, Winston became the title sponsor of the inaugural NASCAR Winston Cup Series in 1971, beginning the modern era of top-tier industry. stock car racing. Winston would sponsor the series until 2003, around the time tobacco sponsorship was removed from the sport.

NASCAR fans pack the grandstands as a group of cars pass through the Daytona International Speedway during the 1986 Daytona 500 on February 16, 1986 in Daytona Beach, Florida. NASCAR fans pack the grandstands as a group of cars pass through the Daytona International Speedway during the 1986 Daytona 500 on February 16, 1986 in Daytona Beach, Florida.

1986 Daytona 500. Robert Alexander/Archive Photos/Getty Images

In 2005, retired NASCAR promoter and business partner Will Spencer and his wife Christy opened The Winston Cup Museum in Winston-Salem according to the Winston-Salem Journal. Spectrum News reports that it housed decades of race and show cars, helmets, winner’s champagne bottles, brand memorabilia and more, all in an accessible format that told a visual history of NASCAR’s golden age. It attracted visitors from China and Switzerland.

But it wouldn’t last.

The opening ceremony of the Winston Cup Museum on May 11, 2005The opening ceremony of the Winston Cup Museum on May 11, 2005

The opening ceremony of the Winston Cup Museum on May 11, 2005. The Winston Cup Museum on Facebook

In June 2015, the Winston brand was sold to a subsidiary of Imperial Tobacco, ITG Brands, which would file a series of lawsuits against the museum in 2019 per Fox 8. Despite the fact that there was no previous legal conflict between Winston and the Spencers, the… Winston-Salem Journal According to reports, ITG claimed it owned the rights to Winston-brand artefacts in the museum’s collection – and therefore decades of racing heritage to which it previously had no claim.

These claims would be rejected twice by the courts according to a NBC connected. A lawsuit from Spencer, seen by the outlet, alleged that ITB believed that the “purchase of Winston Cigarettes from RJ Reynolds Tobacco Company in 2015 somehow gave it ownership of Winston Cup history,” and that ITB believed that “We are infringing on their ability to market their cigarettes to racing fans.”

But the entrenched ITM kept trying, and for four years the Spencer family exhausted itself with lawsuits against Will, Christy, their company JKS Incorporated, and the museum itself. In July, the museum announced it would temporarily close as it entered mediation, according to a new lawsuit Fox 8. The museum was allowed to reopen in September, provided it was renamed within 90 days.

On the floor of the Winston Cup MuseumOn the floor of the Winston Cup Museum

On the floor of the Winston Cup Museum. Winston Cup Museum on Facebook

Initially, that seemed to be the plan. WFMY reports that the museum would be renamed the Ralph Seagraves Memorial Museum, after the Winston director behind the sponsorship (and father of museum director Colbert Seagraves). The deal would reportedly allow the Spencers to retain the “overwhelming majority” of the museum’s collection. But the Spencers had spent four years fighting a tobacco giant and could no longer support their passion project.

“After the last few years, we just can’t afford to keep it open and we have to reinvent ourselves,” Christy Spencer said. WFMY. “We have been dealing with this lawsuit for the past several years and now it is time to move on. It is simply not feasible for us to continue operating the museum.”

“The museum has never been a money generator. It was never designed to generate revenue. [it] was really a way to fuel Will’s passion for the motorsports industry and give hardcore racing fans a place to come and see unique pieces of history.”

https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=nzt657r5bt8

And on Saturday, December 16, the museum completed its ‘last lap’, a farewell attended by about 750 people, according to the Winston-Salem Journal.

“Everything runs its course, and it’s had its season – 20 years – and unfortunately now I have to do the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life,” Will Spencer said. Mecumreportedly holding back tears.

“It’s bittersweet with everything you love,” he told the newspaper Winston-Salem Journal.

“It’s a shame what people are doing with this history,” said Frank Earnhardt, nephew of Dale the Intimidator. “That has made the sport what it is today.”

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Although the couple’s original plan was to keep much of the collection together, a huge amount of money is now going towards it Mecum Auctions in Kissimmee, Florida in early January. The lots include everything from race-winning cars to “Fireball” Roberts and Kyle Petty to signed helmets, racing suits and hoods.

The Spencers plan to continue their preservation in another form next year, but the crown jewels are scattered to the wind. In any case, they will not simply fall into the hands of the characteristic Winston Cup wannabes at ITM. You can buy a name, but you can’t buy history you didn’t write.

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