Ralph Seagraves

Ralph Seagraves

Ralph Seagraves

(b. 4-21-29 – d. 9-27-98)

Hometown: Winston-Salem, N.C.

Ralph Seagraves’ life – and NASCAR’s world – changed the moment he met Hall of Famer Junior Johnson.

In the late 1960s, Seagraves, an official with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, had been searching for a means to market cigarettes after the federal government banned RJR’s products from advertising on television and radio.

Johnson, ever the entrepreneur, had an idea. How about RJR sponsor his cars?

Seagraves had a bigger idea: Why not sponsor NASCAR’s top series?

And so, in 1971, for the first time since its inception in 1949, NASCAR’s premier series had major corporate backing. The NASCAR Winston Cup Series – precursor to today’s NASCAR Sprint Cup Series – was born. The partnership helped NASCAR launch into the national spotlight, and created a bed rock of stability for the next three decades.

The deal resulted in the formation of RJR’s Special Events Operations, which Seagraves led as president for 13 years. RJR’s Winston brand sponsored NASCAR’s top series for more than 30 years, ending in 2003.

Seagraves also landed top sponsorships with other major sporting outfits, most notably NHRA.

Under Seagraves leadership, RJR helped a number of race track operators refurbish their facilities, many of which were short tracks that ran NASCAR Winston Racing Series races, part of the sport’s developmental program.

He retired from R.J. Reynolds in 1986.

(Photo by ISC Images & Archives via Getty Images)

Greg Engle