Altering Photos To Re-Write Racing History
Before I get into my rant, I must first issue my disclaimer. I am not a smoker, nor have I ever been. I never took up the habit. Even in high school and college, when most of my friends were trying to look cool with a cigarette hanging out of their mouths – I always found the habit to be disgusting and could never understand how anyone could get addicted to something that was so unpleasant.
That being said, tobacco is completely legal in the US, and it is anyone’s right to smoke – so long as they don’t make me breathe their second-hand smoke.
I am old enough to remember cigarette commercials on television. They were actually some of the more memorable jingles and themes from the sixties that I can recall. We all knew “Winston tastes good, like a (bum-bum) cigarette should”; “I’d walk a mile for a Camel” and “Tareyton smokers would rather fight, than switch”. Then there was the stoic Marlboro man along with the unforgettable western music in each of their spots that invitied us to “Come to Marlboro Country”.
Those all came to an end in 1971, when tobacco companies could no longer advertise on television and radio. We all thought that move would limit cigarette ads to newspapers and magazines. But when sports sponsorships became even bigger business in the mid-seventies, tobacco companies were quick to jump on board.
By the nineties, motor racing was flourishing as a benefactor of major US tobacco companies seeking a place to spend their marketing dollars. RJ Reynolds focused on stock cars through their Winston Cup sponsorship of NASCAR’s top series, and their Joe Camel campaign, as well as NHRA and the IMSA Camel GT and Camel Lights. Philip Morris put their efforts behind open-wheel racing, with Marlboro sponsorships of teams and events in CART and Formula One. US Tobacco, Inc. jumped into NASCAR, NHRA and CART with their Skoal and Copenhagen smokeless tobacco products
Foreign tobacco companies flocked to open-wheel, as well. At one time in the nineties; Marlboro, Kool, Player’s and Hollywood were all represented on sidepods in the same seasons. The Marlboro liveried cars eventually became synonymous with Team Penske in the nineties. The day-glo chevron carried by the Penske cars for almost twenty years, were some of the most iconic liveries in racing history. Marlboro liveried cars won five US open-wheel championships and nine Indianapolis 500’s.
Formula One had an even greater influx of tobacco money. Marlboro was the identity of many legendary F1 figures such as Emerson Fittipaldi, James Hunt, Niki Lauda, Alain Prost, Ayrton Senna and Michael Schumacher. But there were many other US and foreign tobacco companies and brands represented in Formula One. Imperial Tobacco was represented by Gold Leaf as well as John Player Special cigarettes, which adorned the cars of Mario Andretti and Nigel Mansell. Camel, West, Benson & Hedges, Lucky Strike, Mild Seven, Winfield and Rothmans were some of the brands featured on Formula One cars in the nineties.
But then the cash cow of tobacco sponsorship dried up. More and more countries in Europe began to have bans on any type of tobacco advertising. When Formula One visited those countries, teams got creative with their liveries. The Mild Seven sponsored Benetton team would become Wild Seven. The Benson & Hedges sponsored car of Eddie Jordan’s team would say “Buzzin’ Hornets” in the same font where the sponsor name would normally be. The Marlboro cars would put an odd looking barcode-like pattern where the word “Marlboro” was normally.
In the 2000’s, the ban hit on this side of the pond. NASCAR ended a decades-long partnership with RJ Reynolds when their title sponsorship shifted from Winston Cup to NEXTEL Cup. Roger Penske had to replace “Marlboro” on the sidepods with the name of his team – Marlboro Team Penske, and then ultimately Team Penske.
So where’s my rant, you might ask? It’s right here. This past weekend I saw that my friend, Lynn Weinberg, had posted a picture on Facebook from the Dallas Grand Prix in 1984. You hardly notice that Nigel Mansell is lying on the ground, because the John Player Special cigarette sponsorship has been blurred out.
I had noticed this before on photos of Marlboro McLarens, but thought this was due to European laws. But this was a photo from the United States that took place thirty years ago. One comment on her post said that if you visit the Penske Museum in Phoenix, you are not allowed to photograph the Marlboro liveried cars.
This sounded so ludicrous that I didn’t believe it. I went to their website to see if any Marlboro cars were featured. When you click on their gallery, many pictures of the early Penske cars are visible, but the Marlboro liveried cars were not. Still, I wasn’t convinced – so I called out there. A nice lady answered the phone. When I asked if it was true that Marlboro cars were not allowed to be photographed, she said “that’s correct”. When I asked if that was due to tobacco legislation, she paused and again said “Yes, that’s correct”.
I understand why TV and radio advertising was outlawed in the seventies. I also got it when the sports sponsorships went away in the last decade. But is it really necessary to act like the advertising never happened?
We live in a world where shows on network television are allowed to use practically every form of profanity except for the F-word. Even the S-word is now a common staple on AMC shows like Mad Men, Breaking Bad and The Walking Dead. Not that I am the right person to be leading a crusade against profanity, but this seems highly hypocritical.
Our society seems to be upside-down. Why is it OK to expose kids (and adults) to language that would be considered offensive and totally inappropriate by many, but we cannot acknowledge that tobacco companies sponsored race cars at one time? The fact that Helio Castroneves drove a Marlboro car has never once made me want to start lighting up. However, if I was already a smoker – the fact that Helio drove a Marlboro car would make me want to swap brands to Marlboro.
I suppose John Lennon was not murdered by a madman. Did Watergate not really happen? Did the Titanic not actually sink? It would seem as long as people are trying to re-write history that they shouldn’t stop at tobacco sponsorships. They should revise everything for the history books so that future generations will have no record of anything controversial or unpleasant ever happening.
My question is – is this an actual law or is this simply another example of political correctness running amok? Either way, it’s absurd.
You can still find old nostalgic cigarette commercials from the sixties on YouTube. Are they going to be removed? Fortunately, the practice of blurring out cigarette brands from photos is not too widespread – not yet, anyway. You can still find plenty of images of unaltered cars from the Marlboro Team Penske days. But will that be the case going forward, or will the PC police get in and blur out every tobacco related name, trademark and logo?
I try to steer away from politics on this site. My convictions are solid and they’re mine, but I tend to keep them to myself. But no matter which way I lean politically, I don’t care to see anyone ram their personal agenda down someone else’s throat. There are a lot of things that I find offensive that I’m told I now have to live with. Even though I have always been a non-smoker, I am not offended by tobacco advertising trying to sway smokers to their brand of cigarette. Apparently, the holier-than-thou crowd thinks we’re too stupid to know the difference between a current ad and a photo from thirty years ago. That really offends me.