Winston Cup Museum closes


Team Owner
Oct 29, 2013
The Winston Cup Museum is located on the edge of downtown Winston-Salem, NC. It was opened in 2005 as a tribute to RJR Tobacco's (RJRT) sponsorship of NASCAR for 33 years. The museum was built and maintained by the owners' own resources, without funding from NASCAR or RJRT or any government source.

It was a response to RJRT leaving NASCAR when it was bought out by British American Tobacco (BAT) via its Brown & Williamson brands. This started a mess of tobacco company and brand sales / mergers / splits that ended up with Imperial Brands (ITG) owning the Winston brand (among others). ITG took over the Winston brand completely in 2015 (ten years after the Winston Cup Museum opened).

Since ITG took over the Winston brand, it has been suing the owners of the Winston Cup Museum - claiming that the museum interferes with its marketing of the Winston brand. It is another big corporation / little guy war where ITG is wearing out the museum owners in legal fees. The museum owners' statement:

Dear Winston Cup Museum Fans and Followers,

I opened the Winston Cup Museum back in 2005 as a way to say “Thank You” to R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company for their 33-year sponsorship of the Winston Cup Series and as a “gift” to the City of Winston-Salem to help preserve our unique place in NASCAR history—which is something very important to me. I have fully supported the museum myself. It has never had any affiliation with R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company, Sports Marketing Enterprises (SME), or NASCAR. But I have personally had their moral support and that has meant a great deal to me.

I am incredibly proud to have had the honor of preserving this history for the past 18 years that we have been open to the public. I believe I have helped keep the Winston Cup era alive for many racing fans. So it is with great personal sadness that the time has come for me to close the museum’s doors to the public for now.

As everyone is fully aware, ITG has filed numerous lawsuits against me, my wife, our primary businesses, and the museum saying that ITG’s purchase of Winston Cigarettes from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 2015 somehow gave it ownership of Winston Cup history. They claim we are infringing on their ability to market their cigarettes to racing fans. We have put up a good battle over the past four years against multiple lawsuits. Two of which have been completely dismissed. The third lawsuit is exhaustingly ongoing.

After much contemplation, I have come to the realization that fighting with ITG is not worth the resources that it will take and the toll it has taken on me and my family.

For the time being, if you see any branding that says Winston Cup, Winston Cup Series, or Winston Cup Museum, please know that it is not affiliated with myself or any companies that I have ownership in. It will be ITG Brands using the Winston Cup to promote their cigarettes.

Sincerely, William L. Spencer Winston Cup Museum Founder

The museum's website is still active, for now:
UPDATE: apparently, after some court wrangling, the museum will be allowed to reopen. However, it must rename itself (and possibly remove some other advertising that specifically mentions "Winston Cup").

Reported by local TV station WXII: The museum recently reopened following a brief closure due to a lawsuit with ITG. The museum owner said the lawsuit claimed, “ITG’s purchase of Winston Cigarettes from R.J. Reynolds Tobacco Company in 2015 somehow gave it ownership of Winston Cup history.” Therefore, the museum is looking to rebrand. The museum said they can no longer use the words Winston, Winston Cup, or Winston Cup Series.

They have narrowed it down to these top five name picks and are asking you to vote on a name.

  1. WCS Museum
  2. Will’s Cup Museum
  3. WinCup Museum
  4. The Ralph Seagraves Memorial Museum
  5. The 33 Year Museum
You can cast your vote by visiting their Facebook page.

Here's your chance to have a little input. And be careful about saying "Winston, Winston Cup, or Winston Cup Series" else you may face ITG's lawyers too...
This is not true. Go down to the county courthouse and watch pro se litigants give it a whirl. A lot of people file idiotic cases and represent themselves.
Yeah, and they usually don't get very far. I'm not absolving the plaintiffs, but lawyers trolling for work help bring out the very worst in human nature and have helped to cement the notion that "everybody" is a victim and is owed something by someone. I say this as someone who loves the law and would have been interested in a law career, but there is little place for people only interested in the truth and justice.
Well, it looks like this drama is coming to its bitter end. The "Winston Cup Museum" is expecting to close after all.

From a local TV station WGHP news story posted today (11/14/23):
Financial issues are forcing a Winston-Salem-based museum to close its doors after 19 years.

The founder of the Winston Cup Museum took to social media on Tuesday morning to announce that the museum would be closing on Dec. 16.

“This is not a decision we have come to lightly, but it is the necessary end of 19 wonderful years preserving racing history,” they wrote on Instagram. However, they say that the closure of the brick-and-mortar museum does not mean that they will stop working to preserve NASCAR history.

They encourage anyone who wants to visit the museum to come in the next few weeks. They’ll also be holding an auction in Kissimmee Florida from Jan. 2-14th, 2024. You’ll be able to bid on what they believe is “the largest personal collection of racing memorabilia ever sold at auction.”

This closure comes after a protracted series of legal battles with Imperial Brands subsidy ITG Brands.

R.J. Reynolds debuted the Winston brand of cigarettes in 1954, and, in 1971, NASCAR launched the Winston Cup Series when the Winston brand became the title sponsor of NASCAR’s elite division, according to the history on the museum’s website. That sponsorship — and the Winston Cup Series — ended in 2003.

Imperial Brands bought the Winston brand of cigarette from R.J. Reynolds in 2015, along with Salem and Kool.

In mid-September, the museum agreed to rename and rebrand, allowing them to keep the “majority” of their assets. They put out options for a new name on social media for fans to weigh in on, and in their social media statement said that they would have become the “Ralph Seagraves Memorial Museum” had they moved forward.

“History is hard to preserve and even harder to save. I am grateful I did my part for 19 years,” Will Spencer, Winston Cup Museum Founder, wrote.

To be honest, I never noticed a lot of traffic at this museum (I was around it a lot, since I live near it, visited it, and frequently patronized the makerspace next door to it). So even before the legal troubles I wondered how long it would last. But it appears that the legal costs ultimately did it in.
So sad to hear this. My son traveled to that area a couple of months ago for advanced training. He saw the museum and visited it. Got some great pics of the cars and historic items.
I hope the collection ends up in the hands of people who will actually preserve it and not let it sit there and rot. I am worried about some important pieces going to private collectors that won't show it the care needed.
ITG Brands is still harassing the owners of The Winston Cup Museum - even after it got the museum closed.

On Monday, a North Carolina judge denied a motion for contempt placed on the Winston Cup Museum and its owner, Will Spencer.
The motion was filed by ITG Brands in January, which stated Spencer had violated a previous court agreement between the two businesses.
ITG claimed Spencer posted a "disparaging and defamatory" video on the museum's Facebook page mentioning the museum's closure and previous lawsuits it was involved in with ITG.
The court found there was insufficient evidence to support ITG's request to hold Spencer in contempt for the remarks made on social media.

(from a story by Carrie Cruise, on the WXII Channel 12 News website [Winston-Salem]).
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