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.

George Phillips

20 Responses to “Altering Photos To Re-Write Racing History”

  1. The revisionist history police are everywhere and not only when it comes to tobacco … They are in our schools and just about every other aspect of our lives as well… I could go on, but I will just leave it at that George…

  2. Mike Silver Says:

    Remember in the mid- late 90’s when tobacco sponsorships were limited to one racing series and a car in the 500 had to remove its logos because it was a CART entry?
    I hate smoking, but never had a problem with advertising. They were some of the coolest looking logos ever.

  3. Alteration and Censorship of history is a trademark of the former Soviet Union and should not be tolerated in the USA

    • Chris Lukens Says:

      My first thought when I read this was of Winston Smith, doing his job at the Ministry of Truth, sending all of the non-politically correct pictures, articles and histories down the memory hole.

  4. DZ-groundedeffects Says:

    I’m not one to say without a shred of doubt that seeing awesome cars from years past wouldn’t still make me associate the sexiness of those cars with the logos/brands depicted on the side. That’s most commonly what advertising is usually about – visual and verbal association, not direct product sales.

    However, altering photos accurately depicting the life of the time I cannot abide.

    I have no doubt that there’s some codicil in all of the Tobacco Legislation that technically prohibits it and that the museum is following the law correctly. Like so many laws however, the enforcement is often far less than 100% successful.

    In this case, I sincerely hope common sense and maintaining accurate historical recording trumps the overreach of the Tobacco Legislation’s most minor clauses – specifically the altering of historical photos/images of any sort.

  5. Phil Kaiser Says:

    George, did you happen to get a free copy of the fabulous poster the Indianapolis Motor Speedway put out a couple of years back where they lined up 33 of the greatest winning cars on the mainstraight at The Track? I noticed Immediately there were no Penske Marlboro cars and they were DOMINANT in the 80s & 90s! Nope, the Speedway responded, can’t use those cars because of Marlboro on them. I was incredulous! But when the IMS Museum was full of all Indianapolis 500 winning cars a couple of years ago the Marlboro cars were there and there were NO RESTRICTIONS on taking photos of them, and I took plenty.

    As for people thinking there are laws where there are none, it happens all the time. I’m a rock ‘n’ roll musician and for the past thirty years I’ve seen all the bars here in Indiana telling their patrons it is against the Law to have an open drink or beer in their hands walking around the streets; but you know what? it’s not, at least not in Indiana. There is no Law here against walking down the street with an open beer, a glass of wine, a mixed drink or even a bottle of Jack. But there IS a law against public intoxication and that’s all. But once people get it the misinformation in their heads it becomes fact and then a hard habit to break.

    And for the record I’m the one rock ‘n’ roll musician left who doesn’t smoke OR drink!

    Merry Christmas you two! Thanks for all you do here at this site!

    Phil Kaiser

  6. billytheskink Says:

    Making a children’s book about auto racing? I understand using edited images and artwork. Beyond that, editing and censoring such photos taken by adults for personal use or for adult-focused purposes (news, collectables) is asinine. It’s probably one of the few things about every Indycar fan can agree on.

    Funny thing about those foreign tobacco brands, as a kid I thought that John Player Special was the Indy-like name of those Lotus entries, as in John Player was the owner/sponsor and Special was what they called the car. Like Sam Hanks in the Belond Exhaust Special, etc.
    Of course, as an older kid I started to figure every foreign sponsor I didn’t recognize was a cigarette brand. Red Bull? Yep. Orange? Sure. Footwork? OK. Avex Group? Why not… Whatever that said on Arnd Meier’s car? Oh yeah.

  7. Bruce Waine Says:

    Interesting to read the warning labels on consumer items……..

    Common sense no longer prevails when a manufacturer must include warnings on their product.

    A facious yet accurate warning…… “This cup of (hot) coffee might burn you.”

    Imagine this warning is in case a male spills coffee inadvertently on his lap and proves that he has become sterile and sues the 1. coffee grower’s plantation, 2. the coffee bean harvester, 3. the transporter of the coffee beans, 4. the retail chain selling liquid coffee, 5. the person serving the coffee, 7. the manufacturer of he coffee cup,
    8. etc., 9. etc………..

    Common sense and self-responsibility for one’s habits, etc. is no longer normal…….. Litigation is.

  8. I guess F*c*book just does not want to be sued for illegal tobacco advertising so the JPS logo on the picture that your friend posted was blurred. Was there any tobacco advertising in the still fairly recent movie about the Niki Lauda vs James Hunt F1 championship battle? I haven’t seen the movie so I cannot tell.

    But blurring unwanted logos on historic photos of racecars is (like) asking for something like #freethenipple, whatever you may or may not think of that internet meme.

    Oh, and by the way, George, I’d like to applaud you for never having smoked a cigarette. I haven’t smoked ever either because of the stench of the smoke.

  9. maybe they should photoshop the cigar out of Winston Churchill’s mouth. or the cigarette out of FDR’s cigarette holder. or the corncob pipe out of McArthur’s clenched teeth. or the high-calorie/zero nutrition Coca-Cola out of Tony Stewart’s hand.

    or maybe just blur out race cars totally because they’ve been known to be hazardous to driver’s health.

    • Phil Kaiser Says:

      Capitol Records photoshopped the ciggie out of Paul McCartney’s hand in one of The Beatles’ early collarless suit photoshoots about ten years ago! It was the cover of their I Want To Hold Your Hand 45 rpm in 1964 with the ciggie prominently in it, but nowadays our poor little darling college-puddin’s can’t even stomach the sight of Paul McCartney holding a ciggie when he was 22 years old 50 years ago!

      Amazing, this political correct nonsense, and it keeps getting worse every day….

      Phil Kaiser

      • Phil Kaiser Says:

        And Redcar, they DID photoshop Roosevelt’s ciggie from the USPS Stamp they made from that photo several years ago….


  10. I am one who thinks that the Tobacco Industry should have their restrictions of advertising in racing removed. However, I am waiting for the Marijuana Industry to get reved up and see advertising on cars like “Pineapple Express,” Blue Goo” or “Platinum Ghost.” They can have Jeam Beam in the winners circle at Indianapolis, so why not?

  11. When I saw that Marlboro advertisement on the side of Emmo’s Penske, it almost caused me to go out and buy a carton of cigarettes and start chain smoking like a fiend until I got lung cancer and died! Thank God I’m not a teenager and have built up a resistance to the subliminal effect this could have had on me causing me to kill myself. Thank you government!

    You took away the coolest most lucrative sponsors of IndyCars or, for motorsports for that matter.

    By the way- what is the story with that pic of Mansell lying in the ground?

  12. Talk about silly!! I am looking right now as I type at a poster of Mario in his John Player helmet and car. I really don’t see the point of altering historical photos. Personally I don’t have a problem with tobacco advertising, even though I have never smoked and watched my father die from cigarettes. I even fondly remember the Camel’s camel and the Kool penguins. I think Ferraris look funny without Marlboro on the rear wing. I don’t want to throw up my hands and say what next because I really don’t want to know.

    On a happy note, I wanted to wish you all a very Merry Christmas!!

  13. It’s not just in the States. Australia blurs out Winfield, Marlboro, and Peter Jackson on old highlight clips. Dakar either reverses shots or blurs images for Galoises and Repsol. And the Marlboro McLaren chassis have altered paintjobs in the team headquarters.

  14. You have a right to rant. Its like in the old Soviet Union when someone fell out of favor, their picture with Dear Leader suddenly showed only Dear Leader.

    Political correctness is tyranny and this is only a small piece of a much bigger problem.

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