“Rush” and the history of tobacco advertising in racing

Haruko and Chris Hemsworth
Haruko and James Hunt


We were watching Haruko’s new favourite movie, “Rush,” the other night and of course my one track mind got stuck on how James Hunt’s 1976 McClaren was splashed with advertising for Marlboro.

It got me thinking, that 1) Would the constant advertising for Marlboro make Rush an R-rated movie, or does this advertising fall into this vague category of “historical accuracy,” that allows some tobacco use and images in films (Somewhat of a mute question since Rush had enough sex and F-bombs to garner an R-rating anyway, but I did wonder.)

Secondly, I wondered if tobacco companies still advertise through automobile racing?

The short answer is apparently not, though I’m not a NASCAR fan and I wouldn’t have a clue if there’s still a Skoal car out there. But, according to Wikipedia , which had a pretty detailed entry about tobacco advertising and car racing, “tobacco was all but out of North American motorsport by 2013.” Tobacco advertising died out for two reasons — the 1998 Master Settlement Agreement forbid certain kinds of tobacco advertising (this apparently mostly affected IndyCar racing), and a number of countries around the world started forbidding tobacco advertising on cars.

According to Wikipedia, tobacco advertising was last used on vehicles in Formula One in 2008. A number of countries outright forbid tobacco advertising on vehicles. Marlboro still sponsored a Formula One team up until 2011, and while they couldn’t splash “Marlboro” on the car, the car was still painted Marlboro red and white.

Formula One World Championship
James Hunt’s McClaren M23 Marlboro car

Tobacco advertising in car racing used to be HUGE … remember the NASCAR championship was called the Winston Cup for many years … that didn’t stand for Winston, North Carolina, it stood for Winston cigarettes. It began slowly in the late 1960s, and as tobacco advertising was banned on television in the early 70, tobacco companies needed another outlet to advertise their products — so they poured millions of dollars into car racing in the U.S. and around the world. By the mid 70s, tobacco advertising was all over Formula One, Indy Car Racing and NASCAR. Not only were cigarettes advertised at races and on cars, but smokeless tobacco, too like Skoal and RedMan.

Hunt’s Marlboro McClaren was an iconic car in racing history. (As an aside, Hunt was a heavy smoker and died of a heart attack at 45. His use of cocaine may have contributed to his heart attack, as well.). Niki Lauda even drove a Marlboro McClaren after Hunt retired.

One thing that is interesting is there’s been at least two cars that have advertised Nicorette and Blu E-cigs. Products to help people quit smoking are getting into the racing racket.

Haruko’s review of “Rush.”

Rush is a surprisingly good and extremely exciting movie from Ron Howard. It was very surprising to me that this movie didn’t make that much money (only $27 million in the U.S. and $90 million worldwide — some Marvel movies make that much in a weekend) and didn’t garner more Oscar buzz. The movie is really that good and seemed to somehow fly under the radar last year. It’s simply the best car racing movie I’ve ever seen.

I think the movie got overlooked a bit because Ron Howard is still not taken that seriously by film critics. Like Steven Spielberg, he has a reputation for making good (and commercially successful), but not great movies, so I think a lot of film intelligentsia has a hard time giving him his due when he makes a genuinely great film like “Rush.”

Hunt and Lauda
Hunt and Lauda

Rush tells the story of 70s Formula One racers James Hunt and Niki Lauda and their rivalry. The movie remains pretty true to life, even copying some of the play-by-play announcers  from the 1970s. The one thing the movie embellished was the relationship between Hunt and Lauda. In the film, they hate each other, but become friends after a horrible accident to Lauda. In real life, they were always friends. Hyper-competitive rivals, but friends nonetheless. They didn’t hate each other, they just hated losing to each other.

What I loved most about this movie is that unlike a lot of movies made today, most of the driving scenes are for real, with real cameras placed strategically on the cars, instead of CGI cars. A couple of the accidents are obviously CGI (like one scene in which a vehicle flips in the air over Lauda’s head), but it’s done so well, it doesn’t look fake. Too many movies today rely on CGI technology, rather than going to the trouble of getting difficult shots. I was blown away by the racing scenes and wished I had seen them in the theatre. Real ’70s vintage cars, real footage, real stunt drivers. The lack of CGI really gives “Rush” a very 1970s feel. I honestly felt like I was watching a 40-year-old movie.

I was also surprised at the language and sex in a Ron Howard film (again, making it feel like a 70s movie, yeah, movies had a lot more sex in the 1970s.). This is very much an R-rated film (perhaps another reason why it didn’t do that great at the box office.)

I really hope this film becomes a cult classic on DVD like a lot of films that kind of got missed at the box office, like Big Lebowski or Apocalypse Now.

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One thought on ““Rush” and the history of tobacco advertising in racing”

  1. The movie, “Rush” looks good. I’ll have to see if it’s on Netflix streaming or Hulu.
    Great read you guys!

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