Roger Bear was from Cedar Rapids, Iowa. He went to Coe College for three years and then quit school. He had a job at Allis Chalmers as a clerk and he also played with a dance band. He was an announcer at go-cart races. He was hired as an announcer for stock car races. Iowa has at least one racetrack in each of its 99 counties, mostly at fairgrounds.
Roger went back to college and got a marketing degree from the University of Iowa. He was making money announcing races at $25 per night and had a radio show at $45 per week. He also wrote a newspaper column about racing. He talked to Leo Burnett advertising agency in Chicago upon graduation but did not go to work there.
He sent a resume to Bill France Junior (by accident) in 1966. He was interviewed by a VP Marketing at Pure Oil Company in Chicago. Then went to Daytona for an interview with Bill France Sr. He said he was so green he thought Atlanta was on the ocean and expected to see it on his way to Daytona. He got a job at $8,500 a year in January 1967 as assistant PR director for the Daytona Motor Speedway. One year later he was in charge of the “24 Hours of Daytona” race and all other non-NASCAR events at Daytona. In 1969 he was the general manager of Talladega. One year later he launched Motor Racing Network radio.
In 1970, the tobacco industry exited television commercials. Roger wrote a plan for the Winston Cup series and Bill France Jr. and Roger went to RJR in Winston-Salem to present the idea to RJR marketing and legal.
In 1974, Roger left the speedway business and his Motor Racing Network job where he was making $13,000 a year to go to Washington DC as VP, Southeast Sales for Mutual Broadcasting Company for a considerable bump in pay. Stayed at this business for three months making $65,000 a year. But learned money is not everything as the job was not as promised. He left and started a production company doing radio and TV promotion and motorsports marketing.
Coming to RJR
RJR approach Roger. He was offered $18,000 a year plus an opportunity to buy stock and also have health care benefits.
Memorable Events at RJR
He worked with Ralph Seagraves. He developed the Winston Racing Series sponsorship of NASCAR, weekly operating tracks around the nation like Bowman Gray Stadium in Winston-Salem and attending three or four races per week, traveling all over the U.S.
In 1977, he was invited to speak at a northern California sports media luncheon. An old Coe College friend was there who had recently left the Army. They renewed their acquaintance and later that friend, Duncan Lee, joined the group at Sports Marketing Enterprises where he went on to run incredibly successful and impactful sports sponsorships around the world at RJR International. One disappointment though was when Ayrton Senna, great Formula One driver, died in a tragic racing accident shortly before he was to sign with Camel for sponsorship.
Roger developed many sponsorship programs while at RJR including the NASCAR Winston Racing Series local track sponsorships, the NASCAR Winston West Series, a west coast touring series, and had a major role in several of the innovative NASCAR Winston Cup Series sponsorships. Outside the NASCAR programs he led the first major sponsorship of a touring music group when the Salem Music Tour sponsored the group “Alabama”, he led the program sponsoring Unlimited Hydroplane boat racing by Vantage, and later the golf program sponsorships by Vantage, Nabisco and Planters/LifeSavers.
Roger had no limits on what he could spend on sports even though he had a budget. It was often said in jest that he was given an unlimited budget and he tried to out-spend it. Business controls were pretty loose too. That all changed when Jerry Long became president. More money was dedicated to sports marketing, but controls became much more business-like.
In 1986, Ed Horrigan wanted to sponsor golf, so they developed the Vantage Senior PGA Tour, and after RJR bought Nabisco, also the Planters LPGA, and Nabisco PGA Tour golf programs. Roger became the Director of Golf on the PGA tours. He was invited to play in tournaments in places like Jamaica. He had a cheap set of clubs and didn’t play well at all. At an event in Jamaica, the PGA tour broadcast group followed him to get a shot they could include in the weekly show. Finally, when every shot Roger hit was so bad, he was told “make a mighty swing and smile, we don’t show where the ball goes.” The bad shots were never shown on TV.
Roger felt that Ross Johnson was arrogant the first time he met him. Wayne Robertson had tried to introduce him, and Johnson ignored him. In contrast, Colin Stokes always took the worst seat on the plane and served everyone.
One incident with Ross was never publicized – he and Frank Gifford were flying on a company plane when the pilot died at the controls.
During all this time RJR continued to steadily lose share to Marlboro. RJR was trying to make race drivers into their own cowboy. While Winston had been an upscale urban cigarette, younger smokers were switching to the macho cowboy and Marlboro.
Initially, many of the RJR executives did not like Ross Johnson. But his style of getting rid of those he didn’t want and wooing those he did want with lavish perks worked well in the sports area. The detractors he needed suddenly had the use of lavish homes at resorts and limo service that they had not had before.
Ross had a special love for golf and spent considerable money sponsoring golfers and golf events, particularly the Nabisco Dinah Shore where a year-round golf event operation and was funded by Nabisco. But the Special Events department folks were not permitted to work with the group even though the budget operated through it.
In 1987 – Roger became Vice president of sports marketing. They brought in outside companies as clients and set up an agency to work with them within RJR Nabisco, a real compliment to his department. They were doing sports marketing to the world, but tobacco was a stigma to the management of companies that Roger tried to recruit as clients, so it was less than successful.
Tobacco Created an Industry
RJR and Philip Morris created the sports marketing industry. Previously there were no sponsors. Then: Virginia Slims tennis, Marlborough racing, Kool Indy racing, Viceroy Indy racing, More – Ebony Fashion Fair, and all the many RJR and Nabisco sponsorships.
The term “sports marketing’ did not exist when RJR and Philip Morris began creating sponsorships to replace the marketing efforts lost when broadcast marketing was legislated out of existence. Between them, the two companies created an entire industry to market products by building relationships with consumers through their leisure and lifestyle interests.
Southern Stock Car Racing and the Good Ole Boys
Roger spent time with the pioneers, the icons of stock car racing. This along would have made him the envy of thousands of NASCAR fans throughout the country. There is many a race fan who would have done Roger’s job for nothing more than a chance to hang out with these men.
Junior Johnson was a friend. At a General Motors party in Detroit, the wife of an executive asked about his schooling. Junior replied that he attended the University of Chillicothe. (A reference to the federal prison in Chillicothe, Ohio where Junior spent a year as a young man after conviction for transporting illegal liquor.) Ken Cheek’s Staley’s restaurant was an unofficial Winston Cup headquarters, the beneficiary of perhaps $10,000 per week in RJR expense accounts. Junior Johnson and his wife were regulars there.
“King” Richard Petty was a class act. On a trip with him to California, Roger said that an airline stewardess unnecessarily and bent over Richard and revealed a bit too much cleavage, asking “Is there anything I can do for you?” Petty answered, “Yes miss, you need to button your blouse.”
NASCAR has had some rough times. At one time, it got $60 million a year for thirty years, with a “halo” effect. It was a big blow when Dale Earnhardt died. Roger actually bought his gas and rode with him to races before he had any money.
In 1989. When KKR took over the emphasis was on cutting costs. It was no fun. Jim Johnson was supportive, but Roger left the company and went to Minneapolis to work for Carlson Companies and a year later left there to start his own business, Keystone Marketing Company.
Roger put half of every pay raise into RJR stock. The RJR stock that Roger bought so religiously was very good to him. When he started his own company, Keystone, he went a year without pay, and wife Barbara went two and a half years with no pay. The proceeds from the RJR stock seeded that company.
From 1989-2011, Keystone was a twenty-one-year success story. It had 72 people on staff. Clients included Nabisco, Hershey, Pfizer, Verizon, U.S. Army, AAA, WD-40, Porter Paints, Schneider Trucking, Nestle, Sara Lee, Toyota, and several other Fortune 500 clients.
After selling the business, Roger and Barbara spent a few years involved in community activities including the church, symphony, and then for a couple of years on the faculty at Winston-Salem State University teaching Motorsports Marketing. Roger is still involved with Jim France, as a friend, to help market sports car racing teams and sports car teams. The Bears have great pride in the people who worked for them and moved on. They had lots of college students as interns who often were hired after graduation and went on to remarkable careers with Keystone and other firms in the sports industry and elsewhere in the business.
247 James Way
Bermuda Run, NC 27006
1 For those who do not know who Junior Johnson is, see: Tom Wolfe. ‘The Last American Hero is Junior Johnson. Yes.” Esquire, March 1, 1965.. This is rated one of the top ten articles ever to appear in Esquire. https:// classic. esquire.com /article/1965/3/1/junior-johnson
2 And for those who don’t recognize King Richard’s name – Richard Lee Petty (born July 2, 1937), nicknamed The King, is an American former NASCAR driver who raced from 1958 to 1992 in the former NASCAR Grand National and Winston Cup Series (now called the NASCAR Cup Series). He was the first driver to win the NASCAR Cup Championship seven times, winning a record 200 races during his career, winning the Daytona 500 a record seven times, and winning a record 27 races (10 of them consecutively) in the 1967 season alone. Statistically, he is the most accomplished driver in the history of the sport and is one of the most respected figures in motorsports as a whole. (Wikipedia https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Richard_Petty)
I met Barbara and Roger at church when they first came to RJR and settled in our little community of Clemmons. Roger is like many a” transplant” who came down Tobacco Road more or less by chance and then made a life there. He had the good fortune to turn what had been something of an avocation into a completely new American industry. And after that, to their credit, Barbara and Roger gave back to the community that had afforded them a lifetime opportunity. GAH