Riding in the sporty red Winston Jeep is brutal on the hairdo. But it's not nearly as bad as the sticky, sugary glaze of Gatorade and PowerAde after you get sprayed in Victory Lane, or the burn of champagne when it gets in mascaraed eyes.

The little red Jeep is where, at 3 o'clock on a September Saturday afternoon, Miss Winston's workday begins. NASCAR fans are waiting when she steps out of her custom ride, in black stiletto boots and a tight red racing suit with "Winston" plastered across the bosom, to spend the next hour smiling, chatting, posing and signing at a trackside autograph session that would test the mettle of any beauty queen.

At $75 to $100 a ticket, most NASCAR fans are determined to take home a souvenir from a day at the stock-car races, whether it's flecks of tire rubber in their hair, a sunburned belly, a sore throat, a hangover or some overpriced merchandise. But nothing tops an autograph. And they're lined up for yards on Richmond International Raceway's souvenir midway -- young and old, men and women -- to get Miss Winston's.

The racetrack sits on the Virginia State Fairgrounds just east of downtown. A few hours before the start of the Chevy Rock & Roll 400, it feels like a carnival, with the giant transporter trucks that haul the racecars around the country parked wheel to wheel, each hawking the merchandise of a different driver. Miss Winston's autograph stand is positioned in front of the Richard Childress Racing hauler, sandwiched between Mark Martin's Viagra truck and the giant flagpole topped with a fluttering American flag. Everyone who streams by has a shopping bag stuffed with souvenir hats, T-shirts and little toy cars. Many are already wearing headphones and clutching radio scanners that will allow them to eavesdrop on their favorite driver's chatter during the three-hour, 400-lap race. The air is thick with the smell of corn dogs, barbecue and turkey legs. And in her red racing suit, Shannon Wiseman -- one of two Miss Winstons for 2003 -- becomes another exhibit on the landscape, standing beside a little desk with a stack of postcards and half a dozen Sharpie pens.

"Hey, hon! What's your name, sweetie?" she asks in a singsong lilt.

Carlisle E. Cochran III of Southold, N.Y., flips open his Verizon cell phone and snaps her picture. He's not planning to send it to anyone; he just wants to store the moment in his phone for easy recall.

The next fan is flustered as he struggles with his camera. "It's not rocket science! It's a camera!" Wiseman jokes.

"I'm Carl!" one guy announces. "I saw you at Indy!" His face falls when she tells him she wasn't at the NASCAR race at Indianapolis. "That was Brandy," she says -- Brandy DeJongh, this year's other Miss Winston, who generally works the races west of the Mississippi.

Most men are so awed they can't even look at Wiseman when she picks up her black Sharpie and pours her syrupy Southern voice all over them. They stare at their feet and mumble a name when she asks, "Who to, sweetie?"

Some are demanding, shoving ticket stubs, hats and seat cushions at her to sign.

"Make it, 'To the guys at Ditch Witch!'"

"Hey, can I get one of those fine Winston hats?"

And a few are brave, sidling up alongside her and blushing when she drapes an arm over their shoulder, cracks her legs ever so slightly, places her feet in the shape of a T and smiles for the camera. They walk away clutching a signed postcard that proves a beautiful woman once stood next to them and called them by name. For many, it is enough.

The essential myth of stock-car racing, of course, is that the Fords and Chevys that win on Saturday and Sunday are the same as the Fords and Chevys for sale at the dealer's lot on Monday. In truth, about all they have in common is sheet metal; NASCAR's high-octane rockets are custom-built to turn left at 200 mph and run like hell on engines that expire after 500 miles. In her own way, Miss Winston is every bit as much a myth, with her impossible proportions and perpetual good cheer. She is the blonde whose name you don't even have to remember; the beauty who has no speaking role; the woman who asks for nothing but the chance to cheer the achievements of men.

And with the last race of the 2003 season, the Ford 400, to be held today at Homestead, Fla., Miss Winston will be out of a job. The crown worn by nearly 50 women over 33 years will be retired, and her reign as R.J. Reynolds's goodwill ambassador will end, snuffed out by a shifting economy and the cultural backlash against tobacco. After this season, NASCAR is parting ways with its longtime sponsor, RJR's Winston brand, and is teaming up with Reston-based Nextel Inc., a company with $8.7 billion in annual revenue, a high-tech image and coast-to-coast reach. Starting in January, NASCAR's wildly popular Winston Cup series will become the Nextel Cup. And stock-car racing's entree into the big leagues will be complete.

Tobacco has been the lifeblood of stock-car racing since 1971. That's when the federal government's ban on radio and TV cigarette advertising took effect, sharply limiting the tobacco industry's ability to market its products. The industry countered by seeking other ways to get its brands on the airwaves. In stock-car racing, R.J. Reynolds found a willing, and somewhat desperate, partner. The sport badly needed an image makeover, having been dismissed by the mainstream media as nothing but a bunch of hot rodders with rags in their pockets and little between their ears, hell-bent on killing themselves. NASCAR also needed cash to keep running, because the Detroit automakers had recently slashed their financial backing.

Junior Johnson, the now-legendary racer from the North Carolina foothills, went to RJR around 1970 looking for a few hundred thousand dollars to sponsor the racecar he owned. "When I told 'em what I wanted them to give me, they kind of laughed and said, 'Lord a-mercy! We need something bigger than that, because we've just been taken off from TV!'" Johnson recalls. "They were spending hundreds of millions of dollars -- eye-poppin' to me." So Johnson put them in touch with NASCAR founder Bill France, and the tobacco giant signed on to sponsor the whole sport.

On trackside billboards and the hoods of racecars, RJR executives saw a way around the TV ban. And in the deep-seated loyalty of NASCAR fans, they saw an easily exploited trait. If STP sponsored Richard Petty's Pontiac, STP was the motor oil fans put in their Pontiacs.

So it stood to reason that if Winston sponsored the races, Winston would be the brand fans smoked.

Beauty queens had long been a featured attraction at Southern racetracks, so it was only natural that RJR would want one as part of its NASCAR sponsorship. On the eve of its first Winston Cup race, the 1971 Daytona 500, RJR took out a newspaper ad for its first Winston girl.

Over the years, Miss Winston's look evolved: from hot pants and bouffant up-dos, to bell-bottoms and floppy hats, to sleek racing suits and baseball caps. But her assignment never changed: Get Winston's name on TV; get stock-car racing in the newspapers; and with every free sample pack of cigarettes, every gesture, smile and kind word, make race fans feel good about the Winston brand.

The decades since 1971 have been hard on tobacco, as the link between cigarettes and millions of smokers' deaths became ever clearer. Sales of premium brands have shrunk in the face of escalating taxes, the explosion of discount brands and tighter restrictions on advertising. Meanwhile, NASCAR has flourished, now boasting 75 million Americans as fans and TV ratings second only to the NFL's among major sports.

Times have changed for beauty queens, too. NFL cheerleaders may wear less than ever, and NBA dancers may gyrate in scandalous fashion. But the era of the trophy girl is coming to a close. The question is, as NASCAR and Nextel hurtle into their 10-year, $700 million marketing partnership, has stock-car racing grown up enough to get along without the beauty paid to smile by its side?

"It's like taking Abe Lincoln off the $5 bill," groused Steve Akers, 40, of Springfield, Ill., who stood in line, home video camera in hand, at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway in August for Miss Winston's autograph. "It's really going to hurt the sport that Winston is going away."

At 4 o'clock, Miss Winston leaves the mayhem of Richmond's souvenir midway and is driven back to the infield to catch her breath in RJR's transporter truck. Inside is a private lounge, an oasis of peace furnished with leather seats accented by NASCAR Winston Cup pillows. As a photographer readies to take a picture of Miss Winston unwinding, an RJR marketing man sticks an arm into the frame and whisks away the packs of Salem, Camel and Vantage cigarettes in the background.

Not just anyone can do this job -- maintaining your poise while getting leered at and hooted at; smiling all day without having something in your teeth; finding something pleasant to say when the next guy in line announces, "I'm gonna get down on all fours, and you gotta put your foot on my back, okay?"

A good Miss Winston, like Shannon Wiseman, will happily comply and say something that shows she's got a sense of humor, too. "I've walked on men's backs before, but not like that!" Wiseman will crack, as she plants a well-placed heel on the man's back and beams at the camera.

Wiseman, in fact, is ideal for the job, with a mill hand's work ethic and a starlet's ambition. She thrives in the spotlight and laughs easily, with the raspy, familiar laugh of a favorite bartender. (Truth be told, she smoked Marlboro Lights -- a Philip Morris brand -- before becoming Miss Winston, but promptly switched.) Being Miss Winston is only one of her jobs. She does part-time TV and radio work in Charlotte, N.C., teaches hip-hop dance and coaches a cheerleading squad.

Cheering was her life in high school in Gaston County, N.C. At UNC-Charlotte she was on the dance team, then landed a paying gig as a member of the NBA Hornets' Honeybees squad. That was followed by her biggest break, when MTV picked her to compete in "So You Wanna Be a VJ?" She finished second, smiled graciously and cried inside.

"All my life I've had to be the center of attention," Wiseman says. "I'm not going to be happy if I'm not the person doing something where I'm in front of a lot of people."

"The hardest part" of the Miss Winston job, she says, "is just being on the road -- especially when you're 24, and all your friends are going out all the time, and you and your boyfriend are having problems, and you're by yourself, and there are no girls and you're the only girl . . ."

Even though she grew up smack in the heart of stock-car racing country, she knew nothing about the sport when she went looking for work at Marilyn's, a Greensboro-based modeling agency founded by the original Miss Winston, Marilyn Green. Someone there suggested she apply to be the next Miss Winston. Almost overnight she was studying pictures in NASCAR's media guide, trying to match faces and car numbers to all those names she'd vaguely heard before.

Wiseman's family and friends don't fully grasp what she does at the track. "They understand it," she says, "but they don't get all the craziness and how much these people look up to me. I'm just Shannon to them. But to these people, it's like, wow! Like I'm something really cool!"

She laughs, and her eyes widen with disbelief. "It's crazy! I don't get it!"

But racetrack beauty queens hold special status in the South, as peculiar to the region as congealed salad. In the early days of stock-car racing, when the sport was scorned by polite society, NASCAR promoters figured out the surest way of getting a picture in the next day's newspaper was by having a pretty girl plant a kiss on the winner's grimy face. And so a tradition was born.

Linda Vaughn was the original queen of Victory Lane, a young Georgia beauty whom Tom Wolfe described as "the Life Symbol of stock-car racing" in his 1965 homage to the Southern racing phenomenon, "The Last American Hero." Vaughn never was a Miss Winston, but she was her inspiration, with more titles than a romance novelist: Miss Atlanta International Raceway, Miss Firebird and Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, to name a few. She drove fans wild as Miss Firebird (Pure Oil's name for its top-flight gasoline), circling the racetrack atop her red custom-made Firebird float, perched between the wings of a giant wooden bird as she waved to the howling men in the stands.

"She would get up on that float and lean against this very phallic thing and heave her bosom, and men would dream about spending private time with her," recalls motor sports journalist Chris Economaki, 83. "It was quite something to see."

As Miss Hurst Golden Shifter, Vaughn was in such demand at racetracks that the gear-shift maker gave her 12 backups, known as the Hurstettes, to fill in when she couldn't appear. She traveled as many as 50 weekends a year through the 1960s and could pack a suitcase with the precision of a mechanic tuning an engine, with the little black dress at the bottom (in case the race was followed by a funeral -- all too common before fuel cells were invented to curb fatalities in fiery crashes) -- and the big-hair dryer on top.

But not long after she and her successor, Winky Louise, left Pure Oil (later known as Unocal), the gas company bosses decided it would be better if their beauty queen wasn't quite so famous. So instead of one girl whose popularity eclipsed the company's, they hired a bevy, ushering in the era of the Race Stoppers, four models in miniskirts and white leather boots who debuted at the 1969 Daytona 500. Unocal's PR man at the time, Bill Brodrick, explains the Race Stoppers' corporate value to an oil company: "Nobody writes about gasoline or oil unless a car burns up," Brodrick says, "so how do you get some [good] publicity? . . . What better way than put four pretty girls with a race driver?"

RJR raised the beauty-queen concept a notch when it entered the sport in 1971. Its Miss Winston wasn't just a beauty; she was a corporate ambassador, subject to strict rules of behavior. Dating drivers was strictly forbidden. Girls who sulked, packed too much luggage or couldn't be on time weren't invited back. Miss Winston was the Southern hostess with good taste and a gift for making everyone feel special. She was the wholesome girl who was always happy. Happy that you loved the sound of a V-8 engine. Happy that you believed in the supremacy of American-made cars. Happy about the skill and daring of the men who drove them. And happy that you'd like to sample a pack of Winston cigarettes.

Changing mores and marketing restrictions brought subtle refinements in the job. Miss Winston no longer kisses the winning driver, but simply claps as he climbs from his car. She doesn't hand out free cigarettes as liberally as she once did, but confines her sampling to the Winston Cup garage, where mechanics and reporters are the biggest takers. She can't sign autographs for fans under 21. But her goodwill is boundless, and she sprinkles it around the garage on race day.

It's a heartbreaking calling, racing stock cars. Nearly every weekend from February to November, 43 drivers start a race and 42 lose. Over the course of the season, most drivers and their teams won't win a single race. With so much disappointment, nothing boosts a team's spirits like a visit from Miss Winston.

"I just try to be their sunshine, because they work so hard," Wiseman says. "I just say, 'How are ya?' 'How ya doin'?' 'Happy race day!' or 'Good luck!'"

It's 7:10 p.m., nearly race time at Richmond, and the air crackles with electricity. "Time for smiles!" Wiseman says, striking a mock pose and flashing a plastic smile. She has a sense of irony about her role, always center stage at NASCAR's most important moments, yet never expected to do or say anything of consequence. "My job is to sit there and be happy," she says, clapping her hands together like a seal. "I'm just here for smiles and 'How ya doin'?' It is sort of dull out there sometimes."

She's headed across the infield grass to the giant stage near the start-finish line for the pre-race drivers' introductions. Miss Winston's role in this ceremony is to wish each driver well. She shakes each one's hand as they file past when their names are called, from the last-place starter to the first, sending each off with a "Good luck!" or "Have a good race!"

The red Miss Winston suit she wears isn't comfortable. It tugs when she waves, and sometimes she gets so tired she can hardly hold her arms up anymore. The suit is hot, too, so it's nice that Richmond's a night race. At least the temperature won't be so sweltering.

Five men from RJR flank her as she waits to be called up onstage. A band entertains the crowd from a stage erected on the beds of six Chevy trucks. Restless and playful, Wiseman shimmies slightly to the music.

The stage is festooned with NASCAR Winston Cup banners. And "NASCAR Winston Cup Series" is plastered on the track's walls, on the infield scoring tower and atop the pylon that displays the running order up front, ensuring a presence from every conceivable camera angle.

She bounds up onto the stage when the announcer's voice booms, "Please welcome Miss Winston, Shannon Wiseman!" A section of guys in the stands leap to their feet and chant, "SHAN-NON! SHAN-NON! SHAN-NON!"

She smiles and waves to them, mouthing the words, "That is so funny!"

The catcalls and whistles are tame compared with the coarseness of NASCAR's hardscrabble past, when racetracks were places mothers warned their children about. But the sport has courted a broader, more upscale crowd in recent years, and its new strategy of leaving no demographic behind is on display this weekend.

A Japanese executive with the Funai Corp., which markets Funai, Sylvania and Emerson TVs, was the official starter for Friday night's tuneup race. The live pre-race entertainment has covered a range of musical tastes -- Uncle Kracker, Sugar Ray and Hootie & the Blowfish. The crowd is roughly 40 percent female, up from 15 percent in the early '70s. Children are everywhere.

Once the 43 drivers are introduced, fans are asked to rise and remove their hats. Over the track's public-address system a minister offers up thanks for allowing fans to enjoy the race. "Bless each driver and give them Your protection," he adds. "In Jesus' name we pray. Amen."

A helicopter whirs overhead as Darius Rucker of Hootie & the Blowfish sings the national anthem. On pit lane, each driver's crew stands shoulder to shoulder. At "the home of the brave," the calm is pierced by the roar of a perfectly timed flyby performed by the 111th Fighter Wing of the Pennsylvania Air National Guard.

The glitzy production values are a far cry from NASCAR's rough-hewn past, when moonshiners and mechanics raced one another around dirt tracks in heaps salvaged from junkyards. RJR can claim much of the credit for transforming stock-car racing into the entertainment trophy it is today. When Winston got onboard in 1971, NASCAR's tobacco-funded makeover began overnight. Dirt tracks carved out of Carolina red clay were paved with asphalt. Treacherous metal guardrails were replaced with cement walls. Rickety grandstands were fortified. Bathroom facilities and media centers sprang up. And every flat surface within a mile of the track got painted red and white, Winston's colors.

RJR's sports marketing division promoted both stock-car racing and the Winston brand with evangelistic zeal. It was led by a longtime Washington-based lobbyist named Ralph Seagraves, notorious for snatching packs of rival brands out of strangers' hands and crushing them before handing back two new packs of Winstons. His staff shared his fanaticism, taking every slight against tobacco and racing personally. When they traveled, it was a company rule that they flew in their uniforms: In the early '70s, that included a loud pair of slacks adorned with pictures of Winston packs and the phrase "How Good It Is!"

Seagraves built RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises into an empire. In its heyday, it had a $100 million annual budget and 110 employees, and consumed an entire floor of the company's world headquarters in Winston-Salem, N.C. NASCAR was its showpiece property, but it underwrote 55 other events and sports teams: Camel Biker Rallies, Camel Smokin' Joe's hydroplane, Vantage golf championships, Salem ProSail, RJ Gold Bass Tournaments, Doral Skiing and more. Says H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, president of Charlotte's Lowe's Motor Speedway, "When they write the history of marketing in the 20th century, R.J. Reynolds will be looked at as one of the most prolific marketing entities Western civilization ever had. They'll be held up like Thomas Edison's light bulb."

Today, RJR has little to show for that effort. The medical research on the dangers of tobacco was too damning, the political tides were too strong. In 1971, RJR was the biggest tobacco company in the United States, and its Winston brand had a 15.7 percent share of the domestic market. Today, Philip Morris is the biggest, and Winston's market share has plunged to 4.7 percent (though, notably, it's still the brand of choice among NASCAR fans, smoked by nearly 30 percent of adult race fans who smoke).

The introduction of low-cost generic cigarettes started the erosion of market share. The 1998 Master Settlement Agreement between the tobacco industry and the states' attorneys general accelerated the decline. It limited cigarette-makers to promoting just one sport (RJR naturally chose NASCAR). It also banned promotional merchandise with cigarette brand names or logos; billboard advertising; and brand-name sponsorship of events primarily attended by youngsters. The corporate face of Reynolds's Sports Marketing Enterprises also changed following the deaths of Seagraves and his successor, T. Wayne Robertson. They were replaced by men with far less attachment to racing; men who viewed the $40 million annual expenditure on NASCAR as just another marketing proposition.

In February of this year, with five years remaining on its contract, RJR announced it was willing to step aside as NASCAR's sponsor if a suitable replacement could be found. RJR cited the uncertain economic climate.

NASCAR was still paying big dividends for the company. The TV exposure that Winston received on the 2002 race telecasts was worth the equivalent of $135 million to $160 million in paid advertising, according to industry estimates. The problem was that RJR's Winston brand no longer had the market share to support that level of sponsorship. Ned Leary, president of RJR's Sports Marketing Enterprises, explains, "In those situations you have to weigh, 'Where am I going to invest my resources?' We simply got to the point that we needed to step back and evaluate everything we were doing. As effective as it was, it still carried a price-tag decision."

In mid-September, RJR announced it would slash 40 percent of its workforce (about 2,600 jobs). As part of the cost-cutting, Leary's sports marketing division will be eliminated. The company also said it was cutting its ad budgets for its Winston and Doral brands, and redirecting that money to Camel and Salem.

But this evening in Richmond, less than two weeks before the layoffs will be announced, everything is beautiful at the races. Night is falling, with only a few streaks of lavender left in the sky. Everyone's standing as the green flag flies and 43 racecars powered by 800-horsepower engines roar into Turn 1, the noise so loud it blocks out all sound and thought. Flashbulbs pop as the furious swarm goes past, and every 25 seconds, it's back again -- the cars circling the tiny track almost before fans can advance their film and refocus their cameras.

During the first 100 laps or so, Wiseman gets a break to unwind and touch up her makeup. Then she's back in the Winston Jeep for the ride to RJR's corporate suite overlooking the start-finish line, to entertain the 60 regional sales reps, convenience store operators and tobacco friends there. Smokers are welcome, with a Winston ashtray and free cigarettes at each seat, and the ceiling fan soon loses its battle against the haze. The suite is decorated with neon cigarette signs. The bartender pours generously, and the buffet is laden with hot dogs and potato chips. "It's the Roman Coliseum," Ned Leary proclaims, looking down on the track from his prime vantage point, as the racecars roar by at 125 mph.

The guests here may represent higher social strata than the infield bunch, but they want Miss Winston's autograph all the same. Among them are the A-10 Warthog pilots who executed the flyby during the national anthem. A frenzied debate breaks out over what exactly Miss Winston should write to their commanding officer back home. By this point in the workday, Wiseman's reserve of snappy sentiments is running low, so the pilots settle on, "To the best fighter pilot I never met." At the moment, it seems hilarious.

Another admirer approaches. She signs a postcard for him, hands it back and then explodes in laughter.

"Actually, there is no 's'," the man has just informed her, somewhat uncomfortably. "Well, actually, it's with an 'x'."

And Miss Winston realizes her gaffe: misspelling his last name, which is Cox.

"Everything I do always has some sexual innuendo!" she says, laughing.

Her obligations in RJR's suite complete, Miss Winston is heading toward the elevator when she's accosted by a female fan who has had a few too many drinks.

"Where did you get that outfit!!!" the woman squeals excitedly, pointing to Wiseman's red suit. If she has heard of Miss Winston, she clearly doesn't connect Wiseman to the icon. She's convinced, apparently, that Wiseman is simply a woman who loves NASCAR like herself but has found a better place to shop for clothes.

"They made it for me," Wiseman says, pointing to her escorts from R.J. Reynolds. The woman doesn't understand. So Wiseman gently explains that she is Miss Winston, and this is her race-day outfit. The news elicits even louder squeals of delight.

"We're on the same side!" the woman tells Wiseman, grabbing her arm. "I work for Philip Morris! And it's the politicians out to get us!"

Miss Winston smiles.

Back on the racetrack, tempers are heating up as the laps wind down. Richmond is a short track, just three-quarters of a mile around, and that means lots of crashes as cars battling for position slam into the cement retaining walls and one another, sending sparks and plumes of smoke flying.

And with 25 laps to go, Victory Lane is abuzz with activity.

David Finley is the fresh-faced NASCAR manager in charge of what's known as "the hat dance" to come. With companies spending $16 million to sponsor a car, nothing gets put on the race winner's head without a price tag attached. Half a dozen PR people scurry in carrying tubes of confetti and boxes of caps, each emblazoned with a different corporate logo, for the ceremony.

Miss Winston arrives, her makeup refreshed, wearing a Winston cap that gives the company another brand ID (in addition to the "Winston" splashed across her chest) every time she gets in the TV camera's frame. She has no rival beauty queens in Victory Lane anymore. Miss Winston outlasted them all, as budget cuts and political correctness brought an end to Miss Firebird, Miss Southern 500, the Race Stoppers and the like. She is the only beauty still standing.

With the ferocious roar of a V-8 engine, the gates of Gatorade Victory Lane swing open to allow race winner Ryan Newman to drive his No. 12 Alltel Dodge right onto the black-and-white checkered stage, where his jubilant crew is already celebrating. Newman slips off his helmet and wipes his face, waiting in his car until TV's commercial break is over. Miss Winston is there, cheering and clapping, when he clambers out the car's window, pumps his fists and faces the bleacher full of photographers for what's called "the money shot."

Then comes the hat dance, with Finley barking out which hat Newman and his crew must put on for each round of photographs. There's a protocol to the ritual, with the order of hats determined by how much money each sponsor has invested.


The camera shutters snap.


Quick change. Snap!

"Richmond International Raceway!"


"Alltel Racing!"


"Mobil One! Mobil One!"


"Dodge hats! Dodge hats!"

And so it goes, with each sponsor assured of a photograph featuring its logo, and Miss Winston clapping and smiling in every frame.

Beverages have a protocol in Victory Lane, too. As NASCAR's official isotonic beverage, PowerAde gets top billing: An oversize blue bottle is placed on the roof of the winning car. What gets sprayed or consumed after that -- Gatorade, Coca-Cola, Pepsi, Budweiser, Miller -- depends on the particular sponsorship deals the winner has.

But every celebration ends with a wild spray of champagne, the bottles furnished by the marketing folks at Winston.

And that is how Miss Winston winds up her workday, as the clock nears midnight: cheering and clapping, her blond hair matted to her head and her red racing suit drenched. She'll fly back to Winston-Salem that way, sticky and reeking. RJR's corporate jet is taking off in minutes, and there's no time to shower or change. But a good Miss Winston never complains or makes a fuss. "It makes me proud to be the last Miss Winston," Wiseman says. "I wouldn't take it back. It's pretty cool."

Liz Clarke is a reporter for The Post's Sports section.