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Car Makers Say Racing Still Gives Them A Boost

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 19 2017

Car company officials say that NASCAR is a good investment. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Alan Marler)

By John Sturbin | Senior Writer
RacinToday.com

Big-time auto racing’s longstanding marketing mantra of “Win on Sunday, Sell on Monday” may not resonate with consumers like it did during the Muscle Car Era of the late 1960s and early 1970s.

With SUVs and crossovers dominating sales worldwide _ and faced with a younger demographic not particularly turned-on by the automobile _ OEM manufacturers arguably are dealing with a relevance issue via their participation in NASCAR’s three national touring series.

Still, executives from Ford and Chevrolet defended their return on investment in NASCAR Saturday during a press conference at Homestead-Miami Speedway, site of the 2017 Championship Weekend. NASCAR’s Camping World Truck and Xfinity Series champions were crowned Friday and Saturday, respectively, with four drivers set to decide the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series title during Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400.

“What we’re creating by what we’re doing are brand ambassadors for the entire brand,” Dave Pericak, global director, Ford Performance, said during a news conference with fellow OEM reps Jim Campbell of Chevrolet and Ed Laukes of Toyota. “Everyone wants to be part of a winning team.  They want to know that the car company they’re invested in is successful and that they have great engineering and whatnot.

“We are creating, again, those brand ambassadors. Yes, that’s where a lot of the sales are (SUVs and crossovers). They’re still out there talking to their friends and family and people that they know. They’re delivering the message that we want them to deliver. It does work for us quite well. I think as we see the world change, I think motorsports are going to obviously change as well.  I think we’ll keep pace with everything that’s going on in the industry. I don’t know what you guys (media) think, but it absolutely works for us to create those brand ambassadors.”

Campbell, Chevrolet U.S. vice president of Performance Vehicles and Motorsports, was

The Ford of Brad Keselowski. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Garry Eller)

joined on the panel by Laukes, group vice president of marketing for Toyota Motor North America. Campbell agreed that NASCAR remains a key element of its overall marketing programs.

“Yeah, I mean, I would just say in general, racing is a great platform for us obviously because we learn on the track,” Campbell said. “That’s a key reason, take that learning and drive it back to the showroom products, whether the vehicle or the power train or the integration.  It’s a great place to develop engineers, we love all that.

“When you have a chance to win races and vie for championships, it does lift what people think of Chevrolet.  We do see more people put Chevrolet on their shopping list that are fans in the motorsports category. NASCAR is one of them. Chevrolet is involved in five major series.  Some of our sister divisions are in racing as well in the company.

“We do see a translation to sales. In the midways, what we love about racing, is race fans get to the track early _sometimes days early, many times hours early. In those midway areas is where we can show them our new Chevrolet cars, trucks, crossovers, parts accessories, crate engines. Chevrolet customers, they discover what’s new about Chevrolet.”

This season, for example, the OEMs joined NASCAR in a unique program in which fans were entered for a chance to win new trucks, a VIP experience to Champions Week and other prizes in an effort to connect their success on-track with consumers.

The season-finale at HMS is set for 3 p.m. (EST) Sunday. Live coverage will be available on NBC, MRN and Sirius XM NASCAR Radio Channel 90.

The OEM execs discussed topics ranging from results of the 2017 Playoffs to Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s impact on the sport in the following edited transcript, beginning with opening statements:

JIM CAMPBELL: “This year has been exciting in many respects. We’ve had our share of disappointments as well. Obviously, it was great to have Johnny Sauter in the hunt (Friday night) to go for a second consecutive Truck Series championship. He came in second (to Toyota’s Christopher Bell).  Johnny was a great champion last year. We’re so proud of him, everybody at GMS.

“The Xfinity side has been very exciting in terms of our progress there, to see so many

Jimmie Johnson has won seven Cup championships for Chevrolet. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Brian Lawdermilk)

young drivers coming through that series. They are making names for themselves. Many will go onto the Cup Series next year. We’re excited to see four Chevrolet Camaros, their drivers and teams in the final championship race. (William Byron of Hendrick Motorsports won his first Xfinity Series title Saturday afternoon for Chevy).

“Obviously on the Cup side, some highs and lows. We had 10 wins this year. Last year with Jimmie Johnson, the seven-time champion, that was our 31st drivers’ championship. We put eight drivers into the Playoff at the beginning, didn’t transfer one into the final, which is very disappointing.

“With that said, I’m really optimistic about what is going to happen next year. We have our new Camaro ZL1 race car. Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Mike Royce, who leads product development at our company, they basically helped debut that race car. Jimmie Johnson, our defending champion, drove the new Camaro ZL1 to debut it this past August.  We’re excited about racing the Camaro ZL1 next year.

“I’m excited about the combination of drivers next year _ a combination of veterans like Jimmie Johnson, Jamie McMurray, Ryan Newman, A.J. Allmendinger and Kasey Kane _these guys know how to win, combined with younger drivers that are hungry, want to make a statement. Chase Elliott is coming back, Kyle Larson with absolute momentum, William Byron, Alex Bowman, Austin Dillon, Ty Dillon, Chris Buescher.  An amazing inflection point to have these young drivers come in combined with the veterans.

“Disappointed we’re not in the championship (Sunday). I know the Team Chevy drivers are going to focus on winning the race. Also, it’s going to be an amazing day as Dale Jr. completes his career here in NASCAR.  We’re so proud to be a partner with him.”

ED LAUKES: “We’ll get this out of the way right away. I think you’ve heard me say before that we are competitors in the showroom, competitors on the racetrack, but we’re all ‘car guys.’  We all get along really well and work together for the betterment of the sport.

“With that, I’m going to congratulate Jim on his championship in the Xfinity Series, and then at that point I’m glad he made his remarks so Dave and I can take it from this point forward. Anything else you want to add before you move on?”

JIM CAMPBELL: “I want to thank you for William Byron. Thank you.”

ED LAUKES: “You are welcome for William Byron.”

JIM CAMPBELL: “Congratulations on the Truck Series championship, too.”

THE MODERATOR: Jim, earlier this year you unveiled the Camaro ZL1 as Chevrolet’s flagship vehicle in NASCAR and successor to the Chevrolet SS. Talk about what 2018 looks like for Team Chevy.

JIM CAMPBELL: “This will be the final race for the Chevrolet SS. We debuted that in 2013 (with Jimmie Johnson’s win in the Daytona 500). The SS has compiled 73 wins, making it the most successful Generation-6 NASCAR race car. Three of those years a Chevy driver in the SS won the championship.  We won three manufacturers championships during that timeframe.

“The SS has actually been a big success for us. Obviously, we wanted to be stronger and get into the Playoffs here in the final year.  But your opportunity to change the car also is aligned with what goes on in the showroom.  Completing the production cycle on the SS really spawned the selection of a new vehicle.

“We really wanted to focus on…the reason why we brought the SS in is the same reason we selected the Camaro ZL1. That is, a fuel-injected, V8, rear-wheel drive, manual transmission vehicle in the showroom _ same on the racetrack for the SS. That same thing goes for the Camaro ZL1, same on the racetrack.  We think that’s the authentic way to do it, showroom to the racetrack. We’re really pleased with that.  Cannot wait to get this on the track.

“We’re going to lose some veteran drivers, it’s part of the cycle.  But we have a lot of these young drivers coming up. It’s exciting. They’re hungry. The veterans, they want to put an exclamation point on their careers. It’s a great combination.”

QUESTION: Jim, talk a bit about what Dale Earnhardt Jr. has meant to Chevrolet.  He and his family have a long legacy with the brand. What has that legacy meant?

JIM CAMPBELL: “As you all know, it’s been very special. The Earnhardt family and Chevrolet have a long history together. We all watched Dale Jr. grow up around the track. He worked in his father’s dealership, the lube rack, changed oil as a mechanic and technician. Then he ran the Modified series. He worked his way up with his brother and his sister, Kerry and Kelley, then graduated into Xfinity, wins 24 races, then two championships. That was back-to-back. It was incredible. Moves up to the Cup Series obviously at DEI (Dale Earnhardt Inc.), then later with Hendrick Motorsports. Delivered 26 wins.

Think about his record at the superspeedways _ 10 wins, nine runner-ups and obviously within that win number are two Daytona 500 championships.

“What he’s done for Chevrolet…off the track he’s helped us introduce new vehicles, cars and trucks. He has introduced new crate engines, gone to a lot of our factories. Fifth generation Camaro, we had him out at our proving grounds before we introduced the car to drive it, give our engineers feedback on the handling and the dynamics. He’s just been a great partner all the way through.

“Then to see what he has done through with his foundation to give back to others and great causes is incredible. The number of charities and causes that they have provided benefit and support to, it is almost too long to list. But a couple that come to mind, Make-A-Wish, he’s done over 250 ‘wishes,’ and he’s one of the most popular Make-A-Wish partners, if you will.  Then a strong partnership with Nationwide and their Columbus Children’s Hospital.  Those are just two examples.

Amazing guy on the track, off the track, and we look forward to a long partnership with him and Kelley Earnhardt and their team for years to come.”

QUESTION: Jim, you have the new Camaro set for its Cup debut. Do you see translation of interest from the showroom because of that? Any increase in sales or interest at all?

JIM CAMPBELL: “We do see the translation to sales, for sure, absolutely. Camaro for us, we race it in another road-racing series, won a championship. Running in NHRA, what we call Stock eliminator, kind of the Sportsman classes and Pro Stock all the way through.  We just had a sweep in NHRA in championships. Running in Xfinity and now Cup really puts the focus on Camaro for racing.”

QUESTION: The trend for the automotive buyer now is toward SUVs and crossovers. Selling sedans, coupes, hybrids _how long do you think motorsports can still be relevant in that arena? Are you looking at decades, a decade, a few years? How can you translate sedans and coupes to this automotive public?

JIM CAMPBELL: “I would just say we’re in five series with Chevrolet. Those are moments to create energy and excitement, enthusiasm for Chevrolet overall.  As I mentioned, all those places, part of our team is back in the back, on-site activation, online activation, we’re leveraging these platforms to tell a broader Chevrolet story.

“It does touch on all the different new entries, whether it’s the new Equinox, Traverse, pickup entry.  We have in our midway, you’ll see us with the Volt and Bolt, which has a 238-nominal range with one charge. Amazing technology. The industry is moving very quickly.

We’ll always use it (motorsports) as a platform to tell our entire story, like what I was saying earlier.  Cars, crossovers and trucks, parts and accessories is what we focus on in our midways but also online.”

QUESTION: Data collected in development of the Camaro, is that available to all of Team Chevy?

JIM CAMPBELL: “Absolutely. We run what’s called a ‘Key Partners Program’ with all our major teams. We work as one team in common development, particularly in the beginning of a new vehicle.  You’re in the tunnel together, doing a lot of aero development together, doing performance integration together. In today’s day and age of motorsports, every dollar you spend, it is a precious dollar. We try to do common projects together to move the whole performance of our Chevrolet team lineup ahead, then the teams are going to take a moment where they’re going to do their own point of difference. It’s just going to happen. More and more, projects come in through our ‘Key Partners Program.’^”

QUESTION: Dave, with the Camaro coming into the Cup Series, are you planning to introduce the Mustang?

DAVE PERICAK: “Great question.  I mean, Jim has been waiting for this answer.”

JIM CAMPBELL: “Thank you for asking it.”

DAVE PERICAK: “We always look at what’s going on in the showroom, where we’re going with our product development cycle plan. We introduced the new Fusion a couple years ago. We will be looking at introducing a new car in the future. We have not submitted anything as of yet, but stay tuned.”

QUESTION: Dave, these playoffs have been marked by intense competition.  Can you summarize Ford’s 2017 NASCAR season?

DAVE PERICAK: “As with any season, you have your highs and lows. We have a lot of momentum going forward.  If you look at the Truck Series, Chase Briscoe winning (Friday night), his first win, extremely exciting. We had a contender in the Playoffs for the Truck Series. Very well-done by those two young men there (including Austin Cindric). Xfinity, we’ve been showing a lot of progress in Xfinity. (Penske Racing clinched the owners championship Saturday afternoon).

“Then in the Cup, we have had a pretty awesome year. If you look at it overall, we’ve had six different drivers make it to Victory Lane from four different teams, showing that the entire Ford camp is elevating and raising the chinning bar. We started out this season with a new team, Stewart-Haas Racing.  It’s a lot of work to change over to a new manufacturer, but started off the new season with the Daytona 500 victory (by Kurt Busch of SHR) and here we are today with Kevin Harvick in the Championship 4.

“To have also five guys make the Playoffs, two of those being first-time winners, was also pretty important with Mr. Blaney and Mr. Stiles.  We’re proud to be here Championship Weekend with two drivers contending for this title. Overall I think it’s been a really positive year for us, a lot of positive momentum and we’re looking forward to ’18 because we know we’ve got more coming.”

QUESTION: Dave, Ford has Brad Keselowski as well as Kevin Harvick competing in Sunday’s Championship 4. How does that stack up for your Blue Oval camp?

DAVE PERICAK: “We’re feeling really good. We struggled in the middle part of the season figuring out the new rules package with the car, keeping up with the rest of these guys. You can see we’ve been hitting our stride. We figured out quite a bit. We’re coming to Miami with the best that we’ve got. We feel very confident in what we have. That’s why we’re also looking forward to next season as well because we understand where the rules are going for next season.  We feel we figured out how to make it work for us.

“Very confident with two veteran drivers, obviously. They know how to do it. They know how to get it done. They’ve done it before. They’re very determined and laser-focused. I wouldn’t want to be here with anyone else. I’m happy with who we have. Look forward to (Sunday).”

QUESTION: Not to revisit a sore subject, but it’s been 12 years since Ford won a Cup championship. What would it mean inside the organization and from a sales and marketing point of view to win on this particular Sunday?

DAVE PERICAK: “Yeah, I don’t see that as a sore subject _ I see that as motivation. It’s time, right? We owe that to our fans, to our employees, everybody that’s been with us throughout the years. It is time for us to get it done. We plan to do that.

“What will it mean to us? Obviously, it means a lot to our program itself. It means a lot as far as the sponsorship goes, keeping that going. Then clearly we’re going to leverage that for our marketing activation and things like that. I think it would be very hard to define what winning a championship does, but it definitely is very huge.  We want it more than ever. Like I said, I don’t take that as (a negative)…it’s OK.  It’s been a long time.”

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, November 19 2017
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