With few companies ready to back Larson upon his return from an almost year-long suspension for using a racial slur, Hendrick put the website for his dealerships on the hood of Larson's car. Larson began winning races, which company officials state drove traffic to HendrickCars.com that netted $1.8 million in leads and more than $5 million in television exposure.
"We're having the best year we've ever had," stated Hendrick, owner of the largest privately-held dealership in the nation. "The market is blazing."
When motorsports started to gain mainstream traction in the 1980s, the slogan for auto dealers was forever "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday." Though the economic downturn of 2008 almost devastated the automotive market and NASCAR's rising popularity started to level out. The marketing motto was suddenly watered down to something closer to like, "Win on Sunday, hope a customer comes in on Monday."
Even so, manufacturers have not run away from motorsports as a top sales platform. It's never been more apparent than this year as spending has continued after the pandemic smashed 2020 sales. Motorsports remains a critical marketing tool for companies to prove how racing technology transfers from the track to the streets.
General Motors launched a special edition Corvette throughout a race weekend in the shadows of its Detroit headquarters. Lexus, Ferrari and Acura did the same for their new performance vehicles at IMSA sports car events. At a NASCAR race in Nashville, Ford used it's completely electric Mach-E to pace the field and used its high-performance GT model to thrill VIPs for a few laps around the track.
The Mercedes-AMG GT Black Series was revealed in June at the Concours Club in Miami. Although the sticker price is an eye-popping $326,000, the car ranks in the top group of street-legal sports cars. Its crossover appeal was highlighted when it debuted alongside its sibling Mercedes-AMG GT3 racing car that went 1-2 in class in this year's Rolex 24 At Daytona endurance race.
"We know from our customers no matter what age they are, even if they're in the digital world of racing, which is very, very good, that racing is a proof-point of engineering capability, validation of the car itself, and of safety in many cases," announced Mark Reuss, president of General Motors. "The two-way technical things that we do in all of our race programs eventually show up in our production cars.
"The customer cares about that and motorsports is extremely exciting to watch and to participate in, so it is a natural marketing space," he stated.
IHS Markit automotive analyst Stephanie Brinley explained that automakers get many advantages from their racing programs, from torture-testing new technology to a mostly unmeasurable influence on brand perception.
People like to see competition and cheer for their brands, she stated, and that translates to loyalty when it comes time to purchase a new vehicle. That refers not only to racing fans who love the competition, yet further to people who don’t follow the sport.
"It gives owners a reason to cheer on their brand. It helps build an emotional connection," Brinley said. "That’s really elusive, but it’s also pretty key toward keeping and maintaining brand loyalty."
Automakers can use the race track to push new technology in ways they can’t reproduce on their own test tracks, Brinley said. While there might not be a direct connection to consumer vehicles, the testing influences vehicles sold to the public.