‘Win on Sunday, sell on Monday’ still alive and well for Chevrolet

Chevrolet won big on the track at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, but it might have been their off-track presence around the facility that will go a long way in selling cars and trucks to consumers.

Matt Sullivan/Getty Images

Win on Sunday, sell on Monday.

It might not be the oldest adage in motorsports, but it’s certainly the granddaddy of motorsports marketing catchphrases.

Back in the 1950s, when "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" became popular, the phrase was self-explanatory. If a Pontiac won at Darlington or Richmond or Martinsville on any given Sunday, sales of new Pontiacs would spike on the day after, especially at dealerships in close proximity to the race tracks.

Nowadays, though, "Win on Sunday, sell on Monday" doesn’t necessarily provide the instant shot in the arm that it once did. But with motorsports marketing so much more sophisticated than it used to be, the race track still is one of the best places for automakers to showcase their wares. If it wasn’t, automakers wouldn’t spend tens of millions of dollars annually to support their racing programs.

Take last month’s Brickyard 400 at Indianapolis Motor Speedway, for example. Billed as "The Kroger Super Weekend," the Brickyard played host to four different series: the NASCAR Sprint Cup and Nationwide Series, the Tudor United SportsCar Championship and the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge.

Chevrolet is the official vehicle of IMS, and has such had a huge footprint at the fabled track. This wasn’t just a place to push the Chevrolet SS that’s raced in the Sprint Cup Series; it was also a golden opportunity to market Corvettes and Camaros like the road-racers use, as well as big pickup trucks and SUVs to haul race cars and crew members with.

To that end, Chevrolet employed a small army of personnel to pump up the crowd. All told, the automaker used 23 trained product specialists to answer vehicle questions, 22 more promotional specialists to help customers participate with interactive display sites and a tour management staff of 15. Across the four series, there were eight Chevrolet pace cars, that were manned with four engineers and employees. It took a day and a half just to set up the exhibit.

According to the man responsible for Chevrolet’s racing program, the effort is more than worthwhile.

"What we know for a fact from the research is that when you’re in motorsports and you win races and championships, you lift brand image ratings," said Jim Campbell, Chevrolet’s U.S. vice president, performance vehicles and motorsports. "And that’s really important, because that relates to brand opinion. And when your brand opinion is lifted, and motorsports helps us do that, good things happen. Customers put you on their shopping list more quickly. That’s a fact."

Campbell said the amount of time fans spend at the track is a good thing from a marketing perspective.

Analysis: Let investigation work out details of Stewart-Ward incident

"Race fans get to the track early. We love it," Campbell said. "They get to the tracks hours and hours –€“ and sometimes days — early. We have an opportunity to interface with them and show them our new cars and trucks, our race cars. Also our performance parts and accessories."

Put bluntly, motorsports works for Chevrolet. Racing sells cars and trucks, too. And that’s the big reason the company stayed in NASCAR and other forms of racing even through its 2009 bankruptcy and subsequent reorganization.

"The value proposition is there," said Campbell. "Candidly, in our most challenging times as a company, we never pulled back from motorsports because every time we went through internal reviews, we could show the value of motorsports. And that’s true today."

In Indianapolis, Chevrolets are visible on track and in the city. "Because of our relationship with the track, we have a number of vehicles in service here, whether it’s safety vehicles, tram vehicles or the pace cars," said Terry Dolan, manager of Chevrolet racing. "We also support the community with the Indy 500 festival cars. Those go in the hands of a lot of key community leaders. By the time we’re done, we probably have more than 100 vehicles in service."

Dolan said having two dozen display vehicles on site is critical to the sales effort.

"The key is to take a consumer and have them sit inside the vehicle," said Dolan. "Touch, feel and experience it and have them begin the process of putting us on their shopping or consideration list."

All of the effort must be working. Chevrolet had its best July since 2007, with total Chevrolet deliveries up 8 percent. During that month, Chevrolet Corvette sales tripled and Camaro sales were up 25 percent.

And the relationship between Chevrolet and the Brickyard isn’t just something new, where the partners are getting to know each other. No, this one goes way, way back.

Chevrolet was founded in 1911, the year of the inaugural 500-mile race, and the Chevrolet brothers — company co-founder Louis, along with Arthur and Gaston — all competed in early Indy 500 races. Arthur Chevrolet ran in the 1911 race and Gaston Chevrolet won it in 1920. Now, that’s old-school racinng.