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Manufacturers in NASCAR for the long ride
Dodge doesn't have a Sprint Cup driver with as many victories this season as Toyota's Kyle Busch (seven) or Ford's Carl Edwards (three). But Mike Accavitti, Dodge's director of marketing communications, said he felt as if his company had trumped its rival automakers when he recently saw a truck sporting flags with the Nos. 18 (Busch) and 99 (Edwards).

"I'd rather have that fan driving our $35,000 truck than flying our $5 flags," Accavitti said with a laugh, noting Dodge research shows NASCAR fans are 50% more likely to buy a truck. "It isn't just Dodge fans that buy our product. Like any consumer group, they'll buy the best value."

With four manufacturers each spending an estimated $100 million-plus annually in NASCAR's premier series, the financial benefit of their involvement must be significant. Despite the industry's gloomy economic outlook, automakers still consider NASCAR a showplace for its showrooms, which makes racing expenditures worthwhile.

General Motors will slice some motor sports programs as part of $10 billion in budget cuts, and auto analysts have warned Chrysler might consider bankruptcy protection in the face of declining sales. But industry observers aren't expecting manufacturers to desert the sport as in the 1970s.

"I'm not going to be surprised if everybody reduces spending on NASCAR, including Toyota," says Ray Evernham, co-owner of Gillett Evernham Motorsports. "But if they stay in business, I can't see any would pull out completely. We didn't have 75 million fans in the '70s."

Those fans apparently root with their wallets. Ford claims a 400% return on its marketing investment in NASCAR, says Dan Geist, the company's North American motor sports marketing manager. Geist says Ford tracks the purchasing history of NASCAR fans for six months after visiting promotional events or its racing website. More than 60% of Ford owners are race fans.

"Racing is a critical piece of influencing consumers," Geist said. "The only reason we race is to sell cars, trucks and SUVs. … If it makes sense, we continue; if it doesn't, we stop."

Chevrolet marketing manager Terry Dolan said NASCAR's 10-month schedule offers plenty of exposure as does the day-long experience of a race. At Indianapolis Motor Speedway last week, Chevy had an 80,000-square-foot display featuring 40 vehicles, including many hybrids and more-fuel-efficient versions of the larger classes favored by race fans.

"The NASCAR fan might arrive hours before an event, and they're looking for entertainment," Dolan said. "We can invite them to touch, feel and experience the product."

Chevy collects fans' household info and compares it to state vehicle registration records to measure the sales impact of NASCAR, which also can provide business incentives through its sponsors.  USAToday

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