Dodge Motorsports - NASCAR Nationwide Series Teleconference - Ralph Gilles and Jamie Allison
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. , Jul 1, 2010 -
Courtesy of NASCAR
Good afternoon, everybody. Welcome to today's NASCAR teleconference, which is in advance of Friday night's historic NASCAR Nationwide Series race at Daytona International Speedway, the Subway Jalapeño 250 Powered by Coca-Cola will mark the debut of the new car in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
This is a project that's been three-plus years in the making and it finally gets to the track for its first official points race. The new car will race three more times this year at various-sized tracks, and that will be Michigan, Richmond and Charlotte before being fully integrated into the series next year. Competitive balance, safety and creating an identity for the series are the key goals of the new car, and fans and drivers alike are buzzing about that identity which now includes the Dodge Challenger, the Ford Mustang in addition to the sporty looks of Chevy's Impala and Toyota's Camry.
And this afternoon we are joined by two men who can attest to the specifics of that new car identity, Jamie Allison, Ford's director of North American motorsports, and Ralph Gilles, president and CEO of Dodge.
Jamie and Ralph, thanks so much for joining us today. This is a somewhat unprecedented appearance by two different manufacturers together, but you're both really excited about the introduction of the NASCAR Nationwide Series new car, and specifically, your models, and how those models look so much like what those of us who are not NASCAR drivers drive on the road today. Can you both talk about that? Jamie first, and then Ralph.
Thank you for that introduction. You used the word "historic." We are using seismic but any way you slice it, this is a major event of its own right. From Mustang's perspective, Mustang has been involved in all forms of motorsports from land speed records to drag racing to sports car racing and recently in drifting, and now we are adding to it, stock car racing. There have been nine million Mustangs sold since 1964, and I consider every one of those a potential fan for watching Mustang make its appearance in Nationwide. So we are very thrilled and excited, working with NASCAR to return some of the brand identity into the cars that are raced in comparison to the cars that we sell. So we are very thrilled and excited. It will be a fantastic race and looking forward to the event at Daytona.
Ralph, what about from Dodge's perspective?
Hats off to the NASCAR and Nationwide series managers and for making it look easy. I think it looks easy when it's all said and done; but three years in the making, lots of collaboration behind the scenes to make sure the parity was there, a lot of aerodynamic tunnel work, spent a lot of time, working and making sure with Ford that we are all Even Steven, so that we can have fun and not ever lose this advantage we now have. As a carmaker, we are happy. For us, it's the return of Challenger. We have been absent almost two decades from racing. My hat's off to Ford for such a prolific racing program. For us, it's a big deal. We like the fact that our customers are connecting. We are already seeing some very good noise, or I guess, feedback or excitement, so to speak on the social media side of things, so it's pretty cool. It's exciting.
Can both of you talk about the process that has gone on over this three-year period to get to this stage over at the track today? The teams are going through the very first inspection process with the new car, and with the three-year process in the making, and our series director Joe Balash has consistently spoken about how the manufacturers have been so integral in making sure that we get to this point in addition to working with our teams.
So Ralph, if you would start off a bit and give us a little background on what the manufacturers have done to assist in getting the Nationwide Series new car to this stage.
In our case, working with Roger's teams, Penske and our engineers. No. 1, it's very rare that we get a relatively clean slate like this. We wanted to make sure we addressed a lot of issues. A lot of it is also cost management. There's a lot of things that we are -- not redundant, unfortunately a lot of unique things on our Saturday and Sunday program. So there's a lot more consolidation and a lot of safety advancements that have come from the Sunday series are now in the Nationwide Series.
We are pretty excited to see some of these very, very diver-centric safety moves, moving the seat further to the middle of the car, balancing the car a little better, longer wheel base. A lot of lessons learned that make the car safer but easier -- I shouldn't say easier but more appropriate to racing at that level at that speed; so we are very happy with that.
It also helps Roger's team, and ultimately, all of the competitors, save a lot of costs. They don't have to develop now triplicate stuff or duplicate stuff. That's No. 1. But most of the work, I have to admit, went into aero; a lot of wind tunnel time, and keep in mind, we only have one full-size wind tunnel. So we had to squeeze it in between normal production work, so it's very critical. Probably got more attention than any other racing program we have ever done because of the aero; it's so critical when you are trying to get such a distinct front end, but yet not to have any loss in parity.
So that's really where most of the focus was. The rest of the stuff was pretty black-and-tackle, safety-oriented stuff.
How about from's perspective?
I want to echo everything Ralph mentioned in terms of making sure as we include in the brand identity to the car, not to compromise its ability to be competitive on the track, because not only now will you have a Dodge versus a Challenger going against each other, but also, they are going to have to compete with the two other cars that are basically -- have basically remained unchanged. Competitiveness was very key, emphasis on aero. Also, I'm sure, and within Dodge, because I've seen the Dodge car and it looks just fantastic, clearly, there was -- at Ford we did a lot of work with the brand team to make sure that the car is recognizable as a Mustang as is the Challenger recognizable, Challenger. So the inclusion of the brand team, the integration of the brand cues, to make sure that the car, when you see it go around the turns, that it's recognizable as a Mustang is the added element on top of what Ralph mentioned in terms of the competitiveness of the car.
Q. Can you talk about whether you're starting any sort of show car program with these cars and when do you think you'll be able to implement them in TV advertising?
We already have a show car working with Conway, who is one of the sponsors in the Nationwide Series, and we have -- when we have taken the car out on shows, there have been people who have come out to literally stand next to it and take a picture with it. Something that we have not seen when we have taken the traditional NASCAR Car of Tomorrow. So clearly, there is a lot of interest, a lot of piqued interest in seeing what the car looks like and a lot with the affiliation that it's a Mustang in an historic entry in NASCAR. Yes, we have a show car program, yes people are interested and yes it's working.
We have had the very same experience over here at the Challenger. We have a show car, as well. We debuted it last year, showed it mostly to the media not, so much the public; but very, very positive feedback. And one image that leaked out and went crazy on the Internet, a lot of it -- especially the existing fans for Challenger really celebrated a lot and there was a lot of debate and discussion about, is this really going to happen. They couldn't believe that Nationwide NASCAR would look this way.
I think the conversation out there is fantastic to see what Ford and Dodge are doing out there, it's great.
Q. Jamie has been positive about the reaction for Mustang fans and based on that reaction, Ford is looking at possibly taking the Mustang to Cup as their brand a new years down the road. Is Dodge considering the same possibility, based off the buzz that you were talking about from fans? Is there a lot of positive buzz, and would you ever consider running the Challenger in Cup based off of that?
I think the Challenger, the look of the Challenger is part and parcel with what happens with the Sprint Cup Series. It would be up to NASCAR, because that's another game altogether is to go to the Sunday race. We have to really change the rules there. So part of the experiment here; it's obviously a public experiment. We have four races this year and an entire season next year. I have always said this to my friends at NASCAR; that eventually the fans will kind of tell us what to do. I think the excitement will be very loud and clear, and then we'll have to see what happens.
But in the meantime, I'm enjoying -- I'm lucky that I have two very nice muscle cars in my portfolio. So I enjoy two avenues for which to promote them, so I couldn't be happier.
Q. We heard Kevin Harvick speak this morning and as a Nationwide owner, he thinks that bringing in the pony cars will even out the playing field. I was told that after Saturday's race there were a couple of Ford drivers that went to the truck, I won't say complaining, but perhaps lobbying against the Toyotas. Is it your contention that starting from scratch, everybody is, you know, kind of at square one and going on from there?
To answer your question, I think the question centers more on performance and engine -- I think NASCAR has taken out and noted (ph) to the various engine manufacturers in Nationwide, and that effort is going to prove itself out in terms of appropriate parity around horsepower and performance.
So I don't think the fact that we are bringing in a Mustang bodied entry in a Challenger is re-opening a clean slate of paper. The bodies have changed, but my understanding is the chassis are still carryover and the engine is still carryover. So the competitiveness of the various entries in the current state is being evaluated, independent of what they look like.
It's always tough to talk about this kind of stuff, but I'm curious to see what happens. That's kind of why there's only four races. We need to kind of see how everything plays out, and there will be a lot of discussion, a lot of post-race analysis to find out what's going on.
So we really, really won't know until the end of Saturday night. So we'll have to see what happens.
Q. I saw you on Wind Tunnel and we saw you on the airport yesterday and couldn't catch you, I guess you were coming back from Charlotte. Can you address what was going on at New Hampshire on the Cup side? You almost had -- obviously you saw some advancement with Kasey Kahne and Allmendinger running well on the RPM side, but Roush still seems to be out to lunch. Is there some sort of hope for that organization in the short term?
Well, I'll see you in Daytona (Laughter). We can talk in more detail.
I think for this call, you know, let's talk about Mustang and Challenger and the exciting opportunity that's going to be instituted for Nationwide, and the progression of what's going on in Cup and team opportunities, I mean, on one end, we really have a lot of collaboration that's going on between our two teams in NASCAR, and the fruits of that effort will pay fruits later. But for this car, let's focus maybe more on Mustang and Challenger. But I'll talk to you in person when I see you in Daytona. We'll catch up there.
Q. It used to be Ford versus Chevy versus Toyota from fans who would battle it out over their favorite manufacturer, and you know, it seemed like that died down a little bit. Do you think these cars this weekend in the Nationwide Series and what you are talking about competitively with the different look rises that up again, and maybe you can talk about that, both of you?
I'll take that one on. Yes, and I hope that's what happens.
I've said it already: I think the drivers have taken quite a bit of limelight, and there's nothing wrong with that. They are great personalities, and we are finding the drivers, they are almost superstars amongst themselves, and it would be nice to get the cars get a little limelight again and then start talking about branding. Over the years, the cars have become somewhat of a template, and it's hard to argue with some of the fans shifting the interest towards the drivers.
But I remember being the kid, even recently the movie, the cars movie, re-introduced this idea of having branding, very obvious and branding on the cars. You could recognize them as old cars and whatnot. So there's something really cool about being able to identify the car that you may want to drive or your dad may drive or whatever. I think it's very powerful and it's what the whole industry was invented for in the first place was to market vehicles.
I'll add to that. This is the case where the cars are going to be the stars. We all buy cars. We are all -- one from another, tend to affiliate with our cars. I'm a Mustang kind of guy, and when I drive a Mustang, when I bought my first Mustang there was a deep emotional connection that I have with that car.
And I think many of the fans feel the same way is that when you see a Mustang or Challenger going around Daytona, it's a different type of connection that you have with it, because either your friends or neighbor or somebody you know has a Mustang and you can relate to it versus what has transpired over the years of taking away that brand identity that people could relate to. So, you know, we have gone through an era where obviously it was a manufacturer's battle, and then gone to an era where the drivers were the stars, and now we are entering an era where the cars are the stars, and I think it's good for the sport. We will see how it turns out here in the next few races and into next year.
Q. When do you think the drivers started becoming the stars?
There's one guy with a mustache who really did the whole thing. (Laughter).
Yeah, and obviously once the brand identity was removed from what's on the track, naturally as human beings, we all gravitate to kind of attaching ourselves to something, and the something that we are attaching ourselves to was these heros, these cars, the man with the mustache, going out and meeting everybody, it's a natural progression of identifying with somebody when you can no longer identify with the car.
And I think over the time just like some superstars are identified by some of the cars that were in their movies, there's room for both. I think the drivers and the cars can coexist beautifully as a team.
And I know my guy on Sunday, Kurt, he races Challengers privately a hobby, so he's really a Mopar guy through and through. There's some good back stories behind, this too, and we hope to develop that as time goes on.
I agree, Ralph, that's a good addition, it could be cars and drivers as stars in a good way.
Q. The old adage used to be sell on Monday, win on Sunday, how will you guys measure success with this new car, and how will you track what kind of a bump you get from this, and obviously, the techniques for doing that are much more advanced these days but how will you know what you're doing is working?
Today what we do, we do track from the race on Sunday, hopefully win on Sunday and sell on Monday, and a lot of that activity shifts itself into the activity off the track in terms of being able to display data capture and match that to sales. So we have a pretty prolific methods of tracking our participation in the sport to actual sales of our products. I think this adds another dimension. We have legions of fans who have followed the nine million things that have been born at Ford. We have a lot of clubs, and so does Challenger. There's a lot of clubs out there. We have a total of around 40,000 club members that are a part of a specific club or another, and all of a sudden, they are rising up, affiliating with what we have done here, putting the car in NASCAR. We will measure success in terms of affiliation. We will measure success in terms of hand-raisers. We will measure success in terms of all of the social media chatter that we'll take on and all of the PR
, so there's other levels of metrics that will rise up because of this occurrence, because the actual selling of being affiliated with the sport is already taking place through our other metrics.
I will build on that; we are doing the very same things as Jamie, and on top of that we recently spiffed up our motorsports site and watching the lower funnel activity really closely, and there will be a spike after the race. And we will watch this weekend very carefully. The other thing is merchandising. We have created some new merchandising to go with Challenger, and we will see if sales pick up. There's definitely a love affair starting to build. And then listen to our dealers, talk to our dealers and get some feedback, if they saw any action or commentary about the races. It's a brand new thing in a way so we are going to have to find new ways to measure it.
Jamie, Ralph, thanks again for your time today, some very insightful conversation and we appreciate you taking the time and we are all looking very, very forward to Friday's night race and the first official appearance for the NASCAR Nationwide Series new cars on the track. So congratulations on your pieces and best of luck to both of you out there on Friday night and again on Saturday with the Cup race.