When it comes to racing, you're talking about a military budget, muses race car driver Willy T. Ribbs.
And while that analogy may seem farfetched, executives at Dodge can relate.
Racing represents the single largest category of Dodge's approximately $1 billion marketing budget this year as Dodge re-enters NASCAR car racing for the first time in 25 years. The first race was Feb. 18 at Daytona.
Dodge has been represented on the truck side of NASCAR racing but let archrivals Ford and General Motors dominate the wildly popular Winston Cup car portion of NASCAR.
Dodge roared into this racing season as the major sponsor of five Winston Cup teams and three in the Craftsman Truck Series at an estimated cost of $250 million to $300 million.
Dodge's racing program also takes in a first-time minority initiative, which includes the sponsorship of black driver Ribbs as part of the truck team.
Return on investment
The cost may be high, but according to Lou Patane, DaimlerChrysler's vice president of motorsports operations and Mopar performance parts, racing may yield the greatest return on investment among all marketing initiatives.
'For every $1 spent, we get $10 back because we're spending on the actual event, not the commercials,' Patane says. 'We need to find new and innovative ways to reach the consumer.'
The cost to sponsor a NASCAR car team is $12 million to $15 million; truck sponsorships run from $2 million to $5 million. Other costs include engine development, crew personnel and advertisements to promote the sport.
Dodge has been paring back on network TV buys and abruptly terminated a multimillion-dollar marketing agreement with Universal Studios in 1999 to help fund the racing program.
'Clearly, our strategy is to get away from mass communications and into more event-type marketing, because you can build a stronger bond' with the consumer, says Dodge General Manager Jim Julow.
In addition to its sponsorship of Ribbs, beginning this summer, Dodge will fund a minority scholarship program at the five NASCAR-licensed technical schools to train people of color as crew members for ultimate placement with a Dodge Motorsports race team. Dodge also is considering a program to help minorities become team owners.
Patane says winning races is fine, but capturing the hearts of car buyers is sweeter.
'I don't know that it hurt us (not being in racing for so long), but to be all we can be, we have to be in American racing,' Patane says, adding, 'I'm not here to necessarily win the racing championship, but the marketing championship.'