Chevy's Mark Reuss and Jeff Gordon, driver/dealer, and their new 2013 SS. How will it race? How will it sell? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
By Mike Mulhern
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla.
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday?
Maybe that was really an old bootlegger's motto....though the legend is that catchy sales slogan came from a Ford racer/dealer back in the 1960s who created it during the Cobra era.
And the 1960s were certainly a go-go time for Detroit car makers and high-performance cars, with GTOs, Cobras, Chevy 427s, Ford 429s, Dodge Six-packs, and for racing. Leonard Wood's 1963 Ford Galaxy, sitting right here today, over near the start-finish line, is just one more example, the Marvin Panch/Tiny Lund edition.
Back then the cars themselves were as much the stars as the drivers and teams.
In the last few years NASCAR has lost some of that.
To put it mildly.
The 'common template' car-of-tomorrow didn't sit well with drivers or fans, for some six years.
And it didn't sit well up in Detroit either.
Detroit executives made that clear to NASCAR executives. NASCAR's Mike Helton says that word was quite emphatic, and led the sport's sanctioning body to step up the transition to this new car, the much-hyped and soon-to-be debuted 2013s.
NASCAR president Mike Helton: Detroit execs made clear NASCAR had to put more Detroit into NASCAR -- "backed us into a corner and told us 'Here's what you need to be doing.'" (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
The risk was possibly to lose Detroit altogether, or some of this sport's key components. And Detroit has bailed on NASCAR before. Chevrolet dropped out in 1957. Ford and Chrysler dropped out in 1971. Dodge dropped out in 1977, returned, but dropped out again last year.
Now some in the sport might question the plusses and minuses of Detroit's engineering, as sometimes unbalancing the playing field between big teams and smaller teams.
But no one can question the marketing and advertising impact the giant car makers can bring to this sport.
Hence these 2013s.
As NASCAR's Robin Pemberton, in explaining the background for this 2013 project, which debuts in Saturday night's Unlimited/Shootout here: "There was a time (not so long ago) that we had to make sure we could survive without manufacturers."
To which NASCAR's John Darby adds "There was a time when the manufacturers were not all hot and lathered up about these race cars.
"The Gen-6 car is part of the evolution from that, and it's given us the opportunity to get the manufacturers back in the process, and to let them get all warm and fuzzy about racing.
"And they did. They're engaged like I've never seen before.
Remember those Chevy Zebras in 2013 testing. Not quite sure what that gimmick was all about (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
And that's some of the background for Chevrolet's grand unveiling of its 2013 NASCAR SS Saturday afternoon.
Long awaited (Ford, Dodge and Toyota all unveiled their own cars a year ago), the street car SS -- fresh off the boat from Australia -- roared into this track after a very curiously stealthy journey.
All the big guns were on hand, from GM president Mark Reuss (son of well-known GM engineer/president Lloyd Reuss) to racing boss Jim Campbell and an army of PR people, for this unveiling, which was broadcast around the world.
A little over the top?
Well, why not. It's NASCAR and this is Daytona...
"We built the Chevy SS specifically to race it in NASCAR," Chevy's Campbell says. "So we felt it was appropriate to unveil it at Daytona, and the France family agreed.
"We really wanted this car to have a very authentic configuration -- rear-wheel-drive, V-8, fuel-injected."
Jim Campbell, Chevrolet racing boss, armed with a photographic memory and great stage presence, plays to the Daytona crowd watching the long-awaited unveiling of the new Chevy SS (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday?
Well, if Kasey Kahne or Dale Earnhardt Jr. or one of those Chevy guys wins the Daytona 500, you might have to wait a bit longer to get your order in.
At the moment there are none for sale, and GM execs here said the car wouldn't be for sale to the public until "late fourth quarter."
The engine will be 6.2L (376 ci) aluminum V-8, the current Corvette C-6 engine. The tires, 275/35R19s.
But no word on price. No word on any manual-shift option.
However a best-guess comparison is with the Chrysler 300 SRT8 or Dodge Charger SRT8, with a 6.4L V-8 (470 hp), at $45,000 to $47,000.
NASCAR used to have a rule that a car maker had to have at least 500 street-production models available for sale before a car could run on the track. That rule went by the wayside long ago.
Kyle Busch, heading out to Unlimited/Shootout practice, in Joe Gibbs' Toyota (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Win on Sunday, sell on Monday?
Well, just how does the U.S. auto sales world look like right now? And how does NASCAR racing fit in? (Wonder if Dodge will do any TV advertising during Daytona SpeedWeeks?)
Some straight facts:
-- Street car sales are strong and getting stronger. The 2012 sales figures were the best since 2007, and this year U.S. sales could hit 15.5 million, maybe even close to 16 million.
-- Trucks are still king in sales, Ford far ahead of the competition, Chevy is second. Toyota is, well, not really going anywhere.
-- Toyota's Camry is still the best-selling U.S. passenger car.
-- The Chevy Camaro is the best-selling muscle car, by just a nose ahead of Ford's Mustang (84,000 to 83,000).
-- World-wide, Toyota edged GM and Volkswagen in total sales (9.75 million, 9.29 million, and 9.07 million).
Hall of Famer Leonard Wood, and the 1963 Ford Galaxie that Tiny Lund drove to victory in the Daytona 500 (actually a replica Wood himself just built of the original racer) (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Reuss (who made the call to unveil this car here at a track rather than in more traditional fashion at a auto trade show) made his case for this NASCAR SS quite clear:
-- That this SS, as a rear-wheel-drive, rather than more traditional front-wheel-drive, is in the same form as the race car. "Only Chevrolet races what it sells," he boasted.
-- "Chevrolet needs the new SS," he added. "It's that simple. Chevrolet has not had a rear-wheel-drive performance sedan since 1996. That's 17 years." Reuss pointed to NASCAR racing as built on a tradition of rear-wheel-drive performance sedans.
Chevrolet's last rear-wheel-drives in this bracket -- the Caprice and Impala. Neither very sexy.
NASCAR's common template car-of-tomorrow didn't sit well with fans, drivers, crews...or Detroit (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Now the 2013 NASCAR Ford, a Fusion, is quite different from the 2012 Fusion.
And the 2013 NASCAR Toyota, again a Camry, isn't much different from the 2012 actually.
And the 2013 NASCAR Dodge is, well, officially defunct and parked in some anonymous shed near Charlotte.
But the 2013 Chevy SS is being billed as a major step forward in marketing -- to a new niche passenger car audience, 'luxury performance.'
GM is billing the SS as part of the Camaro/Corvette performance family. (The Impala, to be honest, was not really seen as boasting a performance powerhouse aura, rather more as something Mom or Grandma might drive.)
So the SS is being billed as more a four-door/four-passenger 'Corvette,' at a price point lower. Corvettes can cost up to $112,000 (for a ZR1).
It will apparently be a very limited edition.
The passenger cars will be produced in Australia, where Reuss once worked, and where the rear-wheel-drive tooling is already in place (at Australia Holden shops). Apparently it's cheaper to build these cars there and ship them, rather than tool up an American plant.
That, naturally, raises some eyebrows here....where Toyota may be seen in askance by some as a 'foreign' car maker though its Camrys are built in Kentucky and its trucks in Texas.
NASCAR officials Robin Pemberton (R) and John Darby. The men charged with making this 2013 project work. (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
That new Chevy SS, the street car version, was unveiled here Saturday, amid a heck of a lot of hoopla, and with more than a handful of Aussies on hand for the look-see-feel.
The new SS has been and still is surrounded by more than a little bit of secrecy, for some unclear reason.
Is there really a big market for a 'four-door Corvette'?
It's all a rather unusual approach perhaps.
But it sure beats some of the other models that Detroit has foisted off on stock car fans. The Lumina comes to mind. And the Taurus.
And the really unusual twist is that this Chevy SS will be built in Australia.
No, Chevy's Jim Campbell says, NASCAR will not be scheduling a Sprint Cup race in Surfers Paradise any time soon.
"We do our engineering as one team around the world," Campbell says. "In Australia the Commodore is one of the most successful models, and those engineers are very good at this architecture. And this is the same architecture as the Camaro, the same family of components."
Shipping, he says, is something all big car makers can do.
Remember last season's C-post inspection controversy at Daytona? Nothing like that so far this time around (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
Why emphasize rear-wheel-drive? Most cars on the highway are front-wheel-drive.
"We sell a number of rear-wheel-drive vehicles," Campbell says.
"Chevrolet is the number one performance brand in the industry, between the Corvette and Camaro. And we want to expand that portfolio.
"Camaro has outsold the Mustang the last three years. Corvette outsells all the high-sport competitors by a large margin.
"So we do see a market for customers who want the dynamics of a rear-wheel-drive vehicle -- which gives you certain design characteristics, with the way the engine and transmission are aligned. Longer hood to where the driver sits..."
Magic inside? Bet some teams will complain about not enough engine cooling for the Daytona 500. Will it be Ford teams, Chevy teams, or Toyota teams? (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)
(Bet NASCAR has trademarked that.)
NASCAR is pushing its 2013s as Gen-6s, a moniker of perhaps liberal creativity, given this sport's 60-plus years of engineering and design work and certainly more than five previous 'generations' of race cars. Memos are flying from NASCAR HQ to teams to promote the 'Gen-6' phrase.
This 2013 NASCAR project may seem a bit rushed. It's engineering took a sharp twist only last October, when testing proved quite problematic -- drivers said they simply couldn't drive the thing, because it handled so poorly.
And to be honest there really hasn't been that much solid on-track testing of the 2013s.
Why the rush? Good question, considering Chevy's Reuss says this project really began in his offices sometime in 2009.
Well, in part the wake-up call this sport got when Dodge/Chrysler/Fiat decided to pull out.
And Volkswagen, which has vowed to become the world's biggest auto maker, has rejected any NASCAR option.
And even Toyota's situation might be considered a bit tenuous -- it's not in NASCAR to sell Camrys, but rather to sell Trucks. (The Camry is still the best selling car in the U.S., with 400,000 sold in 2012; right behind the Camry are the Honda Accord, Honda Civic, Nissan Altima, and Toyota Corolla.)
And Toyota's NASCAR-sized Tundra remains a laggard, some 100,000 in sales last year, to Ford's 650,000 for the F-series. In fact, Tundra sales figures have been rather stagnant for several years; in 2005 the company sold 126,000, in 2007 it sold 196,000, in 2009 it sold 80,000.
When Toyota jumped into NASCAR in 2004, it sold 112,000 Tundras.
Yes, the economy has gone up and down and up over the past 10 years or so.
Still, it's not really that clear that NASCAR victories drive Monday car sales.
Of course any strict interpretation of 'win on Sunday, sell on Monday' misses the point that racing excellence is somehow supposed to be indicative of great work too on a company's street cars.
Brad Keselowski's crew, having a good time....so far (Photo: Getty Images for NASCAR)