The tired NASCAR axiom of 'Win on Sunday, sell on Monday' has been outdated for the past decade, if not longer, but the executives who run Rick Hendrick's NASCAR team and auto dealerships brought it back to life last month at Daytona.
Hendrickcars.com, the website that aggregates all of the used cars at Hendrick's 80 dealerships, was the sponsor on Tony Stewart's winning car at the season-opening Nationwide Series race. Not only did Stewart's car lead much of the race and capture the chequered flag, Stewart also mentioned the site in his post-race interview on Fox.

The visibility from Stewart's win, combined with the quick turn-around for website traffic, returned blockbuster results for Hendrick Automotive Group's flagship website.

On the day of the race, Saturday, February 14, the site's total unique visitors numbered 53,000, an increase of 6,424 percent over the previous Saturday. Total visits were up more than 5,000 per cent, and the 1.2 million page views were up more than 2,000 per cent.

From the period of February 11 through February 28, the site received 151,655 unique visits, compared with an average of 40,000 visits for a typical month. Sales directly related to the sponsorship won't be available for another month.

"It wowed us, it really did," said Chris Little, a director in Hendrick Automotive Group. "We were expecting about a 1,000 per cent increase in our traffic and the numbers that came back just blew our mind. The combination of winning the race and all of the marketing we had behind this, it was the perfect storm."
Hendrickcars.com was created last year as a way to bring the full inventory of used cars on his 80 lots to one site. About $90 million in used-car inventory can be found on the site, which has quickly become one of the Hendrick Automotive Group's most critical sales tools.

Car shoppers are making fewer and fewer physical visits to dealerships these days, about 1.5 per buying decision. That's down from 4.8 visits five years ago.

"Usually, we get one good shot at them and it's paramount that you have a strong online presence," Little said.

With that in mind, Hendrick had the idea to field a Nationwide Series car for the Daytona race and put Stewart in the driver's seat, optimising the team's chance to win. Even though the money stayed within the Hendrick empire, Hendrick Automotive did write a check to Hendrick Motorsports for the transaction.

A one-race deal with a top Nationwide Series team might typically go for $100,000 or so.

"Mr. Hendrick said to treat the sponsorship like any other corporate relationship," said Pat Perkins, vice president of marketing at Hendrick Motorsports. "So we put together as integrated a programme as you can have for a one-race deal. We had a promotion, we supported with (local market) advertising on Time Warner Cable, we had all of the supporting elements in place.

"And the driver was on message."

The promotion offered fans a chance to win the firesuit Stewart wore in the race. About 23,000 entered the sweepstakes and 9,000 registered an interest in buying a vehicle. A majority of those even identified a make and model of interest.

EBizAutos, the company that manages the site, had extra staff on hand during the race and the following evening so any glitches could be addressed quickly. Hendrick's group also bought several key words on search engines so that if viewers misspelled "Hendrick" or "Stewart" or another pertinent word, they could still get to the site.

Every state was represented by visitors to the site.

"This site has been three years in the making and it launched without any real promotion at all," said Gary Davis, chief operating officer of Hendrick Automotive Group. "The sponsorship gave us truly national exposure. Now we have a way of reaching consumers that we could have never reached before."
by Michael Smith
Michael Smith is a reporter with SportsBusiness Journal

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