CHARLOTTE, N.C.—Perhaps some day a new "sport" known as "The Pit Crew Challenge" will be telecast over your favorite cable network. It isn't on TV yet. However, the event is part of Akron-based Goodyear's "Rolling Thunder" campaign—a national marketing program linking the tire maker's three-decade participation in NASCAR racing with tire dealers and customers in 20 markets where the events will be held this season.
"We wanted to create excitement," said Marco Molinari, Goodyear vice president for sales and marketing, North American Tire. Last racing season, Goodyear and NASCAR officials talked about doing something extra to heighten interest and sales.
Rolling Thunder was the result, he said, calling it "a comprehensive motorsports marketing program to capitalize on the explosive success of NASCAR."
Its key features include:
Four weeks of radio advertising and promotion in each market before each event;
Giveaways like NASCAR posters at Goodyear dealerships;
A "Fan Appreciation Day" at each of the 20 NASCAR events; and,
Local sweepstakes offering the chance to win a national grand prize—a trip for four persons to NASCAR's Daytona 500 race in Daytona Beach, Fla., in February 2000.
Participating dealerships also receive banners, point-of-sale materials and signage that is keyed to their market's NASCAR event.
Goodyear also is establishing partnerships in each local market with other NASCAR sponsors, such as Coca-Cola Co. and Ford Motor Co.
The Detroit advertising office of J. Walter Thompson USA Inc. is coordinating the advance work and media buying for each market, and the Pit Crew Challenge is a unique part of this promotion.
A special race-car hauler transports two actual NASCAR Winston Cup Ford Taurus race cars and other equipment needed for the contest to each city.
There, Goodyear constructs a temporary stadium surrounding the contest "pit" area. Two NASCAR team crew chiefs are scheduled to host each event, which typically include appearances by racing celebrities.
Teams of tire techs from participating dealerships compete to determine which can perform a two-tire-change pit stop the fastest. Participating outlets have the opportunity to raffle off prizes and services to spectators at the events.
Goodyear NASCAR posters and sweepstakes entry forms are displayed at each event. But customers need to go to a participating dealership to enter the contest and receive a poster.
One of the early stops for the Rolling Thunder program was Charlotte, for events leading up to NASCAR's Coca-Cola 600 Winston Cup race, held at Lowe's Motor Speedway in nearby Concord, N.C., on Memorial Day weekend.
"Motorsports marketing is a natural here," said Rich Mendler, president of Merit-Tech Inc., an independent Goodyear dealership in Charlotte.
He said between 50 and 75 customers entered the sweepstakes at each of his six North Carolina stores, while his May unit sales were up 40 percent over those of 1998. It was the 2-year-old Merit-Tech group's best monthly sales total to date.
Merit-Tech also has five stores in Michigan, which were not involved in this promotion, and another store under construction in Apex, N.C.
In the past, the dealership has given away race tickets on its own, said Dave Lockhart, a Merit-Tech vice president.
"I've never heard of anyone who didn't enjoy a race weekend," Mr. Lockhart said.
Keith Keal, also a Merit-Tech vice president, said Goodyear's association with NASCAR gives his company a twice-yearly opportunity to boost sales.
"We try to plan a lot around the May and October race events," he said.
NASCAR creates enthusiasm, Mr. Mendler said. "People feel good about doing business with you."
He added that Merit-Tech sponsored three teams in the Pit Crew Challenge and one of them finished third out of 25 teams in the North Carolina event.
Mr. Mendler said the Pit Crew Challenge also was a "huge morale booster" for his employees. "It helped bring my people together."