When dealer Mike Sullivan decided to turn his 2016 adventures racing a Porsche Cayman GT4 into a Web video series, he thought maybe a few hundred friends and loyal customers would watch the episodes. To his surprise, just more than a year after the first installment was posted online, the view count is up to 180,000-plus.
"It was shocking -- it hit a chord, and everything built and became more inspired," said Sullivan, 63, owner of the LAcarGuy group of dealerships in Southern California. "Not only was it way incredibly fun, but it really connected us with the brand again. The old "race what you sell,' that's just so true with this brand."
The racing effort coincided with construction of a building to replace Sullivan's Porsche store. He opened his $28 million Porsche South Bay dealership in Hawthorne, Calif., in November. It tripled the size of his previous store, Pacific Porsche in Torrance, Calif. The new store plays up Porsche's racing heritage and has several of Sullivan's vintage race cars.
For Sullivan, the new dealership just down the San Diego Freeway from the brand's new Porsche Experience Center meant the potential to dramatically improve sales.
"It kind of lit a fire for me and Porsche," he said. "I had a big store, but I never could really be a national player, and I saw that coming."
In 2014, Sullivan, who had raced occasionally since he started as a 16-year-old on dirt bikes, began racing vintage Porsches. He teamed with Carl Tofflemire, then general sales manager at the Porsche dealership. Tofflemire, 54, had been racing since the 1980s. They ran in several races along the West Coast at tracks such as Laguna Seca and Sonoma.
When Porsche introduced the Porsche Cayman GT4 Clubsport racer in 2015, Sullivan bought two for about $200,000 apiece. He and Tofflemire competed in the 2016 Pirelli GT3 Cup Trophy USA series, each finishing third in his class. The cost to race was about $20,000 per car per race weekend, Sullivan said.
The decision to make the Web series came after the commitment to the racing series.
LAcarGuy has an in-house video department and has long made lots of videos to promote its dealerships on YouTube and Facebook, said Brad Burlingham, vice president of marketing. "It's the best way to get our personality out there," he said.
So turning Sullivan and Tofflemire's racing adventures into a video story made perfect sense. Thus the Behind The Wheel: GT4 Weekend Warriors series was born. Five episodes, plus some bonus shorts, are hosted on the Porsche South Bay website (porschesouthbay.com/ racing) and on a separate YouTube page. A sixth episode, summarizing the final race of the 2016 season, was expected to post in mid-May.
The videos mix race footage with behind-the-scenes practice activity and interviews with Sullivan, Tofflemire and others.
The production budget was about $50,000, Burlingham said, with another $15,000 spent on Facebook, Instagram and YouTube marketing.
Fellow drivers in the series were also customers. The store sold close to 10 vehicles last year to racers, Tofflemire said. About a third have been customers at one time or another.
Sullivan wants to expand that penetration. "If they're not, they become customers," he said. "Clearly Carl and I have an opportunity to expand and become their Porsche guys, for both race cars and their fun cars."