Jim Campbell spends more of GM's money on racing in a single year than you will probably make in a lifetime. Chevrolet competes is the biggest of the big leagues in racing, stretching from NASCAR to NHRA to Rolex Grand Am to American Le Mans Series, Indycar, and the World Touring Car Championship, right down to the local quarter-mile bullrings in your neighborhood and the club gymkhana on the high school parking lot. We thought it might be a good idea to check in with Campbell at midseason in 2012 to see where Chevrolet is, and where it might be going in the future. We sent our man in Detroit, Jim McCraw, to sit down with Campbell and get some answers. His report:
"Jim Campbell is vice-president of performance vehicles and motorsports for General Motors. In his briefcase, he has hard-card, go-anywhere credentials for every major racing series in America and Europe, and he goes to the races almost every weekend between February and November. He has a firesuit that he has to wear in the pits at ALMS races. He sits in an office 30 stories up in Detroit's Renaissance Center looking down on the Detroit River and across to Canada. His office is festooned with trophies, car models and racing memorabilia from all of the series Chevrolet runs in. The decor includes a plaqued replica of the first Indianapolis 500 entry list, from 1911, showing Arthur Chevrolet entered in car number 16. He's been with GM since he was a college student in 1987 (BA from Michigan, MBA from Notre Dame), and Chevrolet since 1998, in various sales, marketing, fleet and commercial vehicle positions. His job is to integrate engineering, marketing and sales in such a way as to sell more Chevrolets, and get people out of other brands and into Chevrolets, based on the brand's racing success. Even though he's only had the racing job for a little over two years, he seems absolutely consumed by it, a real fan of racing and a student of what it takes to be successful. We started by asking him about the amazing profusion of new Camaro models."
SC: The Camaro is seemingly everywhere now. You've got the Stevenson Racing Team in Grand Am, you've got the 1LE package ready for SCCA homologation, you've got the old Pontiac bodies switched over to Camaros in NHRA Pro Stock drag racing, the COPO Camaro packages running in NHRA Stock Eliminator, and teams racing in NHRA Super Stock Eliminator. How did you manage to get so many concurrent Camaro programs going all at the same time with the budget and the manpower you have?
JC: What's happening with Camaro is exciting from many perspectives. Camaro continues to lead in the sports segment over our crosstown rivals. In the performance space, the heart and soul of that car are about performance, along with style and affordability, but performance is the key ingredient. Our focus is really delivering performance programs that keep the enthusiasm high in Camaro owners in all the programs you mentioned. We do that with meaningful, credible performance programs that continue to reinforce the performance credentials of the Camaro. The good news is, the Camaro still has momentum, and we can attribute that to a combination of the range of product offerings combined with all the performance programs we surround the car with. I'm very pleased with what's happening with Camaro.
SC: Can you tell us something more about the decisions you've made regarding where and how the Camaro races?
JC: You can't do everything at once, so we made some choices about what we were going to do with the Camaro, like our effort in the Rolex Grand Am series in both the GS and GT classes. We had a number of privateers who took the Camaro and began racing it with some support from us, while we were reorganizing the company (under bankruptcy), teams that were capable of taking the car's performance up a level. It's highly competitive in the Continental Tire Series GS class and then the Rolex Grand Am Series for GT cars. Our performance there continues to improve, and we had a win in GT at Watkins Glen with Stevenson Racing and we also won the Daytona Prototype class at Watkins Glen with the Corvette Daytona Prototype.
SC: In addition to the RS, the SS and the ZL1 Camaros, you've created the Camaro COPO package. How did that come about?
JC: The COPO Camaro is a project that we had wanted to do for a number of years. The timing was not right. The plan was right, but the timing wasn't right, so we developed a proof-of-concept for NHRA Stock Eliminator, and introduced it at the SEMA Show in November, 2011. We then measured the interest and the demand for individuals to buy this package and compete with it, and the demand was fantastic, so we made the decision to put it into production. We are going to build 69 of them for the grassroots racers to race in Super Stock, AA/Stock or A/Stock. We're very excited about that program. It can also be used on street courses or road courses in addition to drag racing. The entire car is a single part number in our catalog, with three engine choices, the naturally aspirated 427 for A/Stock, a 327 with a 2.9-liter Whipple supercharger, and a 327 with a 4.0-liter Whipple supercharger. The customer picks an engine, a color, a graphics package, with the additional possibility of building his own engine in our Wixom facility. The Collector's Package comes with all three engines, serial number matched to the car!
SC: As if that's not enough, you've introduced the 1LE package for the street Camaro as well. Can you tell us more about that?
JC: The 1LE package give you so many of the attributes of the ZL1 on a more standard Camaro, so it allows us to address the needs of the Camaro buyer who wants to take the performance level up. It slots between the SS and the ZL1, essentially, at a price under $40,000. The 1LE suspension package is designed so that the car can compete successfully in the SCCA T2 class, and SCCA has approved the parts kit for competition, so that owners of older cars can bolt on the 1LE parts and go racing. From professional racing down to the grassroots racer, we continue to reinforce the performance credentials of the Camaro.