Over the years, the saying of “win on Sunday and sell on Monday” seems to have devolved into “spend a lot of money to race on Sunday, to have the potential of a few more sales on Monday.”

For automakers in tight financial times, spending the kind of money necessary to sponsor and back professional racing efforts, especially at the factory level, isn’t always easy to justify.

As The Detroit News points out, however, there’s still marketing value to be had in motorsports. By GM’s own estimation, over 30-percent of Chevrolet’s sales leads can be tied back to its association with motor racing. The challenge, then, is how to get the maximum return on that motorsport investment.

GM’s North American president, Mark Reuss, believes the automaker has found a workable solution. Vehicle engineers from GM are being embedded into racing teams to learn firsthand about working under pressure and about building systems that can face the rigors of competition.

More than ever before, there are parallels between racing and building efficient street cars. Friction reduction, fuel economy, weight savings, aerodynamics and even suspension performance are critical to success in both domains.

In Reuss’ own words, “We are going to cycle our young engineers through the system, and we are going to learn, and we are going to build better cars, and sell more cars.”

Reuss also wants to instill the type of confidence in GM’s engineers that can only come by beating other manufacturers (and their respective engineers) on a race track.

As innovative as the idea sounds, GM isn’t the first manufacturer to embrace this concept. Honda, or more specifically its founder, Soichiro Honda, believed that racing was the best way to develop both people and products.

The idea has proven successful, and as Honda Performance Development’s vice president, Steve Eriksen, points out, “...preparing for a race is... so demanding that it has fine-tuned Honda’s innovators and leaders. The people who are in Honda racing often end up being managers on passenger car development.”

With GM now actively engaged in racing programs with NASCAR, IndyCar, American Le Mans Series, Grand-Am and Pirelli World Challenge to name but a few, newly-hired GM engineers should have ample opportunities for hands-on learning in the crucible of competition.