Crunch Chevy! Fry Ford! Punish Plymouth! Win! Win! Four thousand dollars in prizes.
Crowds of full-grown Pontiac salesmen thrash for flying footballs worth $50 a piece if you catch one - "and that's real American money, guys " - while the University of Maryland marching band pumps out "The Thunderer," "Under the Double Eagle," John Philip Sousa's greatest hits smashing off the gilded walls of the Mayflower Hotel ballroom and nine pompon' girls in the big P sweaters chant out "P-O-N-T-I-A-C hey oh hey oh Pontiac let's Go!"
"ARE WE READY?" shouts Washington zone sales manager Terry Thomson. The roar lifts from the floor. "YOU GOTTA BE READIER THAN THAT" And they roar again, this horde of 550 men (and a very few women) with the you-betcha smiles and the Johnston and Murphy shoes, all of them WELCOME! shouts Thomson, to THE SUPER COLOSSAL 1979 PONTIAC! PEP! RALLYYYYYY!
A couple of outsiders trade what-are-the-drum-saying? glances and a pompon girl says: "Well, it's different, I'll say that," and the great nitrofueled, tire-squealing engine of American salesmanship roars to life, the theme this year being football. (Last year, it was the circus.) These affairs are to American capitalism what revival meetings are to American religion, and you can feel the spirit.
The movie screen behind Thomson cuts away from the Crunch-Chevy mayhem slogans to show George Spalding - sales managers di tuti sales managers - running onto the football field in Pontiac Stadium, Pontiac. Mich., while the soundtrack breathes a hot, wet crowd roar into every ear.
Spalding, is darned proud to be part of the winning team. He figures his boys will sell 912,000 cars by the end of the year, moving Pontiac up to No. 3, behind the unassailable Ford and Chevy.
Well, 912,000 is an awwwwwwwful big number. But think of it this way, (Camera pans across seats in stadium.) That's about 11 cars for each of the 80,000 people who fit in here (cut to crowd shot).
Spalding in sport coat and brown-and-pink tie, strolls relentlessly toward a retreating camera, gesturing like someone trying to describe an eggplant with his hands as he talks about the biggest ad campaign in company history, geared to hit 95 percent of all adults 125 times in the next 90 days - the impact will be overwhelming."
Cut to the cars themselves, rolling out onto the field like Heisman Trophy winners before the big bowl game. Firebird! Grand Prix Le Mans! Sunbird! Le Mans Brougham!
A referee's whistle scorches the ballroom air. It's time to draw ticket stubs for $150, that's real American money, guys, and it goes to James Edward Fleming of Wilson Pontiac, in Silver Spring. TOUCHDOWN flashes on the screen, the pompon girls yell "Touchdown! Touchdown!" Some more footballs get thrown out into the crowd, giving many faces that cattle-in-a-barn-fire look.
"Fleming he won that money!" they're all shorting at the Wilson Pontiac table. Filet mignon is the lunch, plus three bottles of sparkling burgundy per table.
"We already drank six!" says Russ Sharp, a car leaser who used to work with these guys at Wilson.
"Four-and-half years I sold Dodge," says drawing winner Fleming." You know what I got? I got zip. I got hot dogs at the armory when Chrysler showed its new cars."
"Come on out, honey," Sharp is yelling now. "We got a girl under the table, there, a midget!"
Meanwhile, Jerry Chareczko settles into a soft-sell. "In the old days, a car salesman . . . well, you know, the old line about cheats and frauds. You can't do that no more."
"The old days," Sharp says, "most car salesmen used to get their paychecks and go to the tracks."
"It's personal thing now, selling cars," Chareczko says. "The way you treat the customer is everything. The cars are all so similar, and the prices are all the same no matter where you go."
Over at the Rosenthal-Hayman Pontiac table, it's quieter, maybe because Mike Hayman is sitting with his salesmen.
"These shows are good to get the men excited," he says, using the word "men" with the inflection reserved for field-grade officers and above.
"I can remember when I was a kid, growing up, the dealers would hide the new cars under paper till the big day."
Why not anymore?
"For one thing, they're running body styles in four-to-seven year cycles, to save money on retooling. The big cars got done over in "77, the intermediates in '78 and the lesser lines in '79."
And back at the Wilson Pontiac table, they're heading for the bar, yelling: "Fleming's buying." There's time for one round before it cranks up again in the ballroom.
The crowd has already seen a film of Coach Lou Holtz of the Arkansas Pontiac "want people that cannot live with failure."
The best part, though, is at the beginning, when the film shows the Razorbacks smashing around at high speed then shifts to slow motion to show Lou Holtz gliding along the sidelines with nearly mystical grace, the grace say, of a good car salesman gliding along under those plastic pennants and colored light bulbs out on the lot.
Now, the post-lunch treat is a taped telecast from Las Vegas of a private show for Pontiac salesmen who won a sales contest in August. Former Dallas Cowboys quarterback Don Meredith emcees, warming up the crowd with lines about the new celebrity Pontiacs, like the John Wayne model: "It has a tendency to go to the right." And the Dolly Parton: "Big bumpers and a lotta trunk space."
Jack Nicklaus hits golf balls into the audience. Robert Morse sings "I Beleive in You" to a pale green Grand Prix. Bert Reynolds, in a film clip, introduces yet another film clip from "Hooper" in which he plays a drunk who speeds away from a sheriff in his Firebird Trans-Am. Foster Brooks, who does the drunk bit on the Dean Martin "Roast," does it again. No one seems startled when they keep interrupting the show with commercials for Pontiacs.
Carey Thomson winds it up with a plea to "commit yourself." If you sell three a week, commit yourself to sell four."
They give away $500, the pompon girls yell Touchdown! Touchdown! Then the band kicks into "The Thunderer" and they all head back to the lots, believers all, wearing carnations from the certerpices on the luncheon tables.