“Because of our infrastructure, we could do a better job of supporting our teams if we do what we know we do best: build engines,” says Wall. “The other idea I brought to TRD was that we would build trucks.”
Since all the trucks are built at the same North Carolina shop and are identical, repairs are handled quickly. Also, the wiring and construction are similar, so test equipment can be installed easily and the results are more uniform across the teams, which share information with each other.
“We will be bringing an approach that we have refined over the last few years with our successful open-wheel programs,” explained Jim Aust, vice president for motorsports at Toyota, last year when teams were announced. “The basic philosophy is to provide technical and engineering support equally among all teams—both in the shop and at the track. Each Tundra truck and engine will have the benefit of the latest NASCAR-approved updates and improvements.”
Although the individual teams are responsible for their own truck’s setup, such as spring rates, gearing and other adjustments, TRD has taken out much of the grass roots character from the series with its highly structured approach. In the first few years of the series, many homegrown teams could compete with their own engine and chassis. But the cost of competition, especially engineering and development, has taken the wrench away from those independent owners. On the positive side, Toyota’s entry into Craftsman truck racing forced the other manufacturers to refocus their energies into the series.
“We knew we would cause the other manufacturers to look at their commitment to the trucks,” says Wall. “I don’t know what the series would have looked like next year or the following year had we not decided to come here.”
Obviously, Chevy, Ford and Dodge were not about to let Toyota dominate the truck series in its first year. Even though Toyota isn’t racing in the premier division, Nextel Cup, the Big 3 aren’t racing the big show to sell a Monte Carlo, Stratus or Focus. Those are rental cars. They race NASCAR to sell the high-volume, high-profit trucks and SUVs to NASCAR dads.
“Part of our job is to build this brand image for TRD,” explains Wall. “On a bigger picture, we look at NASCAR with 75 million fans. Those fans cut right through where Toyota sells vehicles. With a growing American manufacturing base, we’re looking for new customers.”
Toyota’s entry into Craftsman truck racing coincides with a commitment to build bigger and more powerful trucks for the consumer. The new Tacoma is the hottest selling compact truck on the market (based on Nov. sales) and will soon overtake Ford Ranger as the Number 1 truck in its segment (based on YTD sales). Toyota’s vision for the 2006 Tundra has already been seen in concept form, and it’s clear that the company no longer wants its fullsize trucks viewed as a nine-tenths scale pickup. Toyota currently is selling every Tundra made in its Indiana plant, but the new San Antonio plant will double the automaker’s truck capacity when the next-generation Tundra is introduced. One way to clear out that upcoming inventory is to go after the truck faithful that follow NASCAR.