was building its NASCAR program, Wall resisted hiring teams already running
trucks.” We didn’t want to mess up the ecosystem of the truck
series,” explains Wall, who was named the Toyota truck series program
manager after brokering the invitation from NASCAR. By the summer of 2003,
teams and drivers were announced in anticipation of Toyota’s debut
at 2004 Daytona Speed Week. One of the owners was former Winston Cup champion
Darrell Waltrip, who has been seen in many Toyota truck television advertisements
and returned to the driver’s seat for a couple of truck races in
2004 (he finished 24th and 28th). He landed rookie sensation David Reutimann
as a driver. But brightest hopes for Toyota success came in Travis Kvapil,
the truck series champion in 2003, and Mike Skinner, a champion in 1995.
Kvapil took second in the season-opening race at Daytona and Reutimann
was ninth. Toyota had four trucks in the top 13 at the next race and finished
2-3-4 at Atlanta in the third race where Reutimann captured the pole.
Three Toyota drivers were in the top 10 of the driver’s championship
at that point, including Kvapil who was leading, and Toyota was tied for
the manufacturer’s championship.
“I attribute our success in the early races to our focus on planning.
When other people were racing last year, we were planning for Daytona.
Our focus was all about our first race,” says Wall.
Then Toyota hit tracks they had never seen and scored a total of only
nine top-10 finishes in the next eight races. Kvapil dropped to eighth
and Toyota was last in their respective championship efforts. The skid
ended in mid July at Madison, IL, when four Toyota racers finished in
the top 10. Two weeks later, Kvapil won Toyota’s first race at Michigan
International Raceway with three other Toyota drivers running in the top
10. Five races later, Kvapil again hit the winner’s circle at the
New Hampshire track.
As with any
racing series, there were personnel changes and new members added to the
Toyota lineup during the summer. The most notable came when Florida Toyota
dealer Bob Germain and NASCAR team owner Don Arnold teamed up to support
veteran driver Todd Bodine. They had applied to Toyota to form a team
for 2005, but Toyota gave them the green light for a mid-season debut.
“The great thing about Toyota is they give the opportunity to excel,”
says Arnold. “The engineering, the trucks, it’s all first-class
In the first race after Kvapil’s New Hampshire victory, Bodine
finished second at Las Vegas, then scored consecutive wins in California
and Texas. Toyota only made one big headline in the final four races of
the season when Reutimann earned Rookie of the Year honors. Otherwise,
he was the highest finishing driver with a fourth at Homestead and Toyotas
finished in the top 10 just seven times to close out the season. In the
overall driver standings, Kvapil was the top Toyota driver with an eighth-place
finish followed by Skinner in 11th, Reutimann in 14th and Hank Parker
Jr. was 17th. Four other Toyota drivers finished in the top 20: Bill Lester,
Robert Huffman, Johnny Benson and Bodine.
“Toyota has done two things,” sums up Arnold. “They’ve
come in and done a good job and made everyone else step up to the plate.
The truck series has probably doubled in popularity because of what Toyota
Toyota’s involvement in Craftsman truck racing is the first step
in getting a car approved for Nextel Cup racing. Officials are obviously
mum on any such plans as they await future NASCAR decisions regarding
technology and design. Word continues to spread throughout the industry
that NASCAR will develop its own chassis, body and engine and provide
equally matched vehicles to each team. Then it’s just a matter of
marketing and sponsorship to gain entry to the track. That format may
not sit well with Toyota, which prides itself on developing its own technology
and using racing to showcase its R&D efforts.
Meanwhile, the Craftsman truck racing program is supposed to build sales
by attracting customers to Toyota dealerships where some of the trucks
themselves will be picking up a little racing blood.
“When we race we enhance the TRD performance image,” says
Wall. “That then can be conveyed to production vehicles. Coming
will be a TRD Sport Truck for both Tacoma and Tundra.”
Craftsman truck race for the 2005 season will be February 18 at Daytona.