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Toyota's fine, says racing boss Lee White, and GM has covered its NASCAR bases too, he's confident

Lee White (L) talking with car owner J. D. Gibbs (Photo: Toyota Motorsports)


   By Mike Mulhern

   SONOMA, Calif.

   With all the angst swirling around NASCAR's Chevrolet and Dodge operations, how are things going over in the sport's other two camps, Ford and Toyota?
   Wednesday is expected to be the day of reckoning for Chevy teams, with GM execs are to tell teams exactly what cuts to expect. And cost cuts could be immediate, presuming GM's bankruptcy voids all contracts.
   However Toyota racing boss Lee White says he just had a meeting in Los Angeles with his company's own executives and they says things are fine on their end, that TRD – Toyota Racing Development – is still good to go.
   And White says he believes GM officials have already taken care of all the issues they really need to take care of for their NASCAR teams, or at least the ones they want to keep flying high.
    "I don't expect, at the pointy-end of the stick, with Rick Hendrick and Tony Stewart, that we will see an iota of difference at the Cup level," White says of the top two GM operations.
   "I have no idea what level of support Kevin Harvick has had at the Nationwide level (from GM); but he seems to have good sponsorship, and I'm sure Richard Childress (Harvick's Nationwide engine supplier) has enough engines. This (GM cut) might have a little impact there; but I would think it might have the bigger impact on Kevin's Truck operation, because that's a different engine pool, with Mark Smith.
   "But Dodge pulled out (of Trucks) two years ago, and they're still in.
   "Ford pulled out last year, and they're still in.
   "We actually reduced our support to absolutely minimum, and we've still got 15 Truck teams….because the perception is the product is good, and the price is half what anyone else wants to charge them."
   So maybe Detroit car makers have been overpaying their teams? Maybe teams will have to park some of those planes?
   "No, I think there's just a misconception of what the actual support was," White says.
   And what is Toyota's NASCAR support budget?
   "That's none of your business," White says with a laugh.
    "We do not discuss our business relationships with our business partners.
    "Why do we have 15 Truck teams? Because you can go get engines from Triad (in High Point, N.C.) or Joey Arrington and have really good performance – in spite of the handicap (NASCAR tech rules) they're saddled with, that nobody wants to talk about – at a really reasonable price.
    "Some people (other car makers building Truck engines) are asking close to $1 million a year for an engine program. But you can get good horsepower from our guys for 60 percent of that.
    "We have four companies – TRD, Triad, Joey Arrington, and Joe Gibbs -- building NASCAR engines….and Chevy has only two, Ford has only one."

    White says Toyota does things a little differently: Toyota spends money supporting TRD – which is an engineering company, Toyota Racing Development, with 229 people, in North Carolina and California, which provides engines to two teams, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing, and engineering support – which is problem solving, simulation work, tire modeling, some aerodynamic testing, suspension design, brakes and cooling.
   "….and engineering support in the way of Thumbs, which is a computer human modeling program, developed byToyota, developed for NASCAR, for driver safety, in packaging drivers in cars," White says.
   "And that report just came out. The Toyota tech center in Ann Arbor, and in Japan, have been working on this for three years, to help drivers with their seats and restraining systems."

   Toyota has had major cuts, White points out.   "TRD has cut its budget from 18 to 20 percent over last year. But we have not let a single person go.
  "Merit freezes, bonus reductions, travel cuts. Our motors are more reliable so we're building fewer of them.  We're cutting on shipping. We're reusing engines. Reducing wind tunnel testing.
   "We have 15 Trucks teams, six or seven Nationwide cars, and from 13 to 15 Cup cars, and we're doing almost 30 percent more this season.
   "Now the company itself has made a dramatic reduction in activation expenses – at-track, TV ads, print ads – that far exceeds any cuts at TRD."
   So just how do Toyota executives see NASCAR as a marketing/promotion venue, in terms of return on investment? 
   "The research, the data shows this activity, for every company, is good for business," White says. "We had a board meeting in California last week, that I chaired, and the message from our company was 'This is good for business….keep it up…just watch the nickels and dimes, and don't go crazy.
   "But I'll be honest, our investment in Truck and Nationwide is minimal. The primary focus is the big show on Sunday, and winning in Cup."
   "I think GM will pull back. But Dodge 'left,' but Dodge is still competing, and doing pretty well. And Ford 'left,' but Ford is still competing.
   "So I don't expect to see a heck of a lot change (among GM teams) based on this decision. Now there may be changes among individual teams. And later this season we may see a change in the car-count.
   "The good news from my board meeting is that our management is starting to see the economy change and we have hopefully seen the bottom.
   "You can't throw rocks at GM for doing what it's doing. Because that's the responsible thing to do.
   "But as their business comes back, this has been a big part of their marketing activity and they're not going to get very far from what we're doing.
    "The key here is the parts and pieces have to stay available. Whoever is manufacturing blocks, for example.
   "We manufacturer blocks in-house in Japan and we have a backup vendor in case there's a shortage of steel. I understand that Dodge and Ford and GM all go to Gardner-warren in the U.K. for blocks and heads.
   "To be frank, that's the key to keeping those brands in the garage – the available of parts.
   "And part of our arrangement with NASCAR is that those parts have to be available. I don't care who it is.
   "The people who bought more of our parts than anyone? Rick Hendrick, Richard Childress, Ray Evernham, Jack Roush – so they could cut them up and study them.
    "That's just part of the business. When we came in five years ago, we bought some Fords and Chevys and Dodges.
    "The only question is who now pays the bills at the casting places. And I would imagine that it's already been handled, paid in advance. Or they could make sure the tooling for all those parts get into the hands of a Rick Hendrick or Richard Childress or someone to help keep the brand alive. So when they come out of all this, they'll be rocking and rolling."



Would be interesting to

Would be interesting to review the bankruptcy filing to see if the HMS contract was filed with the court.

Toyota is getting their money's worth with their spending on Kyle Busch's truck team.

Toyota has been getting its

Toyota has been getting its money's worth in the Trucks, period. They've won roughly half the series races from about 2005 onward, to where they haven't had anything resembling a challenge from the other makes for years.

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