TRD President: “It started with Toyota just wanting to grow our presence in grassroots racing. I love midget racing.”
Kyle Larson, Christopher Bell and Rico Abreu all started their climb from the Keith Kunz Motorsports platform. From dirt midget racing to NASCAR, Toyota Racing Development has a clear ladder to the top level of stock car racing.
In 2013, Toyota lost Kyle Larson as he was signed by Turner Scott Motorsports, a Team Chevy operation. When that happened, it created a spark in the Toyota building. From there, they became heavily involved in creating a clear Toyota pipeline from the bottom to the top.
The first step on that ladder begins with Keith Kunz Motorsports. They field Toyota backed dirt midgets in the world of dirt racing.
Why did Toyota select Keith Kunz Motorsports?
“It starts with Keith Kunz and Pete Willoughby, they’re the heart of that organization. Our involvement with Keith — It didn’t start out with, ‘Here’s a plan with driver development. We can have this great partnership and bla bla bla,’ David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development states from the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center.
“It started with Toyota just wanting to grow our presence in grassroots racing. I love midget racing. I have more fun going to a Putnamville, Indiana, Kokomo or one of these Friday-Saturday night dirt races. That’s racing!”
“That’s why we originally got into midget racing. We had a cylinder head off our NASCAR truck engine and we designed a block around it and we took it midget racing. That’s the genesis of it.”
“Once we got to know Keith and we went racing for a little while we started seeing these young kids coming up through midget racing. We got to know Kyle [Larson] and his family.”
“We tend to look at Kyle Larson as this great example of what turned the corner for us. We recognized the tremendous talent that he was. And we really didn’t know what to do with it.”
“We took Kyle to Chicago and walked him through the NASCAR cup garage and introduced him to Michael Waltrip and Joe Gibbs. They liked to meet him. But, we didn’t really know what to do.”
At that time, Michael Waltrip Racing fielded a group of Toyota powered machine in the NASCAR Cup Series. However, despite that meet and greet, Larson couldn’t find a ride in Toyota race car.
“The rest is history as they say. That kinda woke us up and we just started putting some process behind it.”
“Look at our sport relative to stick and ball. You need a ball. In baseball, you need a glove and a bat. It’s hard to put all the resources together to sustain a path to the top of the motorsports ladder.”
“For every Jeff Gordon, there are 10 that never got a shot. That’s what’s cool about this. It’s a Willy Wonka opportunity for a young driver.”
Keith Kunz talks Toyota
“Our team wouldn’t be what it is without Toyota. It all started back there with Kyle. We took a chance. I happened to see him one day racin’ and happen to notice how good he was.”
“We were at the Chili Bowl the following year and he was driving for somebody else. I told my partner Pete, ‘Go watch this kid.’ Pete went up and watching him. He came back and said, ‘That’s our guy.’ ”
“It was just that quick. TRD, they were just kinda helping with motors and really didn’t have development program. ”
“The same thing happened with Christopher. I don’t know what it is. In certain kids, you see something that just reaches out and grabs ya. Since then, Christopher has moved on and we’ve pushed others through. A lot of them have been these Outlaw kart kids.”
Keith Kunz and Toyota Racing Development are currently seeking a new driver. They are sponsoring an outlaw kart event Millbridge Speedway. One lucky racer from that specific event is going to get an opportunity in the grassroots portion of the Toyota pipeline.
They called it a ‘Willy Wonka opportunity’. That selected driver will be given a ride in A Keith Kunz Motorsports dirt midget. They will enter that new driver in the 2019 Chili Bowl Nationals.
Are we ever going to see a driver come out the open wheel ranks that goes to Indycar?
Currently, Indycar mostly lacks American drivers. The American racing series doesn’t feature many American drivers.
“The reason we all go to NASCAR is because that’s where the path takes us,” Christopher Bell explains.
“There’s no other path to go to Indycar. Those guys don’t care for us. So, that’s why we don’t go there.”