Rick Hendrick tells Toyota: “I’ll just steal them from ya.”
Toyota has a driver development program that stems from the dirt tracks ranks all the way to the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series. Before Toyota came along, that was all but unheard of.
Beyond driver development, Toyota is highly engaged on the short track racing ranks with event promotion and team sponsorship. It’s a large financial commitment but it has a large payoff in the long run with drivers like Christopher Bell.
However, in the past, they missed out on a driver named Kyle Larson. That was a wake up call…
“If you asked me 10 years ago, I would have said, ‘Manufactures don’t have any business developing drivers,’ ” David Wilson, President of Toyota Racing Development states from the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center.
“What we came to realize is, why shouldn’t manufactures have a role in the driver development? From a competitive perspective you have two options. Develop your own or steal.”
“Rick Hendrick and I have had a friendly jab about that. Because he’ll say, “I’ll just steal them from ya.’ And, arguably, he did already,” Wilson says with a laugh.
“But, that’s ok. As a stakeholder in this sport we have a responsibility to give back. We recognize the troubling part of it is that — You know, Toyota doesn’t own racing teams. That’s not our role.”
“The tough part about it is we’ll lose as many as these young kids as we’ll be able to keep. The higher you climb the ladder, the fewer seats are available.”
“That’s what keeps me up at night, frankly. But, the fact is, the sport will still benefit from the pipeline. If we can’t find seats for everyone then hopefully guys like Rick [Hendrick], Roger [Penske], Richard [Childress] and the other tremendous team owners in the sport will have the opportunity to benefit.”
New Toyota driver on the way
Keith Kunz and Toyota have just partnered to give somebody new a shot. The winner of an Outlaw Kart race at Millbridge Speedway will be gifted with a dirt midget ride at the Chili Bowl Nationals.
Moving from an Outlaw kart to a fire breathing midget inside of a building can be a large stepping stone. Depending on who wins the race, Kunz has possible plans to take them to the DuQuoin event, before the Chili Bowl entry.
DuQuoin is another indoor race. It’s hosted in Illinois, a few weeks before the Chili Bowl event.
“There’s 100’s of these kids that never get a chance, never get recognized. Never get the opportunity to move on in their careers,” Keith Kunz explains in the Charlotte Motor Speedway media center.
“Whoever wins this race, I’m pretty confident they’ll do just fine. Going to the Chili Bowl, you are throwing them to the wolves. But, we are going to work on that.”
“It depends on who it is and what kind of package they have.”