The sports world tends to have well-defined lines, and changing up the rules midstream usually doesn’t go well. Fans really don’t like it, and NASCAR is no exception. That’s why Toyota had so much trouble joining in.
While having such a huge automaker want to join in the racing world sounds great, many were totally against it. They feared it would change the world of NASCAR in negative ways, and there was definitely evidence to back up their fears. So how did Toyota overcome this?
Fans weren’t on board with Toyota racing in NASCAR
NASCAR got it’s roots from bootleggers on the run from the police. The rum runners would modify their vehicles to be faster than cars coming off the manufacturing floor, and local townspeople had a great time watching the free show.
This translated into bootleggers giving up their trade to hit homemade racetracks when prohibition ended. Sensing that there was money to be made, the sport became official when NASCAR was founded on February 21, 1948.
And that’s where fans’ major problem with Toyota joining racing comes from: money. It’s no secret that the automakers with the most cash flow have the biggest chance of winning in Formula 1.
Many NASCAR fans feared what would happen if Toyota were to join the fray, and this kept the Japanese automaker from racing in NASCAR for nearly a decade.
Breaking into NASCAR was no easy task
Getting fans to give up their fear that Toyota would dominate smaller automakers like Chevy and Ford seemed to be an impossible task. Toyota did indeed beat the odds, but it did so by slowly slipping its way in rather than charging in with lots of fanfare.
In 2004, Toyota made it’s entrance into NASCAR by entering the Camping World Truck Series. This was a smart move, as it doesn’t have the following that the Cup and Xfinity series have.
David Wilson, the president of Toyota Racing Development, told USA TODAY Sports that Toyota didn’t even publicly state that the Cup or Xfinity series was a possibility at that time.
Some drivers and NASCAR teams weren’t against Toyota, and a survey from the Toyota team revealed that getting the drivers to back Toyota might be the best way to win over fans.
Wilson stated in the article,
“One of the survey questions, for example, was, ‘What would you think if Toyota entered NASCAR?’ The answers were polarizing, with many fans frankly not being very accepting. However, when you were to rephrase the question to ask, ‘What would you think if Jeff Gordon (or their favorite driver) drove a Toyota in NASCAR?’ the answers were definitely more positive.”
Toyota donated money to Michael Waltrip Racing, Red Bull Racing, and Bill Davis Racing. Toyota was also careful not to come in with a major winning streak that would prove Toyota was railroading other automakers.
Toyota has seen some success in recent years
Toyota may have entered NASCAR at a slow pace, but the Japanese automaker didn’t join up just to hang out in the background. It came to win.
So far, Toyota vehicles have won 148 events. Two of those wins were for the Xfinity series. This is far from outshining Chevy, which has 788 wins. Ford comes in second with 696.
Toyota was slammed for two cheating scandals. In 2007, it was discovered that Toyota used fuel additives in order to up the chances of winning the Daytona 500 qualifying.
This led to two team crew members being suspended. Another controversy involved MWR trying to manipulate how drivers placed so that Martin Truex Jr. would go to the playoffs.
In spite of the controversies, Toyota has brought more money and tech to NASCAR. Yes, there was a lot of fear that Toyota would outshine Ford and Chevy, but that hasn’t been the case. Instead, the Japanese automaker has breathed new life into the sport and has opened doors for more drivers to join in.