Toyota: The challenge of winning races and fans in NASCAR

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Darrell Waltrip

Darrell Waltrip — winner of 84 career NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races and a three-time champion — serves as lead analyst for NASCAR on FOX. He was selected for induction into the prestigious NASCAR Hall of Fame as part of the Class of 2012. Want more from DW? Become a fan on Facebook or follow him on Twitter.

Well, folks, it's been about a week since the big Toyota announcement. I was in Charlotte last Tuesday night when they unveiled the cars announced the three teams: Bill Davis Racing, Michael Waltrip Racing and Red Bull Racing.

Ask DW
Herb from Birmingham, Ala.: What is the ongoing relationship between Michael and Bill Davis not that it appears Michael has his own team? Will BDR get another driver?

Darrell Waltrip: Michael has surrounded himself with a lot of good people and NAPA is on board as a strong supporter. They were at the dinner on Tuesday night during the media tour along with the people from Klaussner and Best Western, two other big supporters of Michael. He's going to have two cars in 2007 so he's working diligently to sign up another driver, and he's going to have a great operation. With people like Larry Carter, Ty Norris and the sponsors around him, Michael is doing a really good job of putting together a good team for '07. That doesn't mean that he's throwing away '06. He has every intention in the world of winning some races for Dodge and helping Davis move his program a little further along too.

It's a Camry with a lot of similarities to the Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet. With the common template, the cars struggle to have their own identity. The old No. 55 NAPA car sure did look good with its pretty blue paint job and the Camry decal on the hood so that was exciting for Michael and me. I know Michael is pumped, and he's got his work cut out for him. He's going to work really hard to help Bill Davis this year, and hopefully the chemistry will be good there. It was fun to be in Charlotte for the media tour. There was a lot of excitement. A couple hundred people sat at the table with Lowe's Motor Speedway president Humpy Wheeler, NASCAR president Mike Helton and a lot of the Toyota executives. I love to be around people that are excited, enthusiastic and have a passion for what we do. Toyota brings to the table people who love to race, want to be competitive and want to do it right. Since I have a working relationship with the manufacturer — and a very good one I might add — I was just hoping that the media and the fans particularly would welcome Toyota into our sport. From what I've read and seen, the majority of fans and media are saying, "Come on in. You've got your work cut out for you. If you can compete at NASCAR's high level, then more power to you." So I've been excited to hear the positive responses from the fans. I listened to Benny Parsons, Claire B. Lang and Joe Costello on XM Satellite Radio channel 144, and I was pleasantly surprised by how open-minded the fans were and how they were giving Toyota the benefit of the doubt. There wasn't as much opposition as I was worried there would be. If you look at what Toyota has done since they entered the Craftsman Truck Series three years ago, they've demonstrated that they know how to build teams. They took people and teams in the truck series that never would have been able to win races or be competitive without Toyota's engineering know-how and technology, not the manufacturer's money. If it was their goal, the company could buy any team, put a Camry nose and tail on the car and have instant success. But Toyota's people like to do it their way. NASCAR has what I call the NASCAR way, where you learn how to live in the NASCAR community and play by their rules. Toyota has the Toyota way. They like to build teams from scratch. If it wasn't for Toyota, Michael could never have a team of his own. Toyota will help Bill Davis Racing go to the megateam level. Red Bull Racing is a world-renowned energy drink producer that has sponsored world-class race cars. That's what we're getting here, folks. We're getting a world-class manufacturer in Toyota that wants to come into our sport and race their cars. And they make a lot of cars so there's got to be a lot of folks out there that are Toyota fans. They will increase the fan base and people watching the races on TV and attending in person. It's a win-win for everybody. People say, "But DW, they're a foreign manufacturer, and a Camry doesn't meet the rules." I can think back to when I was driving a Chevrolet Monte Carlo, and the Ford Taurus was introduced, replacing the Thunderbird. I said, "You've got to be kidding me. You can't take a 4-door, front-wheel-drive car with a V6 engine and turn it into a NASCAR stock car. You can't do that."
Ask DW
But NASCAR has developed its own rules and specifications. Whether it's an Intrepid, a Charger, a Fusion or a Monte Carlo, it doesn't make any difference as long as it meets the NASCAR templates and the NASCAR rules. We don't race stock cars anymore. We race NAS-cars. They've developed these cars based on the chassis and the V8 cast-iron block that we use. If you want to compete in NASCAR, you present a car for NASCAR approval, and you're ready to go. That's all they ask. NASCAR says, "Here's our rules. Here's how we do business. If you want to be a part of our sport, play within our rules and respect the way we do things, and you're more than welcome to be here." I'm just excited for what Toyota is going to do. They're going to add to the growth and the future of NASCAR. Fans all know the more support you give the teams, the better guarantee we've got of our sport growing and being around for a long, long time. Ford, General Motors, DaimlerChrysler and Toyota are all world-class manufacturers. That's what we want. We want world-class manufacturers competing on our racetracks against each other every Sunday. You've got to admit that it's pretty darn exciting. I just ask you to give Toyota a chance to prove what they can do. I know they will be good for our sport, and I know that it'll be different. Different is fun, exciting and good. But give them a chance, let them compete and you'll say down the road in a year or two that NASCAR made another — dadgum it — good decision.

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