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White leaving daily role immediately
Lee White, president of Toyota Racing Development USA, is stepping down immediately from his daily duties with the manufacturer and will retire at the end of the 2013 season.
Toyota cited “family health care needs” as the reason that White will “vacate the position of president and general manager of TRD, effective immediately," in a news release.
"I have been planning and working toward retirement at the end of this race season in
December," White said in the release. "I have been offered and accepted an opportunity to perform a reduced amount of duties from my home office. This generous arrangement afforded to us by the company will allow me to attend to personal family priorities."
White’s tenure with TRD stretches more than 15 years. He was responsible for all TRD programs in North America “including: engine development, manufacturing, chassis design and development, team and manufacturer relationships, manufacturer and sanctioning body relations as well as engineering support for Toyota teams participating in National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR), United States Auto Club (USAC), National Hot Rod Association, Grand-Am and Off-Road competition."
It was on the open-wheel side that Andy Graves, TRD vice president of chassis engineering and NASCAR program manager, first encountered White.
“I met Lee in December 1999, when I went to work for Ganassi Racing on the open-wheel side,” Graves said. “That’s when Ganassi was switching to Toyota engines in CART. I got to spend a lot of time with him and we forged a friendship. When Toyota decided to go Cup racing, he hired me for the job in 2006.
“Lee’s been a good friend of mine for a long time and he’ll be sorely missed. Lee was instrumental in forging the relationships and laying the groundwork for getting into the Series. Even after I first met Lee and moved over to the Chip and Felix (Sabates’) Cup operation, he would call on me from time to time as he was planning Toyota’s move into the NASCAR. He’s been very instrumental in their success.”
White was influential in greasing the wheels for Toyota’s rollout in NASCAR, starting with the Camping World Truck Series in 2004 where the manufacturer won with Travis Kvapil in its 13th start. Two years later, Toyota won its first Truck series title with Todd Bodine — and its first of five consecutive manufacturer titles. Toyota has dominated the Truck series this season, winning five of six races. Matt Crafton currently leads the 2013 Camping World Truck Series standings.
Toyota has enjoyed similar success in the Nationwide Series with three manufacturer’s championships in the last five years. But its entry into NASCAR’S Sprint Cup Series was more of a challenge. The manufacturer got off to a rocky start with the 2007 Daytona 500 when an illegal fuel additive was discovered in one of the Michael Waltrip Racing Camrys. However, the addition of Joe Gibbs Racing to the Toyota fold the following season produced results four races in when Kyle Busch won the Cup race at Atlanta — his first of eight victories and 10 total wins for Camrys in 2008.
When the company streamlined its Sprint Cup program last season with support to just JGR and MWR, Toyota found success in the Chase by qualifying three of its teams. The addition of Matt Kenseth to JGR this season has further strengthened the company’s competitive edge. However, in the last two years since TRD took over the manufacturing of the engines for Gibbs and Waltrip, the organizations have had an unusually high number of failures.
On Sunday, both Kenseth, who was leading at the time, and Martin Truex Jr. retired early. Earlier this season, both Kenseth and JGR teammate Kyle Busch suffered engine failures in the Daytona 500 after leading laps.
Despite rumors of White’s departure being hastened by TRD’s engine woes, Graves insists "that’s not accurate.”
White is expected to remain with TRD as “a special adviser” while his current duties are redistributed. His successor has not been named yet.
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