Even if you don’t know a thing about sports, there’s a good chance you still know a football team or two and might even go to a Super Bowl party. NASCAR is much the same way.
Whether or not you have a favorite driver, attending a race is a giant party and it’s a ridiculous amount of fun. I recently attended my first NASCAR race with the folks from Toyota Racing Development (TRD).
The Toyota/Save Mart 350 was held at the Sonoma Raceway, which is a bit different from other NASCAR tracks. Instead of a giant oval, this is a road course, which means drivers have to make lefts and rights to navigate the track. It makes for a unique NASCAR race.
If you’ve never been to NASCAR, then you’ll be overwhelmed by the spectacle of it all before you get anywhere near the track. It starts with the sound, which echoed across the otherwise peaceful landscape as we drove past the track two days before the race.
The rumble of engines was background music to a giant party happening across the street from the track. Die-hard fans were gathered early in an expansive field of RVs with the flags of their favorite drivers flying high. It was lunchtime and everywhere you looked people were barbecuing, laughing, and having fun.
Saturday we headed to the track to get the credentials we needed to go behind the scenes and meet up with the TRD folks. Walking towards the press room was like walking through a state fair.
There were tents everywhere with all the food you love to eat but know you shouldn’t, along with interactive displays to keep everyone entertained. Toyota had a huge area set up, the Pit Pass, with plenty of Toyotas, including a NASCAR version that fans could sit in for pictures.
There was also a Morph Car, which was two Camrys melded into one. The passenger side was just like the car in your driveway, but the driver’s side was the NASCAR Camry. The difference was huge and there was no mistaking that what NASCAR guys like Denny Hamlin and Kurt Busch drive are nothing like what you and I drive. But that doesn’t mean the two aren’t connected.
We had the chance to hear from TRD President David Wilson, who talked about why Toyota is involved in NASCAR. He explained that it’s not a matter of taking what’s in race cars and putting them into other cars, but of using the engineering processes to help the two very different divisions both excel. The shared knowledge helps Toyota build better cars all around.
David also talked about how important the fans are to the sport. If the fans aren’t happy and stop coming to races, then NASCAR is done. That’s the reason Toyota sponsors fun, interactive areas like the Pit Pass. He said everyone is also very aware that – despite the cool cars – the real stars of the show are the drivers and Toyota does everything it can to support the drivers and help them put on an incredible show for the fans.
Although you can’t get a race car version of the Toyota Camry to drive to work, you can get TRD performance upgrades on select Toyota vehicles like the 4Runner and Tacoma. These models include upgraded suspension, air intakes, and exhaust systems.
You might not be able to hit the track and take the win at Sonoma Raceway, but you reap the benefits of Toyota Racing Development’s involvement with NASCAR. It might be through watching the race and cheering your favorite driver to a win or it might be with that Tacoma TRD Pro you take off-road on the weekend. Either way, you come out a winner.
Note: I was Toyota’s guest in Sonoma; race car thrills were all my own.