A few years ago, Toyota Racing President David Wilson would tell you a manufacturer had no business getting involved with driver development.
But today, Toyota has a different outlook and is leading the way with its pipeline of driver talent. Of the three manufacturers in NASCAR, Toyota has put a big push behind finding and developing talent to be ready to fill a seat on one of its teams.
“We’re not here to compete, we’re here to win races consistently,” says Toyota’s Jack Irving, one of the integral people involved with the program. “The teams are focused on winning in their series, and there’s a discipline that it takes to go on the development path. Kids don’t necessarily stay. They’re not there for long periods of time. This isn’t Frank Kimmel winning 15 championships type thing.
“This is you’ll have a Christian Eckes (pictured above, No. 18) for a couple years, and he’ll move on to somewhere else. The teams need to be all-in on all of it, and I think the manufacturers involved, there’s a certain amount of stability and structure that can be placed there from a kind of bigger-picture view of who’s coming and what the future looks like, and each person’s involvement in that. So, I think from an OE’s perspective it’s extremely important because you take a little bit of the guesswork out of it.”
Young drivers are put through the paces at combines and have access to a state-of-the-art performance center, simulators, gyms, a nutritionist, and much more. Executives consider a driver’s background and family environment, and even when they sign talent, understand they won’t be able to keep everyone in the Toyota camp.
Irving and Tyler Gibbs delve into the program on The Racing Writer’s Podcast, explaining things such as:
- Clearing up the reasons why the program started
- Studying other development programs around the racing world to help shape how Toyota wanted to craft theirs
- The intricate way/formula involved in scouting drivers
- How the program has evolved over the years
- What does it mean for Toyota to be behind a driver
- Fun tales from crisscrossing the country to scout races