Motorsports Day: Ask a Driver

Team members interview their favorite Toyota Drivers

November 02, 2017

A few weeks, ago, we sent out an email asking you to submit questions for your favorite Toyota Motorsports driver.
The idea, you see, was to pull a handful of questions and get the drivers to answer on video. And we did that. You can watch it right here.
But because the response was so overwhelming, we didn’t think a handful of questions was enough. So we grabbed seven other drivers – including Ivan Stewart, Denny Hamlin and current Monster Energy Cup points leader Martin Truex Jr. – and asked a few more for Driver’s Seat.

Martin Truex Jr., Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Question from J.R. Hary, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana: When you were growing up, what kind of car did you drive? And what do you drive now?

Truex: My first car was a Jeep CJ-7. I liked that I could buy parts somewhat cheap for it, and a lot of aftermarket parts were available. I always liked to modify things, so I had this thing jacked up by the time I was 21. I had a V-8 in there, with 38-inch tires. I can remember it breaking down a few times going to school, and having to stop at an auto parts store to fix it.

Now my daily driver is a Tundra Limited. I just ordered a new one. It’s comfy, but it’s still rugged. It’s got a lot of power. I’ve got the black wheels and grille and all that. It’s gonna look awesome. 

Ethan Pomish, Information Systems: You’re at the top of the standings late in the season. Is there pressure on you?

Truex: Yeah, there’s a little bit of pressure. But at the same time, it’s such an awesome position to be in. We’re where everyone wants to be. It’s almost like the pressure is on them because they’re trying to catch us. And I feel like we’re not done yet. 


Denny Hamlin, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Josh Babcock, Toyota Logistics Services: The season stretches from February to November. Do you ever get to relax during the season?

Hamlin: It’s a tough schedule, no doubt about it. We’re racing 38 weeks of the year, but we just do the best we can to mix family time in there. They get to travel with us most weeks, so we’re happy about that.

J.R. Hary, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Indiana: When you were growing up what kind of car did you drive? And what do you drive now?

Hamlin: I had a 1993 Ranger pickup truck. I got it from my brother, who got it for Christmas years before. I was 15, and he turned it in before I had a license. We had a long driveway in Virginia, so after school I would sneak the car up and down the driveway. My parents would come home and check the mileage and see that I had driven a bit. But I couldn’t wait to get it out on the street because, at that age, I had been racing go-karts for five or six years.

Now, my everyday car is a Tundra. I’ve got it all jacked up. I have huge tires on it, with a six-inch lift. I like the big ride. 


Erik Jones, Monster Energy NASCAR Cup

Jared Hill, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Texas: What do you think makes Toyota so dominant in NASCAR right now? And what do you think NASCAR racing will be like 20 years from now?

Jones: There’s a lot that makes Toyota dominant. It starts from the dedication and effort they put in. It’s higher than most manufacturers. They have the people in place that lead us in the right direction, from the Truck series, to the Xfinity series to the Cup series. And when you have that in place, it just makes it that much easier on the teams to know where to put their resources and efforts. It’s all that combined. Their dedication has made it a lot easier on the teams to get headed in the right direction.

And 20 years from now? Wow. I think it’ll be a much different sport. I think there are a lot of technologies coming into the automotive world, and I think you’re gonna see some of those applied to NASCAR at some point. It’ll be interesting to see where it ends up. I still think it’ll be a really popular sport, but I think it’ll be very different. For so long, NASCAR was using the same technology, like for 30 or 40 years. In just the few years that I’ve been in the sport, I’ve really seen an effort to advance the cars and move into the new age of technology. It’s been really cool to see.

Debbie Retterath, Legal: Can you tell me about the technology the team uses to keep drivers cool and hydrated during a 500-mile race on a hot day?

Jones: There are a lot of different ways to do it. The biggest one we use is what’s called a cool box. It’s kind of like a mini air conditioner unit. It’s got a condenser in it and it takes the outside air and drops it about 20 degrees. For hydration, some guys will run an automated system where you can push a button to get water. A lot of it is up to the driver to keep themselves hydrated. 


Ivan Stewart, Off Road

Jason Adkins, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, West Virginia: How much of your input with TRD has made it into production vehicles?

Stewart: I’m not an engineer or a fabricator or any of those guys that work in the shop. I strictly drove. But I do know that for 34 years, Toyota took advantage of what they learned in off-road racing. If you think about it, we probably put race cars through the most extreme conditions there are. We don’t stop if it snows or rains or gets dark or dusty. Every time we got through with a race, the trucks were completely worn out. So, Toyota learned a lot from suspension to axles, ball joints, all those things. What they incorporated into production vehicles, I don’t know. But I do know there was a tremendous amount learned through off-road racing.

Tom Riney, Information Systems: In the Baja races, how concerned are you about booby traps built on the course by the locals?

Stewart: Booby traps are always part of the adventure of Baja racing. It’s part of the deal. If you’re gonna race in Baja you’re gonna have a lot to contend with. Could be snow, could be rain, and it could be booby traps. So, booby traps are just one thing you have to be concerned about. It could be anything, from rocks they throw out on the road, or they could build a jump or they could dig a hole. One time I hit a booby trap that was so big it had a van built into it. Booby traps usually happen in the afternoon because they’ve gotten bored and they want to make something exciting happen. Just part of racing Baja. 


Christopher Bell, NASCAR Camping World Truck

Earnie Woodard, Toyota Motor Manufacturing, Kentucky: What's your favorite type of race cars to drive? And where does Eldora Speedway (Rossburg, Ohio) rank on your list of your favorite tracks?

Bell: I’ve been fortunate over the years to drive a lot of different cars for Team Toyota. But with my background and how I grew up racing, it’s hard to beat a sprint car or midget. The horsepower-to-weight ratio that those things have and, racing on dirt, it’s what I grew up doing.

Eldora is No. 1 in the world! As a kid, I’d always watch videos from Eldora and saw how jaw dropping it was. Since day one there, I’ve always had pretty good success. It’s a place where it takes bravery, skill and smarts. In an open-wheel car, it takes the whole package to win. 


Fredric Aasbo, Formula Drift

Shawn Wible, Quality Compliance: What are some pros and cons you notice competing with a 4-cylinder engine, while most competitors use 6- or 8-cylinder engines?

Aasbo: So, Formula Drift is one of the few racing series in the world where the engine limitations are basically 100 percent open, meaning that you can run anything. So, choosing to go with a lower displacement motor doesn’t seem like the logical choice because we’re up against 7-liter blown V-8s that make tons of power and tons of torque. So, some of the cons would be that we have to rely on a lot of technology and engineering to make that small motor work and be competitive with these guys. But what we do have is a very lightweight package. And with the cars that we run being different, meaning we have a limited engine bay space, we may want the weight center on the car further to the back, and the lower weight is better. 


Ryan Millen, Rally

Elijah Nesbitt, Tech Service Center: What do you look for in your off-road vehicles? And what advice do you have for someone interested in getting into off-road racing or rally at the amateur/semi pro level?

Millen: Reliability is the biggest thing I look for. To finish first, you must first finish. And that’s pretty much the hardest thing with any type of off-road event, whether it’s endurance or sprint. The vehicle’s gotta last in these harsh environments. Snow, mud, ice, sand. Everything. We’re running basically a production RAV4 and the thing is bulletproof. I can jump it, bash it. It’s super strong. I’m always amazed at how oversized everything is on the RAV4. The hardware, drivetrain. Everything is built so strong and it doesn’t slow me down at all. We’ve barely changed it. Just the dampers, springs and brake pads. That’s it.

As for advice, getting into rally is a little daunting in understanding how the timing and controlling works. So, volunteering at a rally helps you understand how those time controls work. But what’s really cool about rally is that you can just pick a vehicle that’s reliable enough, put a cage in it and you can run them with stock suspension and learn from there. The biggest thing that I’ve learned over the years is surround yourself with the best people you can. You can pick off some of their experience, and it builds and builds and builds. It’s pretty fun.


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