Toyota Racing Development all about winning

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, December 2, 2009

By Mark Wineka
At Toyota Racing Development, it’s all about winning.
In coming years, Rowan County’s new chassis engineering center could play a prominent role in giving Toyota cars and trucks an edge that sends them to the winner’s circle in NASCAR races.
David Wilson, senior vice president for TRD USA, said he was thrilled to be in Rowan County Tuesday as the company held an open house complete with tours and Hendrix barbecue.
“I cannot hide the grin on my face,” Wilson said in front of the $28 million facility Tuesday afternoon.
TRD’s new Rowan County center will rely on the expertise of some 40 engineers to give Toyota teams as many technical advantages as possible on NASCAR tracks.
The facility’s state-of-the-art equipment (much more will be added over the next year) will be at the beck and call of teams for drivers such as Kyle Busch, Denny Hamlin, Tony Stewart, David Blaney and Brian Vickers.
Toyota cars relying on TRD’s assistance have experienced a breakthrough season on the Sprint Cup circuit, with nine victories in only their second year of competition.
Busch, Hamlin and Stewart also qualified for the Sprint Cup’s championship chase ó the NASCAR equivalent of the playoffs for the top 12 drivers.
Lee White, president and chief executive officer, ticked off many of Toyota’s accomplishments since the company made its debut in NASCAR with a Tundra truck at Daytona International Speedway on Feb. 13, 2004.
The opening of the chassis engineering center off Peach Orchard Road represents another milestone, White said, and its goal is simple: to help all Toyota teams bring home championships.
The new facility, designed to become part of a Performance Technology Park, takes up only a portion of the 89 acres Toyota bought in 2007 from the Cline family.
“We’re saving room so we can display many more first-place trophies,” White said.
The engineering center finally gives TRD a home in the crucible of motorsports in North Carolina, White added.
Wilson said Toyota’s entry into NASCAR was an important step for the company, and the Rowan facility reflects its continued commitment to the United States, where Toyota has done business for 50 years.
This tract belonged to members of the Cline family from 1906 until its sale for more than $2.2 million in 2007. Five parcels passed down to the grandchildren of Will A. and Bessie Cline were kept together and sold as one piece to Toyota Motor Sales, which leases the new building to TRD USA.
W.A. Cline, one of the grandchildren and a family representative, said then Salisbury-Rowan Economic Development Director Randy Harrell first called him into the EDC office two years and eight months ago about a company that was interested in the property.
The family had gone the extra mile and expense to make the property a state-certified industrial site, which played a key role in landing TRD. Cline said all his family asked of the Economic Development Commission was that the project be a respectable company that would bring jobs to Rowan County.
Cline didn’t find out until about a month before the deal was final that Toyota (the EDC project was labeled “Big Red”) was the company.
“All I have heard is positive comments,” Cline said of Toyota establishing itself in Rowan County.
A large contingent of the Cline family made Tuesday’s event a happy reunion.
Jeanie Moore, chairman of the EDC board, also spoke of the benefits of the Cline family getting the property state-certified. She said she hopes Tuesday’s ribbon-cutting was the first of many celebrations on the site as TRD possibly attracts vendors and clients into the motorsports park.
The site already has a handsome drive and two long cul-de-sacs waiting for future development.
The outside of the new 35,000-square-foot facility is a study in red and gray with plenty of windows to allow natural light to flood into the interior.
Inside, the facility includes a wide open room ó not unlike a newsroom ó divided into computer work stations for all the engineers. On an opposite side of the hall are offices for various managers, and several conference and break rooms are scattered along the perimeter.
But a large portion of the facility also is devoted to high ceilings and gleaming, painted passage ways and test areas intentionally spacious enough for the easy maneuvering of vehicles.
Wide, roll-down doors can give each Toyota racing team private work spaces, if desired.
Tom Smith, a NASCAR support engineer for TRD who works exclusively with Joe Gibbs Racing, offered a casual tour of the high-tech equipment already installed in various parts of the center.
On the shaker rig or “seven-poster” platforms, a vehicle can play back the movements associated with any of the NASCAR tracks, and chassis adjustments can be made accordingly.
In another area, a white-light scanner running over the top and bottom of a vehicle sends back a surface file of a car or truck’s body to the computers of engineers, who can calculate a car’s behavior.
Elsewhere, a pull-down rig helps to determine what’s best for a vehicle’s shocks, springs and wheel loads.
The facility also has a basic machine shop.
The chassis engineering center doesn’t build cars or engines for the Toyota teams, but its aim is to help their performances. For Joe Gibbs Racing and the other teams, the center is essentially providing 40 highly technical people as an extra resource.
Smith said he spends one day a week in Salisbury and four days a week at the Gibbs shop in Huntersville.
The Rowan center ó most of the employees have come from a leased facility in Mooresville ó has been operating for about a month.
Toyota Racing Development started in 1979 and has developed into a premiere racing performance engineering company. TRD USA is headquartered in Costa Mesa, Calif., and has more than 200 employees.
Rowan County provided the company with a five-year tax rebate of $519,000 as an incentive to locate here.