New Camry Sprint Cup car unveiled in Salisbury
By Emily Ford
SALISBURY — Rowan County became the center of the NASCAR universe for a few hours Tuesday as Toyota Racing Development revealed the 2013 Camry race car at the company’s engineering facility off Peach Orchard Road.
NASCAR officials, team owners, drivers and more than a dozen national media outlets turned out for the event.
The race car looks more like the Camry in a showroom or on a highway, with a new front grill area that matches the street model, an updated rear bumper and other details unique to Camry.
Joe Gibbs Racing driver Kyle Busch, who has the most NASCAR victories driving a Toyota, revved the new Camry as he pulled through a garage door into the Rowan County TRD facility, which officials said served as the command center for the aggressive redesign effort that started in 2010.
“Our engineers in Salisbury were very instrumental, and this was basically the headquarters for this project,” said Andy Graves, vice president of chassis engineering for TRD, which is based in Costa Mesa, Calif.
The Rowan County location specializes in chassis engineering. Aerodynamicists and design engineers in Rowan County worked with other NASCAR manufacturers to determine the basic parameters that became the foundation of the car, Graves said.
Toyota invested $28 million in 2007 to open the 33,000-square-foot facility, which employs about 45 people and is tucked away on 89 acres.
“We love it,” Graves said. “It’s close to the centeral hub of Charlotte but yet at the same time it’s far enough away to give us some privacy.”
An additional 200 people work for TRD in Costa Mesa.
JTG-Daugherty Racing driver Bobby Labonte said the Camry, as well as other redesigned Sprint Cup race cars that look more like showroom models, will help fans reconnect to the sport.
“They say ‘race on Sunday, buy on Monday,’ and I think that’s going to be true again,” Labonte said. “If we win the Daytona 500 next February 2013 in a Toyota Camry, a lot of people are going to go out and buy that car.”
NASCAR has put the personality back into race cars, Labonte said.
Until now, different manufacturers’ cars were mostly indiscernible, save for labels and stickers. Now, the cars will have characteristics unique to each manufacturer.
“I love it. I’m very proud that NASCAR has gotten back to this brand identity with the manufacturers,” said Clint Bowyer, who drives the Michael Waltrip Racing No. 15.
For the past decade, Cup cars didn’t really resemble what fans see on the road, Bowyer said.
“These do. You can definitely tell a Toyota from a Chevrolet,” he said. “I can’t wait to get them out there, competing against each other.”
Busch described the Camry’s new look as chiseled, younger and hipper. He said the redesigned cars may result “in a few more headaches,” similar to the mid-1990s when some manufacturers complained that competitors had a design advantage.
“But to me it was fun to see that battle and see all those guys that wanted their car to be better than the other, but they’d have to go to work on it,” Busch said.
Fans have asked for unique cars they can tell apart, and Toyota and NASCAR have delivered, Busch said.
“We’re thrilled to finally unveil our new 2013 Camry, and we think NASCAR fans will really appreciate that our new on-track Camry looks like the one in their driveways,” said Ed Laukes, Toyota Motor Sales vice president of marketing communications and motorsports. “Our 2013 Camry looks more like the production vehicle than ever before, and we hope this helps revitalize the long-standing relationship between fans and manufacturers in NASCAR.”
NASCAR still determines the common design points for all manufacturers, including the cockpit, wheel openings and fender flairs. But NASCAR gave the four manufacturers — Toyota, Dodge, Ford and Chevrolet — the freedom to create signature parts of the car to resemble street models.
In an industry obsessed with parity, designers and engineers from each car builder met weekly for 18 months to hammer out the details.
Even though they try to beat each other on the race track, Toyota and other manufacturers had to agree on designs for the four new 2013 models, NASCAR President Mike Helton said.
Most importantly, the industry needs to remember that the NASCAR product continues to be relevant, Helton said.
He called the new Camry a “very significant part of NASCAR history.”
TRD worked with Calty Design, part of Toyota’s global network design team, to create the new Camry, which will make its NASCAR Sprint Cup Series debut at Daytona in February.
Contact reporter Emily Ford at 704-797-4264.