Photos: Brenan Sharp, Toyota Racing
In spite of the record cold this winter in most parts of the country, our motorsport of choice has ushered in the new year with some record-breaking of its own. As many may recall, Ford officially left professional drag racing late last season, causing the shape of the NHRA to change dramatically. We thought we’d get word on these changes from one of drag racing’s winningest teams, who are now the official car of the NHRA—Toyota. We spoke with Toyota Racing’s John Procida, who was kind enough to give us a candid, yet detailed perspective on all our inquiries.
We were recently at Media Day at the Chicago Auto Show and were surprised some of our fellow journalists were unaware of how deep Toyota’s involvement in racing actually reaches. Even with over a decade of devotion and all the wins under your collective belt, do you still find people are surprised to see Toyota on the side of a funny car?
No, not really anymore. We’ve partnered with the past four Top Fuel champions, we’ve had a Funny Car champion, our Toyota Pit Pass is a regular at NHRA events and we’re the title sponsor at Englishtown and Las Vegas, so we think fans have become pretty accustomed to seeing the Toyota brand name at tracks across the country. Our presence will grow even larger in 2014 as Toyota has now become the Official Car of the NHRA.
Congratulations on that milestone! We also couldn’t help but notice the Toyota’s Racing Division (TRD) display was right next to Ford’s new line of consumer automobiles. Since they recently left professional drag racing, it was hard not to think that intentional. Would you care to comment on their absence vs. Toyota’s continually increasing dedication to the sport?
Positioning of displays at the auto show is just coincidence, you can’t base your display on what anyone else is doing. Considering Ford’s long-term relationship with the National Hot Rod Association and specifically John Force, their decision was somewhat surprising. Whether it was an issue of manpower, financial, their relationship with the sanctioning body, or something else, that is a decision that Ford is obviously very comfortable with and we respect their decision.
How do you think Toyota’s heavy involvement in the sport of drag racing translates to fans and consumers alike?
Drag racing fans are some of the most loyal in the sport, so we’re thrilled to be a part of the NHRA. One of the unique things about drag racing is the time that fans get to spend back in the pits and in Nitro Alley – all of which comes simply with the price of a ticket. That allows us a little more interaction with our fans. They can come in and see our production vehicles on display, as well as get their picture taken inside a Funny Car, compete against a friend in testing your reaction time or get an autograph from all of our Toyota drivers whenever our Pit Pass is on hand. So, we get to offer our fans a fun experience as well as allowing someone who may not be as familiar with our vehicle line the opportunity to get a closer look at our cars and trucks in a no-pressure setting.
We know there have been rumblings of the return of the Supra with the debut of your FT-1 Supra concept car earlier this year at the North American International Auto Show, any chance there could be a factory street/strip terror for all the fans and racers at the Sportsman level?
I think that’s a little premature. Hopefully, everyone liked the FT-1 on display, but right now it’s still a concept car.
In the spirit of “race on Sunday, sell on Monday,” we could totally see a twin turbo Scion FR-S as a contender. How likely is that to come to a drag strip or a dealership?
Right now, all of our focus is on who and what we have on the track this year.
Fair enough! So, when the cameras are off, the crowds have gone home and it’s just them and their teams in the trailer, are Alexis DeJoria, Cruz Pedregon and Antron Brown as cool as they appear to be?
Definitely. What you see on the camera is what you get off, Alexis, Cruz and Antron are all extremely personable – as are all of our drivers – including Shawn Langdon, Del Worsham, Chad Head, Tony Pedregon, Khalid alBalooshi and Richie Crampton. One of the really great things about the NHRA is there’s just so much diversity – both in the competitors and in the grandstands – and the accessibility of drivers in the NHRA is unmatched anywhere in terms of a national racing series.
Your team is on fire right now! How good is Toyota Racing feeling about their double wins the Sunday before last? Is this an early indication of what we can expect all season?
We are thrilled with the fast start. We think our drivers and teams will be contenders all year in both Top Fuel and Funny Car. Yet, with that said, this series is so competitive week-in and week-out. You can lose from number one or you can win from the 16th spot, there are just so many good teams and drivers. Looking at the field from Phoenix, I think you had 15 drivers who have either won a race or been a number one qualifier. There are no easy rounds.