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Toyota Goes For The Goody's

by Larry Roberts

March 12, 2001

About a year ago we reported on one of NASCAR's less-prestigious "touring" programs, the Goody's Dash Series for smaller and not-quite-so expensive purpose-built race cars. As it is with all NASCAR programs, from the exotic world of Winston Cup to the broad-based small NASCAR home-town quarter-mile dirt tracks that dot the country, rules are carefully designed to make it possible to have many different winners driving many different "brands" of cars. The NASCAR credo is to not give any particular team or brand an unfair advantage and to provide competition on the track that is as close as possible.

The Goody's Dash Series is a prime example. The cars must all be V6-powered, have the engine located in front and drive a solid rear axle. In truth, modern cars with this configuration are as non-existent as the front-engined, rear-drive Ford Tauruses, Pontiac Grand Prixs, Dodge Intrepids and Chevrolet Monte Carlo "stock cars" that run in the Winston Cup. Goody's cars are built the same way, but are smaller and much less powerful.

Also, the Pontiac Sunfires and Mercury Cougars that are built for racing in the series haven't involved the astronomical amounts of money and factory participation as do the Winston Cup cars - until now.

NASCAR has always been a bastion of domestic-based stock car racing. In its early days 50 years ago, the cars had to be "squeaky-clean" stock and right off the showroom floor. But as the American auto makers entered the arena, the big domestics blossomed into factory supercars that could turn almost 200 mph right out of the box.

But when the trend towards front-wheel drive and V6 power became the norm for full-sized American sedans, NASCAR changed the rules to a formula that makes fiberglass lookalikes the formula and one of the cardinal rules is that foreign makes are excluded.

But this unwritten law has been bent for the Goody's Dash Series and in 2000, an import was accepted into NASCAR racing. Two years ago, Eric Van Cleef, a driver with a background in racing Toyota Supras in PSCR professional endurance road races for sports cars, entered the Goody's series, campaigning a Pontiac in order to get experience. Last year he switched to a factory-backed Toyota Celica.

At the time, many of us felt that this was a precursor to a full-fledged Goody's Dash assault by Toyota. The company has never been half-hearted when it comes to racing, as attested to by the multi- millions of dollars Toyota has put into Formula One, Champ Cars, off-road racing and even into an all-out effort at the annual Pikes Peak hillclimb.

For 2001, Toyota is backing three teams that will be campaigning all-new Toyota Celica race cars in the Goody's Dash series. It not only funds the Van Cleef team but has enlisted Robert Huffman, last year's Goody's champion, and Wayne Edwards, a young driver who showed great promise last year.

The Toyota drivers will have their work cut out for them. While I only counted five Mercury Cougars on the current Goody's roster, there are 34 cars based on the Pontiac Sunfire. The odds are against the Toyota teams.

But we only have to look at the perseverance and financial investment Toyota made in the Championship Auto Racing Teams Champ Car series where it eventually produced a winner against Ford, Mercedes and Honda.

And at the heart of it, I'm pretty sure that Toyota would like to get a winner into the Winner's Circle at the Daytona International Raceway superspeedway - even if it's only in a Winston Cup warm-up race.