Toyota finds big return in Indy's drag racing scene

September 2, 2011
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Toyota would appear to be an odd entrant in a drag race.

Yet they’ll be one of the most active car makers at this weekend’s Mac Tools U.S. Nationals NHRA race this weekend at Lucas Oil Raceway in Clermont.

While a Toyota Camry will be featured in the Funny Car division and the Japanese automaker is the associate sponsor of five teams, there’s more to the company’s interest in drag racing than beating the American car makers that have dominated the sport for decades.

“We’re out here largely because of what goes on behind the track,” said John Porcida, Toyota Motorsports spokesman. “Certainly we want to win on the track, but the expo area during a drag race is really where we see a lot of our return on investment.”

Procida said Toyota will be at Lucas Oil Raceway in force with various makes and models of their newest passenger cars and trucks. The behind-the-track action is so important, Procida said, Toyota usually spends more on its expo efforts than it does on its teams.

Toyota, however, is realizing such a great return on its investment from its NHRA involvement, company officials said Toyota is considering expanding its efforts on the track. Procida said one of the big attractions to the NHRA is the ability to reach a different audience than it could with either the IndyCar Series or NASCAR.

Involvement in NHRA is usually costs sponsors 10 percent to 25 percent of the $10 million to $30 million a sponsor will invest in a NASCAR campaign, motorsports business experts said. A chassis or engine maker in either the IndyCar Series or NASCAR can spend tens of millions in testing alone, a fraction of what it costs to get into drag racing.

“A drag race is an all-day event,” Procida said. “There’s a fair amount of time between races. That sends a lot of people cruising through the expo area. At a NASCAR race, people might come through the expo area for 45 minutes or an hour. At a drag race, it’s not uncommon for people to spend four or five hours in the expo area.”

In addition to the vehicles, Procida said Toyota will have auto simulators on which fans can test their driving skills, and a number of other entertainment elements to their display.

Of course, Toyota is not alone. There will be dozens of companies showing off their wares and other entertainment options this Labor Day weekend during the NHRA biggest race. While the NHRA doesn’t disclose attendance at its races, motorsports sources said more than 90,000 people will attend the event Friday through Monday.


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