By Toyota's impending entrance into NASCAR, a passel of stock car fans. In February, Toyota, which has its headquarters in Japan, announced it would enter as many as six Toyota Tundras in the Craftsman Truck Series next season. NASCAR rules state that only "American-made" vehicles can compete, but because the Tundra is produced entirely in the U.S., Toyota got the green flag. The idea, though, hasn't sat well with many of the carnescenti. At The Winston in Concord, N.C., last weekend the anti-Japanese sentiment was palpable. " NASCAR is the last purely American sport," said a disgusted Carl Dover, 46, who had staked out a spot in the infield. "The [Japanese] are into everything." Charles Walker, a columnist on an auto racing fan website, catchfence.com, recently bemoaned the possibility of an American car losing to a "rice rocket."
"We know there has been some initial disapproval of what we're doing," says Les Unger, Toyota's U.S. motor sports manager. But the company is encouraged by the support it's getting from drivers and owners. "The interest in our sport is now global, and this acknowledges that," says Bill Davis, owner of Ward Burton's car. "It'll also bring more money in." Toyota is already a major player in open-wheel racing-there will be six Toyotas in the top 10 starting positions in Sunday's Indianapolis 500—and its foray into NASCAR likely won't stop with trucks. Toyota Camrys are expected to race in Winston Cup in 2006 or '07. "This will bring more people to the sport," says driver Jimmy Spencer. "If you drive a Toyota truck or car, now you've got somebody to support at the race." Toyota's Unger agrees: "We think this will be good for Toyota, for the fans and for NASCAR." But longtime aficionado Dover isn't buying Toyota's pitch: "I hope their engines blow up in every race."