Wednesday, October 24, 2007

Toyota's Motorsports Champions Saluted at NHRA Museum

As Toyota begins paying more attention to their history and heritage, it seems fitting that they'd want to honor their motorsports champions as well. Toyota as a brand has been an unfailing supporter of racing activites; in recent years, the company has launched major efforts in both Formula One and NASCAR racing. All gearheads should be thankful to them for that; Toyota is helping keep professional motorsports alive!

So it was that Toyota held a dinner dubbed the "Night of Champions" at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum on October 18th. There are currently six historic Toyota racing vehicles from the past 25 years on display at the museum. The exhibit runs through January 2008.

I was most struck upon seeing the IMSA Toyota Eagle MKIII formerly driven by Juan Manuel Fangio II.

This car brought back a flood of memories; I remember being six years old and attending the IMSA Camel GT race at Laguna Seca, where my favorite driver, Juan Manuel Fangio II, beat all the other competition driving a similar car. Fangio II is the nephew of the legendary Juan Manuel Fangio, who won 5 Grand Prix World Championships during the 1950s.

The younger Fangio (left) even made the trip from Balcarce, Argentina, to attend the ceremony.

The fuel-sipping Prius record setter (below) was certainly the greenest vehicle displayed in the house Wally Parks built. It looked somewhat out of place against a backdrop of '32 Ford Lakes Roadsters, Bonneville Belly Tanks, and frenched taillights.

This very rare IMSA Celica was trucked out for the evening of the dinner only. Period driver Dennis Aase was in attendance, but Dan Gurney was conspicuously absent!

Even with Gurney absent, the guest list wasn't suffering too much! There were no shortage of Toyota champions (above), with almost one at each dinner table. Visible in the photo (among others) are "Ironman" Ivan Stewart, Steve Millen, Cristiano da Matta, Alex Barron, Chris Cord, and Frank Arciero. All in all, it was a spectacular evening which provided an opportunity to reflect on all that Toyota has contributed to motorsport in recent years. Thank you Toyota for all the racing memories!

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