PARK CITY, Utah – Almost as soon as Toyota officials announced the automaker had become an official partner with the U.S. Winter Olympic effort, Nick Ammazzalorso began thinking about NASCAR.
Not as an Olympic event. But the crossover appeal was undeniable.
“Right when we signed these partnerships we thought there was a great opportunity for us to bring (NASCAR) drivers through the paces of sports that use not necessarily similar technology but … that are similar and really introduce them to that,” said Ammazzalorso, marketing communications manager for Toyota Motor North America.
Toyota is an official partner sponsor for the 2018 Olympic Winter Games to be held in Pyeongchang, South Korea. Earlier this year, officials with Toyota announced National Governing Body partnerships with U.S. Figure Skating and U.S. Speed Skating. It already enjoys a partnership with USA Hockey.
“Because Toyota is a global Olympic partner we know that we’re going to be doing a lot in the coming years so this is kind of the introduction, the tip of the iceberg,” Ammazzalorso said.
On the NASCAR side, Toyota is one of three manufacturers currently providing factory support to teams and its lineup includes Furniture Row Racing and Joe Gibbs Racing, two multicar organizations competing in the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series.
So for two days between events at Michigan International Speedway and Sonoma Raceway last month, officials held an “immersion” with FRR drivers Martin Truex Jr., teammate Erik Jones, their crew chiefs Cole Pearn and Chris Gayle, and fellow driver Daniel Suarez of JGR, putting them front and center with U.S. Winter Olympic athletes in their respective training centers here and in nearby Kearns, Utah.
“The camaraderie between athletes is important to us, the synergy,” Ammazzalorso said. “We believe in not just putting our name on a banner. We want this to be a totally integrated partnership and our Olympic partners have been great to us so far.
“This is a thank you to them but it’s also an introduction to our NASCAR drivers of what’s outside, beyond the NASCAR world for Toyota. We sponsor a lot of different things across the country and across the world but we’re really passionate about our Olympics partnership so bringing two of our big passion points together made sense.”
Day One consisted of a trip to the Center of Excellence, the training center for athletes competing in ski and snowboard events and included participation on a ski simulator as well as various balance and power workouts.
Skiers Ashley Caldwell (freestyle), Bryan Fletcher (Nordic combined) and River Radamus (alpine) were on hand to give demonstrations and provide a bit of coaching.
Truex leaned on his crew chief for advice as he attempted to use the ski simulator to snowboard.
“Same as every week. Don’t crash,” Truex said of Pearn’s instructions.
Truex said his last time on a snowboard was nearly a decade ago, adding “When they started to pay me to drive race cars I gave it up.”
Michael Bingaman, a strength and conditioning coach with men’s alpine, put the short training program together and said he was impressed with how well the drivers and crew chiefs fared.
“I spent the entire first time I was on the ski simulator with my hands on the (balance) bar,” Bingaman said. “Everyone here that stood up has done better than I did.”
Day Two began with a stop at Utah Olympic Park to watch freestyle competitors train by completing their jumps off a variety of ramps before landing in a pool; take a trip down the noisy concrete bobsled run and a visit to the top of the mountain where ski jumpers in training launch themselves into space.
Later, Olympian Mitch Whitmore and other speed skaters greeted the NASCAR group at the Utah Olympic Oval where short track and distance training was under way.
Pearn said talking with the various athletes about the technical aspects of their different sports was one of the more interesting things to come out of the two-day program.
“What are the variables they’re looking at and what are the obstacles they have to face to gain more performance?” Pearn said. “It’s kind of neat (comparing it) to what we do in NASCAR.”
That it came in the middle of the week, and the middle of the year, made it “a pretty awesome trip for sure,” Pearn said.
“To be able to do this in June on such amazing venues is a pretty great experience.”