CONCORD, NC – Racing has been the engine of Andy Graves’ life. A robust engine that’s guided him to Hendrick Motorsports for nine years, Chip Ganassi Racing for six years – including an Indianapolis 500 win in 2000 – and Toyota Racing Development for more than 16 years, helping build their presence across multiple forms of motorsports.
But when he wants to remember why he fell in love with auto racing, Sprint Car and Midget races are his Eden.
That passion has led Toyota to the World of Outlaws NOS Energy Drink Sprint Car Series with the development of the TRD Toyota 410 engine and increased partnership – now the Official Vehicle of the Series and Dash sponsor.
“At TRD, since we’ve been involved with the USAC Midget program, we always knew and always felt like there was a hole there in our grassroots ladder and the World of Outlaws 410 Sprint Car would be a perfect fit,” said Graves, the executive competition engineering, technical director for TRD. “There’d been light discussions over the years about that. I think it really stemmed from, after the 2017 season we had another great year in NASCAR, winning the championship with Martin Truex (Jr.) and Furniture Row Racing. I put it back on the agenda (in 2018) before our group, our executive committee, because of my love for 410 Sprint Cars.
“When I was younger, at 14 years old, in the summers I worked for Jeff Swindell. I had the passion for Sprint Cars and it fit really nice for Jack (Irving, the executive commercial director for TRD) and his driver development ladder, and for us to fit in the community. During that time, during the end of 2018, beginning of 2019, we finally got the green light and the approval to start moving forward with it.”
With the goal of eventually selling their own parts and hoping to see close to half of Sprint Car fields powered by TRD engines, Graves said they thought working with two engine builders would help speed up the process. Especially with having to start from a clean sheet.
First up for the challenge was Rick Long, owner and president of Speedway Engine Development, who they already had a relationship with. Then, off the recommendations of Christopher Bell and Kyle Larson, Graves approached Tom Rider with Rider Racing Engines out of Pennsylvania to also help with the program.
“I feel like that is a pretty powerhouse of a combination when you have those two guys on your team,” Graves said.
In the TRD engine’s first full season with the World of Outlaws this year, it’s already visited Victory Lane twice in the first 10 races with James McFadden and Roth Motorsports.
“It’s a pretty cool stat to be a part of,” McFadden said. “I’m an engine builder by trade. I’ve done that my whole career until I came over here working with the World of Outlaws. So, to be a part of a development deal is really fun and something that I’m really interested in.
“It’s tough at times, you really have to be on your game as soon as you hit the track with these guys and when you’re trying to develop something, it can put you on the back foot but so far so good. It’s been pretty good. These things run really well.”
The path to that success wasn’t easy. Like the development of the Ford FPS 410, TRD’s new engine was also plagued by COVID supply issues. Manufacturers couldn’t get materials. And when they could, it still took months to get it.
The TRD engine – from Rider – made its official debut on Jan. 29, 2021, with Giovanni Scelzi and KCP Racing at an All Star Circuit of Champions race. The day prior, Scelzi and the team made practice laps with it. Thirty minutes into the session Long called Graves to warn him that the crankshaft had just broke on the engine he had on his dyno. While the engine in Scelzi’s car survived the weekend, crankshaft issues lingered throughout the year.
Taking advice from their NHRA Toyota team, Kalitta Motorsports, they switched to Callies Performance Products crankshafts and the issue went away. However, they weren’t out of the water yet.
After spending almost all of 2021 dealing with the crankshaft issue, they suffered head sealing issues in 2022. This year, Graves said he feels like they’ve finally got their arms around everything.
During those development years, the engine was still victorious, though. Tyler Courtney brought the engine its first victory at the end of 2021 during a Non-Wing Sprint Car event with the National Auto Club Racing Series at Kings Speedway in Hanford, CA. Then, in 2022, Aaron Reutzel brought the engine its first Winged Sprint Car victory during a weekly show at Knoxville Raceway.
“It’s cool to say I have a little piece of Toyota’s history coming into Sprint Car racing,” Courtney said. “They’ve made a name for themselves in all forms of motorsports. To be the, ‘quote–unquote’ first winner for them, whether it was a super high-class race or not, I can always say I was the first Sprint Car winner for Toyota.”
Reutzel was one of the first drivers Toyota teamed with to run the TRD engine, off the recommendation of Graves and Bell. When the two parties agreed to work together in 2021, Reutzel was making the move to Roth Motorsports and introduced Graves to Dennis and Teresa Roth. However, between Reutzel not finishing the season with the team and crankshaft issues, a TRD engine never made it into the Roth #83 that year.
Scelzi was Toyota’s other driver, but with the young Californian and his KCP Racing still trying to develop their program at the time, Graves said they all agreed it wasn’t the right time for them to take on the development of the new engine.
So, for the 2022 season, knowing they still wanted at least two teams to help run the engine, Toyota continued its partnership with Roth Motorsports – now fielding the #83 for James McFadden – and followed Reutzel to his new team with Ridge & Sons Racing.
McFadden scored his first win with Roth at Lakeside Speedway that year, which was a race after they pulled the TRD engine out of the car due to it hitting its mileage limit.
Going into 2023, Todd Ventura, Roth’s team manager, pushed Graves and his team into taking the next step. He thought they were ready to run the entire 87-race World of Outlaws schedule.
“I don’t think we thought we were ready to go World of Outlaws racing,” Graves said with a chuckle. “[Ventura] had a lot of faith in us.”
That faith payday off in the third race of the season when McFadden won at Volusia, bringing Toyota its first World of Outlaws win and Roth Motorsports its 100th win. A month and a half later, he won again at Devil’s Bowl, securing another milestone win for Toyota – he had won Volusia with the Rider engine and Devil’s Bowl with the Speedway engine.
“We made a decision over the winter that we wanted each of the guys running our engines to be split,” Graves said. “We wanted half of their pool to be Rider engines and the other half to be Speedway because we wanted to accelerate our learning curve even more. The only way to do that was to be able to get our engine partners and ourselves to be more involved in every part and piece and in each other’s engines in order to solve those problems quicker.
“For James to get a win at Volusia with a Rider and then to follow it up with a win at Devil’s Bowl with a Speedway TRD engine is just phenomenal. We’re super excited and hopefully a lot better things to come this year.”
The 410 engine program and partnership with the World of Outlaws is a key element in Toyota’s hopes to further engage with the grassroots community and have another platform to work with drivers in the highest level of dirt racing.
They’ve already had a strong presence in dirt Midget racing and have increased that, joining as the presenting sponsor of the Xtreme Outlaw Midget Series. Now, along with joining the World of Outlaws Sprint Cars, Toyota has also partnered with the World of Outlaws CASE Construction Equipment Late Model Series and Super DIRTcar Series, becoming the Official Vehicle for each.
“Obviously, [the World of Outlaws] put on a hell of a show,” Irving said. “They have the best drivers. They do an amazing job with how they manage a race and how they deal with tech at a race. They run a very clean, well ran program. When we visited them years back, when Andy first pitched this, you couldn’t be more impressed with what they have for people who are at the track, for marketing people like us who want to engage at the track, the ability to receive data and use their video services and everything else, make it an easy partnership for Toyota.
“They are a great group to deal with. A long time ago I was told you should do business with people you like, and they are an easy group to like. From our perspective to further partner with them, we love what they’re doing with the Xtreme Midget program. It is extremely important how well they tech the cars and how consistent they are with the rules and how they implement them. That has been a big part for us. It helps the teams kind of save themselves from themselves. I think for us, to be able to have drivers that get to race against the best there are at doing what they do, it was a pretty natural progression to partner with them a little bit further.”
To attend World of Outlaws events and see the TRD Toyota 410 engine in action, CLICK HERE.
If you can’t make it to the track, you can watch all the action live on DIRTVision.
Editors Note-Andy Graves was a former Supermodified driver, builder and designer who competed at the Oswego Speedway and on the International Supermodified Association for several years at the start of his career.