TRD’s White To Step Down After Current Season
The face and voice of Toyota Racing Development’s wide-ranging North American motorsports programs for more than 15 years is stepping down.
Lee White, president of TRD, announced Tuesday that he will retire at the end of the 2013 racing season. Citing “family health care needs,” White immediately will cease his daily duties and vacate the position of president/general manager of TRD.
White’s resignation comes in the aftermath of an embarrassing engine-related penalty handed out to NASCAR Sprint Cup Series star Matt Kenseth of Joe Gibbs Racing after his victory at Kansas Speedway last month, and a recent rash of engine failures in NASCAR’s premier series.
“I have been planning and working toward retirement at the end of this race season in December,” White said in a statement from TRD’s headquarters in Torrance, Calif. “I have been offered and accepted an opportunity to perform a reduced amount of duties from my home office. This generous arrangement afforded to us by the company will allow me to attend to personal family priorities.”
White has been with TRD for over 15 years and was responsible for all TRD activities in North America, including engine development, manufacturing, chassis design and development, team and manufacturer relationships, manufacturer and sanctioning body relations as well as engineering support for Toyota teams participating in NASCAR, U.S. Auto Club , National Hot Rod Association, Rolex Grand-Am and Off-Road competition.
“Lee has contributed enormously to Toyota Motorsports in his 15 years with TRD. His leadership has resulted in victories and championships in a broad spectrum of racing series,” said Bill Fay, Toyota Group vice president/general manager. “He’s had an impressive career and his day-to-day leadership will be missed. We offer Lee and Lynn our support and best wishes.”
Prior to joining Toyota in 1997, White began his career in racing with LeeCo Engineering as an owner, driver and engineer. He served as manager and engineer for Read Racing Engines and later became team manager and engineer for Herman Miller Porsche Racing. He since has held positions as general manager and engineer for Roush Racing, Rocketsports Racing and Newman/Haas Racing.
Throughout his career, White has participated in programs totaling approximately 1,000 individual race victories and 250 championships. He also is a private, instrument-rated pilot, aircraft tuner and holder of two U.S. National and World FIA speed records.
White will continue as a Special Advisor to TRD and Toyota Motorsports until his planned retirement at the end of the season. Assignment of his duties will be determined shortly.
Darrell Waltrip, a three-time Cup champion who partnered with Toyota when it entered the Craftsman (now Camping World) Truck Series beginning with the 2004 season, addressed White’s NASCAR legacy.
“From the first day I started with Toyota with my Truck Series team years ago, Lee White was in charge of the Toyota engine development program,” said Waltrip, now a NASCAR on Fox/Speed analyst. “When Toyota decided to get into Cup racing, they didn’t have anything to start with _ no engine, no vehicle, no nothing. Toyota didn’t have a V8 pushrod, normally-aspirated engine in its inventory at the time, so that engine had to be built from scratch from a blank sheet of paper. Lee oversaw every bit of that.
“Before that, he was a fierce competitor with Jack Roush in IMSA, and has been with TRD every step of the way, even in Indy car racing. Lee has a tremendous reputation and legacy, and it’s going to be a tall order to succeed him.”
White took one for TRD last month, after NASCAR officials slammed Kenseth and JGR with major penalties resulting from a piston connecting rod that failed to meet the minimum weight of 525.0 grams. The illegal rod was discovered during a post-race engine inspection of Kenseth’s winning No. 20 Dollar General Toyota Camry April 23 at the series’ Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C.
TRD, which manufactures the engines, took full responsibility for the illegal part. “JGR is not involved in the process of selecting parts or assembling the Cup Series engines,” White said in a statement. “It was a simple oversight on TRD’s part and there was no intent to deceive, or to gain any type of competitive advantage. The goal of TRD has always been _ and will continue to be _ to build high-performance engines that are reliable, durable and powerful, and within the guidelines established by NASCAR.”
The myriad penalties issued to team-owner Gibbs, Kenseth, crew chief Jason Ratcliff and Toyota were scaled back significantly by the National Stock Car Racing Appeals Panel on May 8.
Meanwhile, TRD engines supplied most notably to Kenseth and Martin Truex Jr. of Michael Waltrip Racing experienced significant failures during Sunday’s Cup race on the 1-mile Dover International Speedway. Kenseth finished 40th after completing only 159 of 400 laps and Truex Jr.’s No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Camry placed 38th after completing 279 of 400 laps. Toyota drivers have five Cup wins this season and eight poles, but TRD engines have failed six times.
“When engines make maximum power, which is what every driver and team wants, things will break,” Waltrip said. “When you push things to the limit, they eventually will give out. Junior Johnson always told me an engine is like a chain. When something breaks, you fix that part and hope nothing else breaks. That’s what Toyota has done. Look at the qualifying efforts this year. At Dover, Toyota took four of the top-five qualifying spots. They’ve been leading a lot of laps. They’ve been pushing the envelope. You can’t fault anybody when they’re making max power and achieving those kinds of results. But when things break, fix them and continue on.
“Regardless of who’s in charge, as a driver or owner, I don’t want an engine program that’s not cutting-edge. Toyota, under Lee White, has been cutting-edge and has been getting great results. However, they’ve had failures to go along with those results. That’s the downside to what they’ve been doing.”
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