COSTA MESA, Calif. -- Located in a quiet Costa Mesa business district -- an hour's drive southwest of this week's NASCAR venue Auto Club Speedway -- sits a non-descript grey brick building identified only by three letters: "TRD." This is the brain trust and engineering headquarters for Toyota Racing Development.
Just inside the front doors your eyes are drawn to a pedestal holding a three-foot high bright red statue -- a Japanese "daruma" -- an homage to Zen Buddhism that is both motivating and interactive. According to legend, in a small ceremony you paint in the left eye of the doll when setting a specific goal. You paint in the right eye -- finishing the doll's face -- when that goal is accomplished.
This one is still winking. It awaits Toyota's first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver's championship.
It is a symbol of what has been a unique and fruitful East meets West relationship as Toyota celebrates its 10th year in NASCAR after an unconventional and highly ambitious entrance onto the American stock car scene.
As President and General Manager TRD USA David Wilson explains, Toyota was extremely conscientious of manner and appearance. This was as much a cultural consideration as a sporting outlet.
As Wilson explained, originally Toyota's decision to enter NASCAR "was about participating in a sport that is iconically American and hitching our wagon to that.
"At the time, (Toyota) literally didn't care about winning, it was about participating. From our end here (at TRD), we wanted to win and we were confident it would come in time. And it has.
"It (NASCAR) was the right place to talk to the fans about the Americanization of Toyota and the fact we build cars and trucks here,'' Wilson said. "In doing that research and talking to the fans we also realized it was going to be a very polarizing consideration for the NASCAR fan base: a "foreign" manufacturer joining the ranks. And so a lot of that dictated the method with which we entered the sport.
"I don't think our expectations in the first year were that aggressive, knowing we were new to the sport,'' Wilson continued. "From an indirect benefit, that somewhat demonstrated to the fan base that we were being respectful of their sport, we weren't going in there heavy-handed."
This week, TRD invited a small group of racing journalists to tour the facility for the first time ever and it was immediately apparent in tangible ways that Toyota's involvement in the sport is about a broader philosophy.
The engine-making facility was built in 1995 as Toyota was making inroads in open-wheel and drag racing genres. It now employs 182 workers -- an engineer assigned to every engine part. Really.
It is impressive in its size -- two massive buildings that measure 32,000 and 47,000-square feet each, house five engine dynamometers, automated parts-making machines the size of a truck, massive inspection bays and all the offices and work stations you'd expect of a high technology-based work space.
The walls surrounding the engine "build shop" are decorated in wallpaper that gives the impression you are deep inside the Bristol Motor Speedway. A motif of empty grandstands rises floor to ceiling -- empty because that's when this behind-the-scenes type work is done.
Blue prints sit on tables throughout the area. Huge carts of metal shavings sit in the parts-production line and half-completed engines sit tagged and awaiting the next stage of completion. It takes approximately 130 man-hours to build a single engine.
Engineers work shoulder-to-shoulder with technicians, turning out 55 engines a week to be delivered to Toyota's Sprint Cup teams -- a contingent led by Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing.
One team is building engines, while simultaneously another team is dis-assembling the most recently race-used motor. Every single engine is taken apart piece-by-piece and rebuilt and reused when possible.
On large carts, used engine pieces are cleaned and separated, and tagged with helpful notes such as "light crash, spun backwards" or "ran hot in race."
There is great cost in being so removed from NASCAR's traditional hub outside Charlotte, N.C., some 2,500 miles away -- but also benefits. And Toyota has made it work.
"If we can't deliver a product to them that's as good or better than what we could do there, then we'd have to move,'' Wilson said. "But that hasn't happened.''
Certainly Toyota's home track Auto Club Speedway has been a veritable Toyota showroom.
Matt Kenseth put his No. 20 Dollar General Toyota on the Coors Light pole for Sunday's race. Toyota driver Kyle Busch is the defending race-winner, his trophy sits in the TRD front foyer just across from the daruma.
It is a striking reminder that Toyota's intentionally unique methods -- in locale, approach and philosophy -- have been rewarded. Persistence, patience and perspective have produced achievement.
Three drivers in the past four seasons -- Kenseth in 2013, Clint Bowyer in 2012 and Denny Hamlin in 2010 -- have finished runner-up in the Chase for the Sprint Cup. And last year's cumulative 14 wins in a Camry gave Toyota the season-high total and a runner-up in the manufacturer's race.
"Spiritually, since we've come into the sport, it's been such a positive reaction,'' Wilson said. "Our board meetings are much more pleasant. If you look at the reasons Toyota came into NASCAR, for the first time since engaging in top-tier motorsports, the company engaged us.
"From a personal level it makes you feel good to be here. That support and warmth goes all the way back to Japan. They have embraced this as the right place for our company."