Bob Carter, left, and NASCAR driver Martin Truex Jr. check out the sofa made from the car Carter drove in the final Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race.
In his youth, Toyota executive Bob Carter would visit the short tracks of western Pennsylvania on Saturday nights with his brother, soaking up the local racing culture.
Later in life, Carter would participate in high-performance driving programs at the Bob Bondurant and Skip Barber racing schools, and attend NASCAR as a fan with Toyota-sponsored racing teams.
"I've always had a passion for motorsports," said the executive vice president of sales for Toyota Motor North America. "I will go to the ends of the earth for a motorsports event, but I'd rather lay down in the middle of [California Highway] 405 before I play a round of golf."
And in a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, Carter started in the pole position in a race that included legends Al Unser Jr., Max Papis, Rod Millen and Jimmy Vasser.
The occasion was the final outing of the Toyota Pro/Celebrity Race at the Long Beach Grand Prix last year, ending its 40-year run.
For the final race, Toyota decided to invite the winners of previous years' races, which drew immediate interest. But there was still one spot open for Carter.
The drivers practiced together at Willow Springs raceway prior to the event. "I was star-struck just spending two weekends with these guys," said Carter. "We got to be friends and they taught me a lot about driving. And so it was a wonderful personal experience."
The race itself was a bit less wonderful for Carter. Although he was put on the pole because it was his first race, his Toyota 86 coupe was hit by other drivers on the third lap of the 10-lap race, totaling the car. "So, that's just racing," he said.
But he got a surprise in March when the Toyota-sponsored teams met during the automaker's "motorsports day" in Southern California. Carter was given a memento from his racing debut.
"When I wrecked my car [at Long Beach], it went to the junkyard. There was nothing left; the car was totaled," Carter said in a recent interview.
"But the race teams went out and recovered my car from the junkyard, took it back to the race shops, cut it in half and turned my race car into a sofa," he said.