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Why the Hell Isn't There a Toyota Tacoma Spec Series?

Road & Track logo Road & Track 10/29/2020 Zach Bowman
a truck that is sitting on top of a car: One of the last manual-transmission pickups in America is fun. Why not race them? © Toyota One of the last manual-transmission pickups in America is fun. Why not race them?

I spent yesterday behind the wheel of a 2016 Toyota Tacoma TRD Off Road. A friend bought the truck from a dealer in Pennsylvania, and I agreed to go play fetch, slogging up the interstate from Knoxville, Tennessee with him in his Golf TDI. I’ve never been a huge Toyota fan. Aside from a few outliers, the brand’s American products tilt hard toward inglorious consumer fare. Hybirds. Gas engines with zero character. Interiors made of the kind of industrial plastic that can stand up to four generations of children wiping their chocolate-covered faces all over everything. And while I respect the Tacoma’s reliability and run-until-the-heat-death-of-the-universe reputation, I haven’t found them particularly fun. That is, until I drove this truck.

a car parked on the side of a building: Toyota Tacoma © Zach Bowman Toyota Tacoma

See, the Tacoma now finds itself in an interesting position. It is one of the last four-wheel-drive pickup trucks in America with a manual transmission. The Jeep Gladiator is the only other option that springs to mind. But unlike the Gladiator, the Tacoma is fun to hustle. The manual in the previous-generation Taco was nothing to write home about, but the current-gen gearbox is a treat, and changes the truck from ho-hum Home Depot schlepper to an actual enthusiast vehicle. Chasing my buddy home last night, hopping railroad tracks and working our way down familiar back roads, I was amazed by the Tacoma’s manners. There was grip. And the soft springs made for hilarious body roll. It reminded me of all the fun I had as a teenager behind the wheel of my dad’s Nissan Hardbody, another machine with just enough power to get out of its own way and not enough weight over the rear axle. It made me wonder why we don’t have a spec series for these things.

a car driving down a dirt road: Toyota Tacoma Racing © Khalid Turk Toyota Tacoma Racing

Toyota's no stranger to racing trucks, with a long history of entries in the Mint 400 and the Baja 1000, but I’m thinking something along the lines of a rally cross course, complete with a mix of loose gravel, mud, and pavement. The trucks would be bone stock, save the necessary safety equipment, wheels, tires, and lights. Hilarity would inevitably ensue. Toyota could sell body-in-white racers with a roll cage and no interior. Energy drink sponsors would come out of the woodwork. Peace would settle on the land. It would be perfect.

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