Changing Perceptions

In the heart of pickup truck country, dealership technician races a Prius
by Dan Miller
Nov/Dec 2017
Changing Perceptions
Prius Racer
Paul Sexton knows people have perceptions about who drives a Prius. “I don’t fit a single one,” he says.
Photos by Ray Schumin/Blue Ridge Region SCCA and Matthew Wilkinson
Paul Sexton lives and works in southern West Virginia where, as the L&S Toyota of Beckley master diagnostic technician puts it, “if you don’t drive a lifted truck of some sort, you’re seen as an oddball.”
If that’s true, then Sexton is truly one of a kind.
That’s because, during the workweek, Sexton doesn’t make his 50-mile commute each way to the dealership in a pickup. He pilots a Prius, Toyota’s iconic hybrid liftback. Then, on the weekends, he completely upends conventional wisdom and battles it out in Autocross competitions — again, in a car that optimizes efficiency over performance.
This just isn’t done. But Sexton is doing it, successfully.
“People have perceptions about who drives a Prius,” Sexton says. “I don’t fit a single one. I especially run up against that when I race. At every event, there are hecklers who make it very clear that a guy in a Prius doesn’t belong there. But by the end of the day, they change their tune.”
For the Love of Racing
Sexton's love of motorsports began at an early age, when he and his dad would watch NASCAR telecasts.

As an adult, he dabbled in Autocross in a Celica and, later, a Matrix. This amateur motorsports circuit typically sets up road courses with orange cones in large parking lots, with entrants aiming to negotiate the twists and turns as fast as possible. It’s survival of the quickest.
Then, tragedy struck: Sexton lost his father to pancreatic cancer. Nearly two years later, in need of a new challenge, he decided to go all in on racing.
“My wife really pushed me to take it seriously,” he says. “So, last year, I competed in every event on the schedule and went after a championship.”
OK, but why a Prius?
The answer to that question dates back to 2008, when Sexton was rear-ended while driving a Tacoma. Rather than replace it with another truck, Sexton decided to “just bite the bullet and get a Prius.”
So that’s the car he had when his passion for racing resurfaced. Sexton's first Prius shared its platform with the Corolla, for which a range of TRD performance suspension parts had been developed. Those modifications, along with a set of used competition tires, allowed him to hold his own in what his rivals began calling the “Franken-Prius.”
A More Proficient Driver
Sexton bought his current ride in 2016, choosing instead to compete in Autocross’ street class. Other than stiffer shocks, a Scion xB TRD rear sway bar and beefier wheels and tires, this Prius is “bone stock.” Yet, in Sexton’s hands, it’s competitive.
“The main disadvantage is a lack of horsepower,” he says. “But the extra torque that kicks in with the electric motor assist does come in handy. Autocross courses tend to be very tight, so your ability to pull out of a corner is crucial. I’ve learned what scrubs off speed and what helps you carry speed. Just about anyone can drive a fast car fast. Learning how to drive a slower car fast has made me a much more proficient driver.”
The results bear that out. Over the past two seasons, Sexton has often finished first or second in his class — including being named class champion at the Virginia Autocross Championship in 2016.
Now, Sexton hopes his track record will help him secure the contacts and sponsorships he’ll need to move up a rung or two on the motorsports ladder. But even if that dream never quite comes true, he’s already accomplished more than anyone ever thought possible with a hybrid.
“To say Toyota is in my blood is an understatement,” says Sexton, a fixture at L&S Toyota for the past 17 years. “I’m changing perceptions, one person at a time. That’s what drives me. If I had the means, I wouldn’t hesitate to compete on a larger stage. I’d love to be able to show more people what these cars can do.”
<< Back