Hattori Racing Enterprises is an anomaly within NASCAR ranks as they participate in the K&N Pro Series East along with the Gander Outdoors Truck Series, where they won the championship title last year with Brett Moffitt. And that’s because their participation in the sport gives the two series an amazing international exposure that is driven by the man behind the organization. That man is Shigeaki Hattori who came to the United States from Japan at the age of 30 in 1995.
Affectionately known as ‘Shigi’ within the NASCAR garage area, Hattori’s entry into US racing includes Indy Lights where he earned his first win at the season opener at Homestead in 1996, CART, and the Indy Racing League. He decided to join the ranks of NASCAR with Germain-Arnold Racing in 2004 and in 2008 he fielded cars in NASCAR and ARCA.
Hattori talks about his own incredible growth coming to the United States as a champion having won the Formula Toyota title in 1994.
“Since then, step-by-step I learned a lot, culture wise,” says Hattori about coming to the United States. “It’s really a different part of my life, but same time it’s a big part of my personal growth.”
Making his debut as a team owner in the Gander Outdoors Truck Series on August 18, 2013, Hattori Racing Enterprises fielded the No. 16 Goodyear of Japan Toyota at Michigan International Speedway in the National Guard 200. Since then, Hattori Racing Enterprises has competed in the Xfinity, Truck, and K&N Pro Series with a long list of drivers including Ross Chastain, Ross Kenseth, Ryan Truex, Johnny Sauter, Alex Bowman, Austin Hill, David Garbo Jr, Lee Pulliam, Sergio Pena, Max McLaughlin, and Brett Moffit who brought HRE their first Truck Series championship in 2018.
Remembering his own experience coming to the US world of racing, Hattori has implemented an amazing program with the support of Toyota in Japan. For the last eight years, six students from Japan’s Toyota Technical Institute travel to the United States to become the crew for an HRE race team and interact with other students at the NASCAR Institue of Technology in Moorseville, NC.
“This program is a two-week program,” says Hattori. “They stayed in Moorseville (NC) and NTI (NASCAR Technical Institute) had special classes every day in the morning 8 to 12. They teach how to change the tires and just how to set up everything. Then, they worked at our shop and worked on the car in preparation for the race.”
“I came here when I was 30 years old, these kids are 18-19 years old,” says Hattori. “Even at the time, I learned a lot, but these kids get more (time to learn).”
In this case, ‘the race’ is the Casey’s General Store 150 for the K&N Pro Series East at Iowa Speedway on Friday, July 26th. The No. 1 crew this weekend at Iowa for Max McLaughlin is the all Japanese team that includes the six students from Japan working with Hattori Racing Enterprises. And by the way, the No. 1 engine was built by honor students at the NASCAR Institute of Technology. On Friday afternoon, Max McLaughlin started fifth and finished tenth in the K&N Pro Series combination event, helping the K&N East take eight of the top-ten finishing spots.
Darrell Hoffman leads students in the engine program at NASCAR’s Technical Institute overseeing the students as they get hands-on experience building engines for the K&N East HRE No. 1 team.
“They have really have a good program at the NASCAR Technical Institute,” says McLaughlin on his way to driver introductions for the K&N Pro Series combination event at Iowa. “It’s really impressive that they build these kinds of engines. They come into this deal not really knowing a whole lot and these guys are working in the K&N Series right now. It’s a really cool deal to have and it’s a great opportunity for these young kids that love the sport of racing.
Merging the cultures from Japan’s Toyota Technical Institute with the NASCAR Technical Institute students and Hattori Racing Team is a brilliant way to enable the growth and inspiration of the individuals taking part on both sides while enhancing their racing program. As the driver reaping the benefits of the joint venture, McLaughlin is happy with the program and his interaction with the Japanese students.
“It’s basically a NTI (NASCAR Technical Institute) school in Japan,” says McLaughlin about the Japan Toyota Technical Institute. “There’s three schools, Kobe, Tokyo, and Nagoya. Two students from each school are selected to come over and work on my team. Actually, they’re doing the pit stops today and that will be exciting to see. They’ve worked at our shop the last two weeks and I have to say their work ethic is incredible. They’re there every day, they love being there. They’re really fun kids – you know I can’t really understand what they’re saying at all. But they’ve learned English and they’ve taught me some Japanese. We’re learning each way…they’re really fun kids to hang out with and they do a really good job working on the car.”
Fans can watch the NASCAR K&N Pro Series combination race, the Casey’s General Store 150 at Iowa Speedway on delay broadcast on NBCSN this Wednesday, July 31st at 7 pm ET.