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May 25, 2022

Shige Hattori savoring the journey with team ownership success in Camping World Trucks

Daylon Barr / Daylon Barr Photography
Daylon Barr Photography
Hattori Racing

From a young age, Shigeaki – better known as Shige – Hattori knew he wanted to be around motorsports. He just didn’t know what kind.

At roughly 8 or 9 years old, he was hanging out in Japan with his uncle, who had a motorcycle. There, he knew what one of his desires was.

“I tried to start the motorcycle, but two wheels is not enough,” Hattori recalled. “I needed four.”

Just a few years after that experience, Hattori began racing. Like many kids, he started in go-karts before moving to Japanese Formula Junior 1600 for two years. In 1992, he moved to Japanese Formula 2, followed by two years in Japanese Formula 3, including a championship win in 1994.

That same year, however, Hattori caught a glimpse of the inaugural NASCAR Cup Series race at Indianapolis Motor Speedway. He was hooked.

So much so that in 1995, he moved to the United States to continue the hopes of chasing his racing dream, beginning with the Indy Lights Series in 1996. By 1998, his third and final year in the series, he found Victory Lane twice, finishing a best of 13th in the championship standings.

During that time, Hattori formed a partnership with multiple Toyota car dealerships in Japan. To this day, some of those dealerships, including Chiba Toyopet, Gunma Toyopet and Ibaraki Toyopet, are embedded with his race team.

“Shige has been great and a longtime friend, and a friend of Toyota,” said David Wilson, president of Toyota Racing. “He is one of the best and most amazing networkers across the Toyota organization. It amazes me of his ability to bring sponsorship from Japan that he’s used to identify the consumer touchpoints on some of these companies. To his credit and his persistence, he’s made a business out of this sport.”

In a four-year span between 2000 and 2003, Hattori competed in 26 NTT IndyCar Series races, earning a best finish of sixth at Texas Motor Speedway. Wanting to move away from open-wheel competition, he jumped to the Camping World Truck Series in 2004, the same year that Toyota first entered one of NASCAR’s three national touring series. In what was to be his series debut at Homestead, he failed to qualify.

The following year – in what turned out to be his final behind the wheel – Hattori qualified for 10 of 12 attempts in the Truck Series. It was over before he knew it.

Daylon Barr / Daylon Barr Photography
Daylon Barr Photography | Hattori Racing

“I decided, ‘OK, no more,’ and I stopped driving,” Hattori said. “Two or three years after, I didn’t do anything. I took some classes at UCLA, traveling and doing nothing with my life. I was thinking, I should do something. I really liked NASCAR racing, and so I decided I should start my race team and put young drivers (in it). So, I started in 2008.”

MORE: Learn about Hattori Racing Enterprises

That was the year Hattori Racing Enterprises entered the NASCAR mold, starting off in the ARCA Menards Series. Current Trackhouse Racing co-owner Justin Marks was the first driver to strap into HRE equipment at Rockingham Speedway, finishing 31st out of 50 cars with an overheating issue. Between 2008 and 2011, Hattori would make 13 starts as a team owner.

At that time, Brett Moffitt was an up-and-coming hot shoe. With previous stints at Joe Gibbs Racing and Michael Waltrip Racing, the Iowa native found himself at HRE for the 2012 and 2013 K&N Pro Series East (now ARCA East) schedule. Moffitt won two of his first eight starts with the team, coming up just shy in the championship hunt each year, finishing second and third, respectively.

Hattori knew his next move was to continue up the NASCAR ladder and field an entry in the Truck Series.

“In 2012 and 2013, we were really close to the K&N championship, so I thought it was a good time to move up to the Truck Series,” Hattori said. “I don’t care if it’s Truck, Xfinity or Cup, I really wanted to make the program competitive.”

Hattori didn’t field a truck full time until the 2017 season with Ryan Truex behind the wheel. Scott Zipadelli was a key hire for HRE, having had recent success with Moffitt at Red Horse Racing, which included a win at Michigan in 2016. Ahead of the 2018 season, Hattori got the band back together, bringing Moffitt back to the team after running four part-time seasons in all three national series, including winning the Sunoco Rookie of the Year Award in the Cup Series in 2015.

It took just two races for Moffitt to find Victory Lane in the No. 16 Toyota, scoring HRE’s first-ever win at Atlanta Motor Speedway. That day is one Hattori won’t soon forget.

“It was a green-white-checkered (finish),” Hattori recalled. “It was such a good memory.”

Despite the early success, HRE sought sponsorship for a good chunk of the season. Hattori flew back and forth to Japan approximately 12 times that year, hustling to find new sponsors and negotiating with current partners.

With all of the team’s effort, it kept feeling like the ball was getting kicked down the court. And on some weekends, it came down to the final hours before the truck was wrapped for the race.

“The struggle was always budget-wise,” Hattori said. “But we were leading the points, so we couldn’t stop. We have to keep going, right?”

The team powered on and Moffitt went on to win six times, including the final two races and the championship. It was an underdog story of sorts, though Hattori always believed in Moffitt and Zipadelli.

The team owner was shocked to be spraying champagne and hoisting the Truck Series championship in just his second full season as a truck owner.

“I was surprised that we won six races. It was a good surprise,” Hattori stated.

After 2018, the team moved on to Austin Hill, picking up eight wins in three seasons and winning the regular season championship in 2020.

“It was three years of a pretty good time,” Hattori said of his stint with Hill.

Daylon Barr / Daylon Barr Photography
Daylon Barr Photography | Hattori Racing

Away from the track, Hattori has been crucial in building partnerships to help his race team and Toyota dealerships in Japan, as well as introducing the people of Japan to NASCAR. Such is the case with the Japanese Toyota Dealership Mechanic Training Program. As part of the initiative, HRE provides a NASCAR training program for partnering Japanese Toyota dealers’ mechanics. Those mechanics would fly to the U.S. and spend one or two weeks in the race shop before experiencing a race weekend. Over 300 mechanics have participated in HRE’s training program.

Hattori is also involved in the Japanese Toyota Technical College Training Program, which was last hosted in 2019, where students from Japan’s three Toyota Technical colleges visit the U.S. to work in HRE’s shop. The program culminates by joining the HRE team for an ARCA Menards Series race to work as mechanics and perform a pit stop. Another 100-plus students have participated in the program since 2012.

Then, there’s the Tokyo Auto Salon, which is similar to the United States’ SEMA event and hosts nearly 330,000 people over the course of three days. Hattori’s Vertex Sports marketing firm and Goodyear Japan are able to highlight show cars and Goodyear Racing products before demonstrating what a live pit stop looks like from the HRE team. That opens NASCAR up to a whole new demographic, as the sport is not heavily featured in Japan.

Moving forward, Hattori wants to remain a competitive team owner. For the first time this season, he’s running two teams in the Truck Series, rather than running a partial Xfinity Series schedule. Through nine races, his drivers Tyler Ankrum and Chase Purdy sit 14th and 19th, respectively, in the championship standings.

DRIVERS: Tyler Ankrum driver page | Chase Purdy driver page

The immediate goal is to get Ankrum and Purdy more experience, as he sees them improving every week. The long-term goal, though, is to remain a competitive force, no matter which series the team competes in.

“My goal is I really want to move up to Cup,” Hattori said. “The keys to this sport are people and sponsorship. If everything is right, I really want to move up to Cup.

“I don’t like just running, I really want to win the race. So hopefully, people, sponsors that I can put together in the future, I can move up to Cup.”

2022 May27 Hattori Main Image
Hattori Racing Enterprises