Japanese Students Earn NASCAR Opportunity
Toyota Technical College Students To Be Busy In Iowa
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – NASCAR has grown to heights founder Bill France Jr. himself probably couldn’t have even imagined when he brought a group together at the Streamline Hotel in Daytona Beach in 1949 to bring the organization to life.
One example of those unlikely heights is the global reach NASCAR has gained throughout its 60-plus year history and that will be evident this weekend at Iowa Speedway thanks in large part to former driver and current NASCAR team owner Shige Hattori and a partnership with Toyota Motor Corporation.
For the fourth year in a row, Hattori’s team, Hattori Racing Enterprises, is hosting six high-performing college students and three instructors from Toyota Technical College in Japan.
The students are getting an education about the sport of NASCAR at the NASCAR Technical Institute (NTI) in Mooresville, North Carolina. They are preparing to work on Jesse Little’s NASCAR K&N Pro Series East entry in this Friday’s “Thank’s Kenny 125” at Iowa Speedway in Newton, Iowa.
Since the students arrived in North Carolina on July 20, they’ve been taking classes to learn about race cars, working at the HRE shop and practicing pit stops. The students will serve as the team’s crew in Iowa and will be actively involved in servicing Little’s No. 1 Yazaki Toyota Camry through practice, qualifying and the race.
The race will feature a halfway break and a give teams a three-minute opportunity to change tires and make slight modifications to the car. During that time, the Japanese students will perform all the work on the race car.
For Hattori, this is a dream come true as he wanted to find a way to help bring more attention to NASCAR in his native country and educate new fans — and possibly new crew members — about the sport.
“We’re extremely happy to have these students and instructors here for this opportunity,” Hattori said. “We want this first of all to be a safe and fun experience for them, and we also want to expose them to what I feel is the greatest sport in the world.”
It’s an honor for the participants just to be selected from the Toyota Technical College campuses located in Tokyo, Nagoya and Kobe. Two students out of a pool of around 1,000 per location were selected to participate in the program.
One of the students worked for over a year to earn the opportunity to make the trip. Keisuke Shigemitsu, whose nickname is “Kei,” missed out on the trip last year and one of his main goals was to work hard enough to be selected for this year’s trip.
The 26 year-old student decided to make it a goal to be one of the two students selected at his Tokyo college — and his dream came true a few weeks ago.
“Most of us will go to work at a Toyota dealership in Japan after graduation, but this is an unbelievable experience for us to get to come to the United States and learn about the sport of NASCAR,” Kei said. “This trip has been a dream of mine and it’s been a great experience. We can’t wait to get to Iowa (Speedway) this weekend.”
While the students have been heavily involved in learning about a NASCAR stock car, the trip has also given students opportunities outside the classroom.
“We want this to be an educational and cultural experience for the students, so they have done much more than just sit in a classroom and practice pit stops over the past week or so,” Hattori added. “We have taken the students to visit places in the area like the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Bowman Gray Stadium and even Concord Mills Mall.”
Hattori and his team worked hard to make the trip a learning experience not only with technology but also culturally.
“This trip is something that we want the students to never forget and we also want to make sure they are getting the most out of this opportunity, in and out of the classroom, and learn more about this country.”
Hattori said the program wouldn’t be possible without the partnership with NTI. Jack Whitley, an instructor at NTI, has been with the students every day at the school working directly with them and he’s been impressed.
“This week has been a lot of fun with these students,” he said. “What I love about these young men is they don’t know what to do wrong so they are actually more relaxed and have no fear like some of our regular students who are more familiar with NASCAR. They’re very eager to learn and are striving for perfection with everything they’re doing with the race car.”
Naofumi Murakami, who works for Toyota Motor Corporation in Japan and he also made the trip to the United States with the students, is impressed with the program Hattori and NTI have put together.
“This is a great opportunity to give high-performing students an opportunity to learn more about automotive technology,” Murakami said. “Many of these students will eventually go to work at Toyota dealerships or in the automotive business in Japan, and the more opportunities we can give our highest- achieving students the more it will benefit everyone associated with our program.”
Hattori has been heavily involved in NASCAR since his driving days and has fielded winning cars for NASCAR Next drivers Brett Moffitt and Sergio Pena, in addition to Little. He’s looking at expanding his involvement in national series later this year in addition to his current team participating in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series.
“I drove in the (NASCAR Camping World) Truck Series in 2005 and started my team in 2008,” Hattori said. “Our plan this year is to field a truck in six or seven races, a NASCAR Xfinity Series entry in a couple of events and probably participate in three or four more K&N races before the end of the year.”
But for now the focus will be on six college students who will work hard to help Jesse Little pick up his second career NKNPSE win at Iowa Speedway.