HOMESTEAD, Fla. — Homestead-Miami Speedway has been a place where Shige Hattori has made many special memories over the course of his racing career.
He won his first Indy Lights race at the 1.5-mile South Florida oval in March of 1998, his first of two wins that season. Twenty years later, Hattori’s return to the track brought with it arguably the most significant accomplishment of his time in motorsports, when driver Brett Moffitt scored the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series championship for Hattori Racing Enterprises on Friday night.
Moffitt led a race-high 59 of 134 laps en route to the victory and series title, earning both his and Hattori’s first NASCAR championship in their first season together.
Hattori noted after the championship celebration that it was more than just his prior success at Homestead as a driver that helped to bring things full circle. Moffitt was also behind the wheel for Hattori Racing Enterprises’ first Truck Series start in 2013 at Michigan Int’l Speedway.
“Brett has made this very special for me,” Hattori said. “A couple months ago, I counted how many wins we’ve (earned). Five truck wins, today (makes) six, and three K&N wins … all with this driver. It’s amazing.
“I think Brett and Scott, they have a really good relationship. During the race, they are so calm. … But every time, boom. It’s (the) same with myself and Brett. I think we are a good combination and I don’t know why, but he’s definitely the driver for me.”
Though Hattori’s team has only a handful of full-time employees, the 55-year-old owner made it clear that the size of his staff isn’t what made the difference in during the championship run.
The quality of people and their fighting spirits were what Hattori believes pushed the team to the next level, despite the fact that the organization nearly had to miss several races due to funding shortfalls before last-minute sponsorship deals kept their dream season alive.
“This sport is definitely a people sport. We have a good small group,” noted Hattori. “We have good people, a good team manager, a good crew chief, a good driver and good mechanics. It’s all one big package, I think.
“Today our hard work paid off. Scott (Zipadelli, crew chief) has been working almost 12 hours a day and then I really pushed myself … OK, we need to find more money. That’s definitely one group.”
Hattori is the first team owner of Japanese heritage to win a NASCAR national series championship. As Friday night’s race concluded, it was already Saturday afternoon in Hattori’s home country, leading to a flood of congratulations from supporters of the team.
“As soon as we finished the race today, I got maybe 20 text messages and phone calls,” Hattori chuckled. “The president of AISIN and chairman, they called. (The race) is not broadcast over in Japan, but they have been checking maybe the website, and scoring, and they are so excited.
“This is a big moment for all of us.”
When asked whether his Indy Lights win from 20 years ago or Friday night’s title was more special, Hattori smiled before instead reflecting on the venue, rather than the events themselves.
“It was a long time ago. This place, I have good memories at,” Hattori said. “Tonight, I talked to Scott … and normally I am so nervous when we are leading, but today I was so confident that nobody was going to catch up to our truck.
“The last 10 laps, I was thinking the same things as when I won here in Indy Lights. This place is so great. I have such good memories here.”
Hattori was appreciative of all the mountains he has had to climb during his decade as a team owner.
“It has been a long time since I started my own team,” Hattori said. “It was 2008. I mentioned Brett; we missed the K&N championship in 2012. We were leading the last lap, and then we missed it, but today, we did it.
“Again, we are such a small team, but everybody did a great job and I’m so, so happy for all the team and the team members and all the team families. We will never forget this. Tonight makes the journey worthwhile.”