- K&N PRO
- WHELEN MODIFIED
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MOORESVILLE, N.C. - A familiar face is returning to the seat of a NASCAR K&N Pro Series Toyota Camry this weekend, and will do so with some extra support. The 2013 Sunoco Rookie of the Year, Jesse Little, will be back in action at Iowa Speedway for Hattori Racing Enterprises, and will be joined by a unique group of college students. For the seventh consecutive year, team owner Shige Hattori is hosting six students from Toyota Technical College in Japan to further their education by immersing them in the world of NASCAR. The students will serve as mechanics on Little’s No. 01 Yazaki/HINO Toyota Camry during practice, qualifying, and the race on Friday at Iowa.
Hattori, along with Toyota Technical College, developed the program to bring students to the United States and offer them the opportunity to view another side of the automotive and performance industry. Hattori, a former NASCAR Camping World Truck Series driver himself, now turned team owner, is continuing the program to offer unparalleled education experiences to learn about automotive technology.
“Toyota and Toyota Technical College want to make sure there is always an interest among young people to be involved in automotive technology,” Hattori said. “This is a great way to get kids from the three Toyota tech colleges to get involved and excited about it. We wanted to do something different and interesting for the students and young people to be involved with, and our NASCAR program was a good option.”
Not only is it a priceless educational and cultural experience for the students, but Little has seen the program yield results on the racetrack from the driver’s seat. In his first start with the organization in 2015, Little was part of the student program at Iowa when they finished second. That performance not only showcased the real-life, in-race application of their training, but also the validity of the students’ capability in a competitive environment.
“In 2015, it was pretty rewarding,” Little said. “It was cool to watch them see what they learned in the classroom play out in real life situations at the racetrack. They were able to understand what they had learned in the classroom and how it applied in a race scenario. They were certainly very diligent and meticulous in what they were doing. It was cool to see it pay off with them having fun and learning every step of the way.”
The overseas visit to the United States and immersion into the NASCAR scenes carries just as much of a significance culturally. Hattori and the HRE team have also exposed the students to the NASCAR’s history. In their first week in North Carolina, Hattori accompanied the students to the NASCAR Hall of Fame in Uptown Charlotte. To further cement the historical appreciation, the students and their instructors took a trip to Winston-Salem and Bowman Gray Stadium for the 100-lap Modified race, one of marquee events of the season at “The Madhouse”.
“Most of the students have never traveled overseas,” Hattori said. “Most of the students, this is the first time in the United States. They don’t know any other cultures, so I wanted to show them different cultures outside of Japan. This is a huge experience for them. This is the first time they are working with other people from other countries.”
As the team gets ready to embark on their trip to Iowa for the 10th race on the 2017 schedule, Waka Tanabe, one of the six students from Toyota Technical College, counts herself fortunate and proud to be a part of the program.
“This is totally different,” Tanabe said. “Normally, we learn in a classroom in Japan about a street car, not a racing car. Here, it’s only racecars and we can learn a lot. I didn’t know anything about NASCAR before I came here. We went to Bowman Gray last weekend, and that was amazing. We all enjoyed it. I am so proud to be in the program and to be one of the four to pit the car on Friday.”
Little’s effort to chase his second-career victory Friday night at Iowa Speedway will be a full-bore team effort with no shortage of international interest.
HRE and the Toyota Technical College students will try to beat their second-place finish at Iowa in 2015. Courtesty of Hattori Racing Enterprises