Race Weekend Central

Truckin’ Thursdays: What Happened to Hattori Racing Enterprises?

In 2018, it was considered a huge upset on the NASCAR Craftsman Truck Series field when Brett Moffitt took a then-unproven Hattori Racing Enterprises to victory at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

It was the first career win for the team, which is owned by Shigeaki Hattori, a former driver himself.

But Moffitt didn’t stop there. He went on to win five more races on the season, including back-to-back wins in the last two races of the season at Phoenix Raceway and Homestead-Miami Speedway. An even bigger feat however, was the championship that Moffitt notched on top of the six-win season. It was the first championship for Moffitt and first for what had been a part-time team in 2013, 2015 and 2016.

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The foundation for the team’s success was laid by Ryan Truex in his part-time season in 2016, where he almost won the season-opener at Daytona International Speedway. He backed it up with a solid full-time season in 2017 before Moffitt took over in 2018 – Moffitt actually made the team’s inaugural Truck Series start at Michigan International Speedway in 2013, finishing 17th. Previously, Moffitt was the team’s K&N Pro Series East driver in 2012 and 2013, losing the 2012 championship to Kyle Larson by crashing out of the season finale.

Moffitt was replaced in 2019 by Austin Hill due to financial issues, however Hill was able to replicate the same success that Moffitt had. He won in his first start with the team at Daytona International Speedway and made the playoffs every season.

While Hill was unable to capture a championship with the team, he did manage to win eight races in three seasons. He also made some NASCAR Xfinity Series starts with the team when it rolled out a part-time Xfinity program during Hill’s years driving for it.

In a few short years, HRE went from a part-time upstart to a full-time weekly threat in the Truck Series. However, that performance inexplicably tapered off when 2022 rolled around.

When Hill left the team to join Richard Childress Racing’s Xfinity program in 2022, Tyler Ankrum was brought in as his replacement. Ankrum has largely gone unproven in his time in the Truck Series. He won one race his rookie season at Kentucky Speedway in 2019 after Moffitt ran out of fuel late. The 2018 K&N East champion then moved from DGR-Crosley (now TRICON Garage) to GMS Racing in 2020 and 2021, making the playoffs in the former year.

Ankrum’s results haven’t been exactly poor, but a lot of his results have been in between position Nos. 11-20. He had a few top 10s here and there, but nothing too flashy compared to what HRE had done in its previous four seasons.

Part of that may have been due to HRE doing something it hadn’t done before 2022 – fielding a second truck. Not only that, but that second truck was fielded full-time. The driver was Chase Purdy, another GMS Racing defect who hadn’t really made a splash in his time with the team like he was supposed to.

HRE has never been a “big team” at any point despite its success, so spreading its resources even thinner seemed like a poor idea, and it turned out just as expected. Ankrum and Purdy finished 14th and 17th in the 2022 point standings, respectively. Purdy only had two top 10s on the season and even failed to qualify for the season opener due to no owner points to lock himself in.

In 2023, Purdy jumped ship to Kyle Busch Motorsports, carrying the banner for its full-time championship effort in 2023. The team has solely focused on Ankrum in 2023, though it has brought out its second truck here and there for Cup Series driver Christopher Bell, as well as debutants Sean Hingorani and Jake Drew (though Drew made his Truck Series debut with ThorSport Racing).

While downsizing back to one truck has shown an uptick in performance, such as Ankrum getting his first top five with the team at Circuit of the Americas, the overall performance of the team has pretty much stayed the same.

But it’s not like the team (or Ankrum for that matter) can’t go out and perform either. Bell finished fourth in the team’s second truck at Pocono Raceway, and in the ARCA Menards Series, HRE entered Ankrum in a one-off event at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course; Ankrum qualified second, led a lot of laps and rebounded from a mid-race excursion with the gravel trap to take an impressive victory.

The team can win, but the performance has trailed off. Can the team find its winning ways again? And can it do that with Ankrum?

Ankrum has one thing that Truex, Moffitt and to an extent Hill didn’t have – sponsorship. LiUNA has sponsored Ankrum since his rookie season, and it has followed Ankrum wherever he has gone. Thanks to the backwards sponsorship model of NASCAR these days, the only way Ankrum will be out of a ride with HRE is if he decides to go to another team or LiUNA ends its sponsorship. Which means Ankrum will likely have that ride as long as he desires.

Or does it?

This upcoming weekend at Kansas Speedway, HRE is bringing its second truck back again for Drew, who will be making his second start with the team and third of the year. Drew told Frontstretch after his debut at Nashville Superspeedway that he had no other starts lined up. Now after the Kansas race, Drew will have two starts with HRE.

The team sees something in the 2022 ARCA West champion that other teams apparently don’t, which could mean Drew maybe replaces Ankrum or makes up a second full-time truck next season.

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But don’t count out Hingorani either. The 16-year-old is tearing up the track in ARCA – even after his one-race suspension following his Mid-Ohio antics. HRE is a Toyota team, much like Venturini Motorsports, with whom Hingorani competes in ARCA. I would not be surprised to see Hingorani make up a part-time schedule next year with HRE in preparation for a full-time effort in 2025, when he is officially 18-years old.

Perhaps Drew and Hingorani could split HRE’s second truck again next season to make a run at the owner’s title, giving Ankrum one more year to prove himself with the team. Then if HRE decides to ditch Ankrum, then Hingorani and Drew could be the team’s two full-time drivers.

I believe Bell made those two starts not just for more experience on his end, but for HRE to gauge whereas an organization it was at. Same with Ankrum making the Mid-Ohio ARCA start. Now that it knows it can still compete, it may be a sign that change is needed.

HRE has seemed to be all about taking rookies or unproven drivers and elevating them to a position where they are competing for wins regularly and maybe even a championship like Moffitt. But that momentum seemed to have stalled out when they brought out a second truck and fielded Ankrum and Purdy, and it seems Ankrum really suffered for it.

It just seems that maybe HRE is in need of a fresh start, and that could be why Drew is getting another start with the team at Kansas, or why Hingorani’s name suddenly got thrown in the mix when he made his debut at Milwaukee Mile Speedway.

HRE could be looking for its next driver, and that might be the key to returning it to its former glory.

About the author

Anthony Damcott joined Frontstretch in March 2022. Currently, he is an editor and co-authors Fire on Fridays (Fridays); he is also the primary Truck Series reporter/writer. A proud West Virginia Wesleyan College alum from Akron, Ohio, Anthony is now a grad student. He is a theatre actor and fight-choreographer-in-training in his free time. He is a loyal fan of the Cincinnati Reds and Carolina Panthers, still hopeful for a championship at some point in his lifetime.

You can keep up with Anthony by following @AnthonyDamcott on Twitter.

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