Hideo Fukuyama, born on this day in 1955, became the first Japanese driver to compete in the top tier of NASCAR, after receiving encouragement from Dale Earnhardt Sr. His road to NASCAR began many years earlier in open wheel racing. His first major road racing career came at the 1979 Formula Libre 500 Japanese championship. In 1988 he would make his 24 Hours of Le Mans debut, earning a second-place class finish. Other highlights from the era include wins at the 1992 Japanese Touring Car Championship and 1997 Super GT GT300 class championship. In 2000 Fukuyama would earn a LMGT class win at the 24 Hours of Le Mans driving a Porsche 911 GT3.
At Dover International Speedway in September 2002, riding on words of wisdom from Earnhardt, Fukuyama became the first Japanese driver to qualify for a top tier NASCAR race. He finished 39th with transmission failure. He’d only race in three more events, one that season and two more in 2003. His best finish would come at Las Vegas Motor Speedway where he took 33rd place. Without much luck on the NASCAR circuit he returned to Japan to continue racing in the Super GT Series. He also became an analyst for NASCAR broadcasts on Japanese television. Interested in the history of NASCAR? Check out this article.