Never Give Up: Akinori in Mooresville

APRIL 19, 2023
USA | 13 minutes | 2022

Documentary short film directed by Royce Akifumi Wilmot
Featuring Akinori Ogata

Never Give Up: Akinori in Mooresville

24 years since first attending a NASCAR race, Akinori Ogata chases his dream of one day racing in the Daytona 500. Moving his family halfway across the world in the process, he races locally in the lower series of NASCAR, working for his big break. His sons have graduated high school, and his family has moved back to Japan. Alone in his small race shop, he prepares his limited late model stock car for the biggest local race of the year.


CineAsian Films (CAF): How did you get to know and meet Akinori Ogata and what inspired you to make a documentary about him?
Royce Akifumi Wilmot: I actually found out about Akinori because I’m a NASCAR fan. I just happened to see one of his race announcements for the Trucks series and was like, “Wait, what? There’s a Japanese driver in the Trucks series?” I’m half Japanese, and if we’re being real there’s not a lot of Asian NASCAR fans out there, let alone drivers. So to see him racing in a national NASCAR series was something special. I googled him and learned more about his story and was blown away. I mean, there’s guys from Europe and Asia who’ve raced in NASCAR, but they almost always come from a top overseas series; F1, V8 Supercars in Australia, etc, but nobody has ever tried to do what he’s doing. He literally dropped everything and moved his family from Japan to North Carolina and started from the ground up, racing the local circuit – as grassroots as you can get. I was just left with so many questions, and wasn’t getting any answers. I realized the best way to get them was to just ask myself, so I reached out to Akinori, told him I had a camera and asked if I could follow him for a week.

CAF: What were some of the challenges you faced during production?
Wilmot: Oh man, I mean this entire project was basically a one-man operation. It was completely self-financed. I had some money and I wanted to spend it on a project I really cared about. I paid my brother and a friend to come out with me, and God bless ’em, but I was basically paying them to hang out. And it was an adventure; it was our first time ever in North Carolina, first time at a live race track, first time in the pits. I was dodging 2000-pound race cars, running sound and camera at the same time. But it was a hell of a lot of fun. We woke up the day of the race to the first leaf fall of the year and it was gorgeous. When we got home, I had 7 hours of footage, so editing that all down to the ten minutes you see was a challenge in itself. Sound mixing and editing with the noise of a live racetrack took me damn near a week. I’m really thankful to Seiya Kuwahara and his band Jappers for allowing us to use their song “The City” for the end credits. I don’t think many people realized that song was from a Tokyo-based band, it just fits everything we were trying to do with the film perfectly.

CAF: What do you hope people can take away from watching Never Give Up: Akinori in Mooresville?
Wilmot: That passion can take you halfway around the world. And that community and people are really the best things we have. It was fun just seeing Akinori with his team talking about toolboxes or whatever. The crew were guys my age from small town North Carolina, spending their Saturday’s hanging out with a middle-aged guy from Kanagawa, Japan. But they could talk about racing and have this shared love of stock cars. Akinori has such a deep love for old school NASCAR and American culture; he pretty much only drinks sweet tea and Cheerwine. And it was really moving to see him accepted by the fans and the other drivers at Hickory. They see how hard he works, and how much he cares and they recognize it. He’s become part of their community. I know that means a lot to him and I see it meaning a lot to other Japanese and Asian racing fans. He’s shown that you can go out there, take a big swing and go for it – follow that dream, no matter how big or outlandish. Even if he never races in the Daytona 500, I think finding that community and getting that recognition makes it all worth it.

CAF: Are you working on anything new right now?
Wilmot: I’m working on developing this project into a series. There’s a lot of people out there in the world of sports who are like Akinori. People who’re taking big swings and let their passion take them far from home. I’ve pinned some really interesting stories that I’d love to pursue, but all that’s contingent on funding etc. I’ve grown a bit of an audience on my TikTok. I shoot music and pop culture retrospectives using a VHS camera and a CRT TV. It’s been a lot of fun. Last thing I ever expected to be was a TikToker, but here we are.

Never Give Up: Akinori in Mooresville is one of the many great projects shared with CineAsian Films through our submissions process. If you’d like to join them, submit your project.


Director: Royce Akifumi Wilmot
Song: “The City” by Jappers

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