Born on July 30, 1954, in Sendai, Japan, Richey Watanabe was a fixture on the import race, rally and tuner scenes. Virtually from birth, the Watanabe brothers (Richey and Howard) were nearly inseparable. "In our whole lives," Howard recalls, "we never spent more than a month apart." So when they decided to go racing, it was only fitting that they chose to compete in rallying - the one form of motorsport that requires two people in the car at the same time. Richey couldn't read while the car was moving, so he assumed the driving duties, and Howard served as co-driver. In 1977, they put their rally careers on hold and decided to move to the United States.
After having regular jobs, they jumped back into the rally racing scene here in the US. Their craftsmanship put them on the radar screen of Toyota Racing Development, where they were hired in 1984 - Howard to work on race motors while Richey prepped race chassis. But their contracts specified that they had to be given time off to compete in the SCCA's Pro Rally events, which were contested all over the country.
They won back-to-back California Rally Championships in 1983 and 1984 and then a Pro Rally Group A championship in a Corolla GTS. After TRD, they opened their own shop, HMR America in 1988. And many years after that they partnered up with Tadashi Nagata forming Technosquare. During the decade after that, they worked on an incredibly diverse assortment of cars. Among them were the Formula D cars of Yoshie Shuyama, Taka Aono and Dwight Tanaka; Cheston Chiu's street-legal 350Z; the World Challenge-winning Scion of Dan Gardner; a slew of Mike Kojima projects; Dono Soeharto's Sentra road-race car; and the seemingly indestructible 240SX of Michael Jordan and Preston Lerner, which Richey built - and rebuilt and rebuilt.
Richey was diagnosed with pancreatic cancer in July 2009. He underwent major surgery, but the cancer resurfaced earlier this year. When the end came, at his home in West Covina, it was mercifully quick and relatively painless. Fittingly, Howard was at Richey's side when he took his last breath. Richey was 55.
Richey Watanabe is survived by his mother, Takako; his brother, Howard; his sister-in-law, Michiyo; his 8-year-old niece, Maya; and a legion of friends and fans. We all miss you Richey.