He was born into a farming family living just outside Okazaki, Japan. He began driving cars in his early teens in the family's garden with his older brother giving him tips, careful that they were not caught by their father. He felt a great deal of exhiliration behind the wheel of a car, and from then on knew what he wanted to do.
He started racing karts in 1969 and after he finished school and got a driver's licence he moved up to racing cars.
In 1973 he was a rookie in the Suzuka Circuit series, which he won and the following year drove rotary-engined Mazda saloon car, winning the Japanese touring car championship.
He then switched to single-seater racing in Formula Japan, beginning an association with Honda which has lasted ever since. He won the 1977 Formula Japan title in a Nova-Honda and in 1978 moved into the national Formula 2 series. He went on to win the title five times in 1981, 1982, 1984, 1985 and 1986.
Nakajima participated in 80 F1 Grands Prix, debuting in the Brazilian Grand Prix on April 12, 1987, bringing to the Lotus team not only a very talented driver, but those same Honda engines. He was 34 years old in his debut race, making him one of the oldest drivers to debut. Nakajima impressed many by finishing 6th in his second-ever race at Imola.
Honda left the Lotus garage after the 1988 season, leaving Satoru and team-mate Nelson Piquet driving the Judd-powered 101. The pair had a very up-and-down season, with both failing to qualify in Spa-Francorchamps, the first time in their 30-year history that Lotus had failed to make the grid, heralding the beginning of the end for the legendary British team. A great upside to Nakajima`s 1989 was a 4th place and Fastest Lap in the rain-soaked Australian Grand Prix, scoring his only points of the year and also equalling his finish in the 1987 British Grand Prix as his best career finish.
Honda came to the Tyrrell team in 1991, while Satoru joined the team for 1990. He raced for them for two uneventful years at the back of the pack before calling it a career. Honda left F1 a year later to lay the first bricks on a works team, one that they had been working on in during the F1 season, and that CEO Nobuhiko Kawamoto finally admitted to in October. The car, the Honda RC100 was unveiled to the media in February 1993, and its driver was none other than Naka-san. Shortly later, it passed FISA crash tests, meaning that the company could enter their team into F1 competition. In an attempt to improve on their previous chassis, Honda built two more, the RC101 and 101B, the latter intended to be used for racing purposes, the former for crash testing. Nakajima had the first public testing of the 101B in Suzuka in January 1994. The company never did enter its cars in F1, instead opting to further their engine development with CART, and later, IRL.
Satoru still lives in the family home near Okazaki. These days, though, he owns a team: the Nakajima Racing entry in Japanese Formula 3000, also known as Formula Nippon. Nakajima drivers have won the Formula Nippon championship thrice, Tom Coronel doing so in 1999, Toranosuke Takagi in 2000, and Ralph Firman in 2002. Nakajima's current drivers are Takashi Kogure and Andre Lotterer, who finished 2nd in the 2004 championship, although he was tied in points with champion Richard Lyons. Satoru's son, Kazuki, currently competes in the British Formula 3 Championship, in which he represents Toyota, despite's his father's connection with Honda.
Satoru Nakajima also had a video game named after himself. F1 Grand Prix - Nakajima Satoru was released for the Sega Genesis in Japan in 1991.
On November 8, 2006, it was announced that the Williams team had signed Kazuki, as an official test driver for the 2007 Formula One season.