While it may not show in the official box score following Sunday’s Toyota/Save Mart 350 at Sonoma Raceway, Daniel Suárez scored a tremendous victory for NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program.
About a decade ago, Suárez lived in New York State as a prospective racer. Beyond trying to make a name for himself, he was learning to speak English by watching cartoons.
As Suárez pursued his motorsports journey, he set his sights on an ambitious goal in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“I was always dreaming about winning in the Cup Series,” Suárez said following his maiden Cup win at Sonoma Raceway. “I knew it was going to be a tough journey.
“At the time, I was scared not to be able to compete because I didn’t speak English. At the time, I didn’t have money to buy myself classes to speak English, so I had to in a way learn by myself by watching movies and watching cartoons and reading.”
Resourceful and smart, Suárez focused on achieving his dreams despite some of the obstacles he faced once he immigrated to the U.S.
“It was quite a journey,” he reflected. “I remember one day waking up and being scared that the language barrier was going to keep me away from my goal, which was being a winner, a championship winner in the NASCAR Cup Series. I didn’t want that to happen. I started working extremely hard to learn English. It’s been quite a journey.”
That journey started off somewhat ingloriously when he was tabbed as Carl Edwards’ successor in 2017. Making his Cup debut in that year’s Daytona 500, much like his experiences as a Mexican acclimating to life in the U.S., he was determined to succeed as a genuine Cup superstar racer.
“That’s why I felt like my story is very similar to many, many Mexicans, Latinos, out there coming to this country, trying to find a goal or trying to find their dream,” he shared. “If I was able to make it happen, everyone out there can make it happen. So just feel very, very proud to be an example for many of them.”
Suárez was one of the prominent graduates of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity, an initiative aiming to provide quality opportunities in stock car racing for people of color and women. Making a name for himself with the program’s efforts via Rev Racing, the sixth year Cup racer praised the program’s support in his early NASCAR years.
“Back in 2013 and ’14, they saved my butt,” he said. “I was about to come back to Mexico. They gave me an opportunity to keep racing in 2013. That kept me alive. I was able to win races that year and keep the momentum going. Before that it was very, very tough. So it’s been quite a journey. But those tough moments and those ups and downs is what makes this moment so special.”
Equally as important as Darrell “Bubba” Wallace Jr.’s first Cup win last year at Talladega for the African American and Black communities and Kyle Larson’s debut triumph at Michigan in 2016 for Asian Americans, Suárez takes pride as the first Mexican to win in the Cup Series.
“We talk about diversity, how important it is,” Suárez remarked. “I personally feel extremely, extremely lucky and fortunate to be that driver that the whole Hispanic community can connect with. I feel extremely, extremely lucky. I feel so fortunate.
“I feel like I have an entire country and community behind me. All the people wearing red shirts today, those are my people. Some of them, they have exactly the same journey that I have.”
Undoubtedly, Suárez’s win may inspire other Mexicans and Latinos pursuing a career in NASCAR, particularly as an athlete who refused to give up. At last, he’s won after going 0 for 194 in his prior Cup starts.
By all means, Suárez serves as the latest example of the Drive for Diversity’s success. The program has catalyzed people of color and women into quality opportunities in the driver’s seat along with those going over the wall like Breanna O’Leary and Brehanna Daniels, for example.
As for Suárez, there were the close calls such as Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas in March along with his 11 other top fives prior to Sunday’s race.
In fact, during the COTA race weekend, Suárez possessed an earnestness about breaking through as a Cup winner.
“With our chances, we’re gonna win this year,” he said earlier this year. “There’s no question about that. The question is when and where?”
Faith was rewarded to Suárez and his legion of fans known as Daniel’s Amigos. As the latest first time Cup race winner this year, he plans to celebrate his achievement by reflecting on his humble beginnings and inspiring others to achieve their dreams.
“Coming from Mexico, not knowing the language, trying to find an opportunity, having goals, just trying to find that dream or trying to make that dream happen,” he stated. “These are my people. I feel extremely lucky to be the one that can represent all of them.
“Hopefully the success that we have had, that we’re having, can fuel them as well to continue to push in whatever they want to do, that is racing, mechanic, engineering, business, whatever that may be, to continue to fuel them to know that they can do it. They just have to work hard and put in the table what they have to do.”