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NASCAR Cup Series

TORRES: The Significance of a Hispanic Winning in NASCAR

Daniel’s Amigos were at full force at Sonoma Raceway (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

A few days removed from history being made at Sonoma Raceway, I’m still digesting what Daniel Suárez’s maiden NASCAR Cup Series win meant to him, but also to Hispanics.

Hundreds of Daniel’s Amigos came out to Sonoma, California, hoping to see their guy do well.

They certainly got more than a solid run.

They got to see him win the Toyota/Save Mart 350.

Suárez won through sheer determination and didn’t let the Ford Mustang army intimidate him.

I wondered if Suárez would’ve been able to fend off the likes of Chris Buescher. And his response was telling of the type of racer he is focused without regarding who’s behind him.

It’s about what he can control in a race car.

“Honestly, I didn’t care who was behind me. I was just trying to do my race, trying to control what I can control,” said Suárez. “I knew that Buescher was very strong in the short run. Probably a little bit better than me. But in the middle part of the run, I was better than him. In the long run I felt like I was better than him. It was able to play out pretty good right there near the end.”

Suárez leading the pack in turn 4 (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

The most gratifying moment of Suárez’s win was the overwhelming support he got from drivers and fans alike. Everyone from NASCAR President Steve Phelps and FOX play-by-play announcer Mike Joy took the time to congratulate the series veteran.

No doubt, the triumph will go down as one of the most sentimental victories in the sport.

I’ve covered several races since 2018 and seen memorable first-time winners (i.e., Hailie Deegan at Meridian 2018 and Daniel Hemric at Phoenix 2021). I was there to cover last year’s Indy 500 and NASCAR Championship Weekend and I mean this wholeheartedly; it’s on par as one of the most vibrant victories I’ve witnessed.

Rivaling the loud “Helio” chants when Castroneves won his fourth Indy 500 and witnessing the stunning surprise that was Daniel Hemric’s maiden win to lock up the Xfinity Series title at Phoenix was comparable to this past Sunday’s win for Suárez. It was special beyond explanation.

A piñata punch and the sight of the Mexican flag from a few people meant a lot, not because Mexico has produced another major motorsport winner. It was memorable for the culture, my culture no less.

My culture has something to celebrate in the sport I thrive to be a part of for many more years.

“That was very, very special. In the very last caution, I was already slow on the caution. I was able to see in corner one on the right there was Daniel’s Amigos group there. All of them were cheering, the fans, all of them were excited. That fuels me. That’s energy for me,” said Suárez about his fanbase in attendance.

“I knew that I wasn’t going to let them down. I was going to push, and I was going to do everything in my power to make this happen. Just felt right.

“This morning, I spent an hour and a half with them. Just felt right. I woke up this morning and I was ready to go. Yesterday, we had a long race in the Trucks, and I was tired. But it just felt right.”

“California like my second home,” Suárez continued. “The people here are amazing to me. They support me a lot. I just can’t describe how thankful I am for being able to win the first one here in front of my people.”

A triumphant moment Daniel’s Amigos will never forget (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Being one of the very few Hispanics to cover North American racing, especially in NASCAR, has not been an easy road.

For most of my life, I’ve lived in towns that generally didn’t appreciate Hispanics. While I wasn’t surrounded by racists and was somewhat popular amongst my peers, I knew people who treated Hispanics poorly, more so from the grade levels below me when I heard derogatory words.

A family member of mine got framed and expelled. Students who’ve done heinous acts towards minorities were welcomed back with open arms, but not that occasion.

All of us have heard thousands of stories that other minorities have gone through. We’re deemed as lazy, criminals, bean eaters and lawnmowers.

Even I felt discriminated from a college leadership group in Idaho because I’m not like them. At times, I felt a bad vibe from people, and it could have something to do with my cultural background.

I can’t imagine how things would be had I been around Idaho after the 2016 election nor want to dive into it. One of my brothers transferred due to the awful environment because he was Hispanic.

Normally, I don’t discuss about being a brown guy because it’s just not a topic I dive into, much like I don’t discuss about autism due to the fact I don’t have such reach to be open about it.

Instead, you’ll know a few things if you’re around me.

I love racing and most sports.

I love photography.

I somewhat dig discussing about red flags and infatuated with music.

That’s what I want to talk about. But for this piece, I really want to dive into my Hispanic background.

At times, we endure terrible stereotypes.

Sometimes, we take it lightly, but it comes with the territory. After spending a large chunk of my academic career that people of color like myself aren’t respected, Sunday’s win was vital to the culture.

Yes, we’re in a time where Mexican racers are winners with Sergio Perez recently winning at Monaco and Pato O’Ward being one of the top racers in INDYCAR.

Yes, it’s always flattering seeing them score wins and see the fans cheer for their guys.

But it hit differently being on-site seeing someone from Mexico win in NASCAR and how awesome it was seeing his Amigos be a part of the celebration.

Suárez proudly displays the flag of Mexico (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

For the first time in my life, I felt something bigger beyond myself that involved my culture.

For once, my people felt accepted in a world filled with discrimination and bigotry.

For once, I didn’t have to think about my surroundings and can ignore world problems.

It’s not a political thing because I’m not that guy. It’s about belongingness and on that day in Sonoma, California, Hispanics felt welcomed and all of us felt like winners with Suárez.

More so, the fans who were there to celebrate with Suárez made their voices clear, singing Mexican folk songs, cheering, and saying his name. It really gave me a fiesta vibe that I know quite well despite being born in the U.S.

Like I’ve said, it’s not easy being a Hispanic in a sport that’s trying to get away from its dark past. I sympathize with those who are people of color because I can’t imagine how hard it can be.

We don’t normally hear the struggle Hispanics go through, but it’s there and usually used against us.

I look back at one press conference during the Busch Light Clash in Los Angeles when I asked Suárez a question in Spanish. As he was responding, Austin Dillon came along and was tongue in cheek about it by saying he had no comment.

The press laughed and it was fine because the question wasn’t meant for Dillon. That didn’t bother me because I was frustrated about other things up to that point.

However, what I took great offense to was one reporter telling me that by asking a Spanish question, it was good for comedic effect.

In other words, I was told to stick to speaking and asking questions in Spanish.

That took me back to high school where I was told to stick to one thing and not explore because it’s all I’m meant to be good.

Obviously, I didn’t say anything because such reporter tried making it about himself and cut me off in the conversation, so much that I missed the opening minutes of another presser regarding Auto Club Speedway which annoyed me. But I was bothered by the reporter’s remark.

What if I told a person about someone’s facial expressions in a public setting is what would they make in an intimate setting?

That would be uncomfortable and offensive to folks, especially if I told that to a woman. There’s a song that’s based on such tomfoolery called “Man from the Magazine.”

I didn’t enter in this industry to be a comedic reporter because I’m bilingual. I entered into this business to be taken seriously and a guy who can get shit done on and off the track. Whether it’s NASCAR, INDYCAR or ARCA, I value my work and try not wasting people’s time when asking a question.

In a cutthroat business like motorsports media, being a Hispanic writer/photographer that’s still trying to earn a living, there’s still a lot of growing pains.

Despite being an NMPA award-winning photographer, I still go through aches and pains with this profession.

But those who know me, they know what I bring to the table.

Following the race at Sonoma, I didn’t have to worry about the negatives. I understand why Hispanics revered the moment.

The NASCAR garage, compassionate fans and people heavily involved in racing can see what Suárez brings to the table as a driver.

Not because he came from Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico and learned English through cartoons, but he’s a talented driver and good with his partners such as Coca-Cola, whose key rep was ecstatic in victory lane.

The ruler of Sonoma last Sunday (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

In a season that’s had flashes of brilliance, there were some concerns if Suárez was ever going to win in Cup.

At times, his career has been defined by one question.

When will he ever breakthrough in the sport properly?

Each prosperous moment had massive caveats.

People love to devalue his Xfinity Series title in 2016 because of how the finale ended. While Suárez was solid, many point to Elliott Sadler as the top overall driver.

But thanks to Cole Whitt staying out at Homestead because TriStar Motorsports ran out of tires, it caused a ripple effect to the title battle. The likes of Sadler and Erik Jones lost the championship to Suárez.

Rather than focusing on how monumental Suárez’s title was to the sport, as he became the first foreign national touring champion, all the attention went to Whitt and the No. 14 team’s dubious call in their eyes.

When you look back at the 2016 Xfinity Series title chase, Suárez had to fend off Sadler, Jones, and Justin Allgaier. Suárez was fairly consistent, but Sadler had the stronger numbers.

In the race that mattered most, Suárez had Sadler’s number all night by leading a race-high 133 of 200 laps.

Sadler led a single lap.

That’s the nature of the elimination playoff format we have, but even then, Suárez’s ability as a racer was questioned.

When Suárez ended up at Trackhouse Racing, it was a breath of fresh air. From day one, this group had the right people to become a winning team and Suarez was going to be the right guy to lead the fray.

It’s a complete 180 when comparing his miserable 2020 tenure with Gaunt Brothers Racing. Additionally, Suárez must’ve felt that he can finally shine somewhere compared to being the caboose at Joe Gibbs Racing and Stewart-Haas Racing.

Last season had some promise, but at times, he couldn’t produce the results to match his runs.

Naturally, it’s part of the growing pains a startup team goes through. Then Trackhouse expanded to two entries after buying Chip Ganassi Racing and brought Ross Chastain along to become Suárez’s teammate.

Yes, Chastain has outperformed Suárez for much of the year and, he is a legitimate threat for the Bill France Trophy. But let’s not shun some of Suarez’s runs before the pitfalls came along.

We saw it in the Coca-Cola 600, with both being tough to beat and had late-race shenanigans didn’t occur, a 1-2 finish might’ve been in the cards.

Compared to 23XI Racing, Trackhouse has it together but just need a bit of luck.

Finally at Sonoma, Suárez had luck to back up his performance which made last Sunday’s victory much more rewarding and popular.

All about teamwork at Trackhouse Racing (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

Even then, some may wonder this thought.

“Who cares if he’s the first Mexican driver to win in Cup and the second Latino, Colombia’s Juan Pablo Montoya being the other, to do so?”

Prior to Suárez, only four foreign born drivers won in the sport’s premiere series — Mario Andretti (Italy, but won as an American citizen), Earl Ross (Canada), Montoya and Marcos Ambrose (Australia).

It comes across as arrogant because while it’s a neat little stat line, it becomes a subject matter.

This can grow tiresome and shows some people’s pettiness. While it’s nowhere as bad compared to the hate Bubba Wallace gets, let Hispanics enjoy the moment.

Grow up and just let it be.

If anything, it shows how hard the sport can be that only five non-U.S. born racers won in Cup.

Suárez didn’t win until he took the green flag for the 195th time.

The sport isn’t for the faint of heart.

On that Sunday afternoon, Suárez had everybody’s number in the final stage and got the job done, not just for him, but for guys like co-owners Justin Marks and Pitbull, crew chief Travis Mack (who left a top-tier Xfinity team at JR Motorsports to work with a new Cup team) and lead engineer Jose Blasco-Figueroa (who wasn’t at Sonoma).

Like Marks said in a question I asked about diversity, there’s a greater picture beyond racing.

“Trackhouse is a race team that anybody and everybody can be a fan of. We’ve made investments in the minority community with Pitbull’s schools, our great night program, our STEM stuff,” said Marks.

“To me, this is sort of a representation of what America stands for. It’s a place you can come with big dreams, and you can work hard to achieve those dreams. I always say that Daniel is one of one. A Mexican race car driver moving to America, can’t speak the language, to be a NASCAR Cup Series winner, that shows the amazing place we live.

“Not only him, but Jose, our lead engineer from Mexico, wasn’t here today, probably is killing him that he’s not here today. Truly an elite talent. It’s really great to be able to write those stories.”

Camera drenched, but an image worth a thousand words (Photo: Luis Torres | The Podium Finish).

At the end of the day, stories were written and it’s indeed a positive.

Time will tell how many more races Suárez will win in Cup, but regardless of what happens, June 12, 2022, will be a day for la raza.

A proud moment like this can’t be taken away from them and is certainly a day, as a Hispanic reporter and photographer, I will cherish for the rest of my life, even if my cameras got drenched in champagne which didn’t bother me anyway if the images were well captured.

For once in my life, I was proud to be a Hispanic in this industry.

Editor’s Notes:

Taylor Kitchen and Rob Tiongson edited this article for clarity.

Throughout my young motorsports media career, my number-one goal is to be a personnel that can be flexible with my writing and photography in the world of NASCAR and INDYCAR. Content delivery is vital because this is my main passion and what keeps me going. On the side, I also do sports production ranging from Seattle Kraken hockey to the 2023 NCAA Women's March Madness. All for the love of the game. I've dealt with several challenges in my life, such as autism and making most out of trips despite relying on transportation. Even my quest of finding acceptance in my profession which has been my biggest challenge since graduating from college in 2016. Despite those hurdles with Motorsports Tribune and now The Podium Finish, I promise that you'll see excellence with my content. With three National Motorsports Press Association photography awards, I'm not slowing down anytime soon. Outside of media, I'm super vocal about my musical tastes that goes from Metallica to HAIM. Not only that, expect my social media filled with references nobody will understand, especially Licorice Pizza.

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