Daniel Suárez wasn’t born into a racing dynasty or even a racing family. His father owned a car-restoration shop in Monterrey, Mexico. At around 10 years old, Suárez jumped in a go-kart at the suggestion of a family acquaintance.
That was in 2003. A few years later, when Suárez was 14 or 15, his father asked if he wanted to go pro. “I told him I was already a professional race-car driver,” Suárez recalls. “He laughed and said, ‘Well, if you’re actually good enough, you can do this as your job.’ Then he started explaining what that meant.”
Suárez, now 30, knows that day changed his life. He didn’t know any professional drivers or how racing could become a career. He just knew he was good. “I was the kid everyone wanted to ask advice from,” Suárez says. “My father knew that. My father knew I had something different.”
His father’s suggestion ultimately led Suárez to the U.S., where he became NASCAR’s first foreign-born national champion in the Xfinity Series in 2016 and its first Mexican-born race winner in the top-level Cup Series this past June. Before that, Suárez was a kid who didn’t speak English, competing away from home amid a sea of American drivers who’d basically raced one another since they could walk.
“All my friends I raced go-karts with, they are in Mexico,” Suárez says. “I was by myself. I had a few friends who spoke Spanish, but that was pretty much it. At times, it felt a little lonely, but I always try to think of that as part of the process.”
Suárez entered the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 and struggled for a few years. He drove Toyotas for Joe Gibbs Racing at first, taking his first pole at Pocono in 2018 but never winning. He moved to Stewart-Haas and Ford in 2019 but still found no victories. Then he spent the 2020 season with the underfunded Gaunt Brothers team. Through those four years and nearly 150 starts in Cup, he finished in the top five a mere eight times.
“For many reasons, some of them long stories, that process was tough,” Suárez admits.
Then, in 2021, he moved to Trackhouse Racing, a new team co-owned by former driver Justin Marks and pop star Pitbull. Trackhouse and its Chevrolet Camaro were a perfect fit for Suárez.
“They allowed me to build a team around myself,” Suárez explains. “They showed a lot of support and really wanted me to be successful. I’m not saying previous teams didn’t; I’m just saying the way they supported me and wanted me to be successful was different. Trackhouse is young. Trackhouse is cool. Trackhouse has a Mexican driver and a Latino owner.”
Suárez won his first Cup race this year at Sonoma Raceway. He said he didn’t think about how long it took for a Mexican-born driver to finally get a victory—or what it said about the predominantly white series in which he races. He simply thought the first win would be the beginning of many.
“I try to worry about things I can control,” Suárez says. “I can’t control [the past], but I can control the future. I hope this continues to help more Latino drivers come into the sport and lets them know there are opportunities in NASCAR for them—not just as a driver, but as a mechanic, crew chief, engineer, pit crew, you name it.”
Suárez asserts that to attract any community to NASCAR, the most important thing is to make them feel at home—like he does for his Latino fans and they do for him. He hopes to see NASCAR run more international events in the next decade while he makes history through his success.
“In my mind, I haven’t accomplished anything yet,” Suárez says. “I’m still learning so much, and I’m getting better every day. It’s taken longer than I was expecting, but every driver has a different process. I always say that the top of a mountain is the bottom of the next one. I still have a long way to go.”