#360USA: Daniel Suarez’s triumph is for Mexico and diversity

Steve Brenner 07:28 29/11/2016
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Rising star: Daniel Suarez.

Daniel Suarez knows a little hard work never hurt anyone. Leaving his native Mexico as a teenager to pursue an American dream in the fast lane took tremendous courage and dedication.

Learning English by watching cartoons isn’t ideal. What does Donald Duck know about a gear change? Yet, pushed by his father, a hard-working mechanic, Suarez fought like hell after moving to North Carolina.

A place in NASCAR’s “Drive for Diversity” initiative was sealed, though difficulties remained. It’s not easy being a stranger in a strange land, even given the proximity of Mexico to its northern neighbour, especially in today’s harrowing political climate, regardless if one is a professional driver.

So, as his country still revels in El Tri’s famous soccer win over the Yanks in a World Cup qualifier in Columbus earlier this month, the 24-year-old gave Mexico an almighty boost with his – and Latin America’s – maiden national series championship.

Essentially, the Xfinity Series is NASCAR’s ‘minor league,’ yet no matter. It was a triumph of skill and heart, rubber-stamped in the South Florida sunshine at the Homestead Circuit.

This was also a victory for the Mexican people, a shot in the arm for diversity. Indeed, he’s the first race champ born outside the United States, giving President-elect Donald Trump serious food for thought about the minorities he’s viciously disparaged.

In NASCAR’s defence, the organisation, well aware of their popularity in Mexico, reacted strongly to the incoming leader of the free world’s shocking slur of the country’s inhabitants last June.

Daniel Suarez.

Daniel Suarez.

As a result, they pulled their Xfinity and Camping World Truck series award events from Trump’s Doral resort near Miami, Florida, and although chief executive Brian France threw the organisation into a political minefield by backing Trump in May, the likes of Suarez have remained positive.

His backer – billionaire Mexican Carlos Slim – stridently showed his colours by demanding his TV production company cut ties with Trump following that initial outburst.

Suarez, too, showed his strength – where it really matters. His Joe Gibbs Toyota left the rest trailing in his wake, all day, to qualify on pole on the day his title was sealed.

That, though, was the easy part. Keeping everyone at bay and leading for 133 of the 200 laps was the tough part.

The after-effects of Suarez’s moment in the sun, however, are countless. A path to the big leagues has opened up.

“It is very hard to put into words,” Suarez said. “I’m just very thankful to have the family I have. We’re living a dream.”

This startling reality, however, was no fluke. Two years ago, Suarez was named Rookie of the Year in the Xfinity Series.

Equally adept at scaling language barriers or careering past trackside ones, Suarez acknowledges the roaring crescendo of support from home. Such was the impact of his win that even the Mexican resident, Enrique Pena Nieto, tweeted him.

“It was a huge deal in Mexico and Latin America,” Suarez told an awards gala in Miami. “It was something historic. People were waiting and, finally, we got it done.”

NASCAR has struggled in the past to attract new audiences, with most of the bandwidth consumed by the petrol heads in the vast midwestern regions of the U.S. It’s undoubtedly the most parochial of all American sports and, other than in Mexico, simply doesn’t translate internationally.

Top-level racing south of the border and, in Canada, however, were pulled years ago. Plans to enter new markets – Brazil, Singapore, Russia – have never come to fruition though the Central American push has rediscovered its legs.

NASCAR staged Mexican races in 2004 and 2015 in coordination with Slim’s OCESA entertainment company and aim to relaunch in 2017 with the Peak Mexico Series.

In an ever-expanding and voraciously competitive marketplace, Suarez’s win is being cheered from the rooftops by those at the top.

“What we are doing nowadays opens a lot of doors for sponsors who may want to support other Hispanic drivers,” he added. “At the end of the day, NASCAR is one big family.”

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