When Daniel Suarez moved to North Carolina from Monterrey, Mexico, 2 1/2 years ago, he didn’t speak English, but he knew that the move was essential for a NASCAR career.
Now the 22-year-old Suarez, who lives in Mooresville, speaks English fluently and is in his fourth season with NASCAR’s diversity program. He also possesses three victories, as well as 10 top-five and 17 top-ten finishes, in a 33-race career with NASCAR K&N Pro Series East events.
Last year, Suarez finished third in the K&N Pro Series East point standings and second to NASCAR Mexico Toyota Series champion Rodrigo Peralta.
Suarez opened the 2014 season with victories in the series’ first two races and then backed up those with a win in NASCAR’s Mexico Toyota Series event at Phoenix (Ariz.) International Raceway.
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With his victories this year at Florida’s New Smyrna Speedway and the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona, Suarez became only the second driver in series history to win the season’s first two events since Sean Caisse accomplished the feat in 2006.
After the K&N Pro Series East’s first three races this season, Suarez trailed standings leader Gray Gaulding by a mere four points.
However, unlike many young drivers learning the idiosyncrasies of NASCAR, Suarez’s challenges haven’t been confined to the race cars.
“When I moved to the States, Jim Morales (Suarez’s business manager) told me I had a good challenge, because you need to learn the language, learn about the race cars, be fast, be competitive as soon as possible,” Suarez said. “It was difficult in the beginning.”
Suarez turned to Rosetta Stone, a computer language instruction program, for his English lessons. His co-workers at the race shop also helped him with his English.
“The language in Mexico is important. I feel like many people can speak English without a problem,” Suarez said. “But when you are driving the racetrack, focusing on driving and at the same time talking in English, you need to translate everything.
“You have to do this adaptation as fast as possible … because you have to talk to your team. These kinds of things we have been learning with time, and it’s important.
“I’ve also had to learn about the race cars, how they work. … It’s important to have time in the shop. I feel lucky to be in this position right now to be learning about many things. I really love what I am doing right now.”
Suarez began racing at age 11 after a friend invited him to go to a go-kart event.
“After that, we made a really good relationship and he invited me not to just watch him, but to practice a go-kart,” Suarez said. “Then his dad started watching me and began talking with my dad. He told him that I should have a little bit of support from him to do something in go-karts. So my dad started supporting me, but everything was new for us because my family doesn’t come from racing.”
At age 17, Suarez had to make a major decision: Travel to Europe and race open-wheel, or come to the United States and compete in NASCAR. Morales told the teenager open-wheel would probably be good, but “right now the big thing is NASCAR, and we want a Mexican driver in the United States, so you can be that guy.” Two years later, Suarez moved to the Charlotte area.
Suarez’s racing has drawn his family into motorsports. His father now co-owns a race team in Mexico in addition to his car restoration business.
“We are learning about this together,” Suarez said. “I am involved as a driver, and he’s involved as a partner of one team. So I think it’s pretty cool.”
Strickler defeats Wallace
Mooresville’s Kyle Strickler topped NASCAR veteran Kenny Wallace to score the $2,000 UMP Modified win in that segment of the Skyler Trull Memorial at Carolina Speedway. Rounding out the top five, respectively, were: Matt Emmerling, Lincolnton; Derrick Ramey, Mooresville; and Taylor Cook, Stanley.
Lucas, Johnson victorious
Stanley residents David Lucas and Manuel Johnson have won races in two divisions at East Lincoln Speedway. Lucas won the Renegades feature while Johnson emerged victorious in the Open Wheel Modifieds race.