As Trackhouse comes charging into Phoenix Raceway for Sunday’s United Rentals Work United 500 NASCAR Cup Series race, there will be an enthusiastic group of fans cheering for their favorite driver.
It’s Daniel Suarez of Monterrey, Mexico.
The driver of the No. 99 Freeway Insurance Chevrolet at Trackhouse is racing to win for the team, while representing something far bigger – the Hispanic community.
The grandstands at Phoenix Raceway are generally packed with NASCAR fans who make the trip to the Arizona dessert to watch stock car racing’s best fight it out on the challenging 1-mile oval. A large group of those fans are relatively new to NASCAR but feel the pride of their Hispanic heritage.
They are “Daniel’s Amigos” who feel a unique connection to Suarez as he represents the Hispanic and Latino community, especially those from Mexico.
He has the ability to connect with fellow Hispanics, has an engaging personality and is able to tell an authentic story of coming to the United States and becoming part of the “American Dream.”
“In 2019, Daniel had shared his vision and his role in NASCAR,” recalled Al Rondon, Senior Marketing Manager – Sports and Entertainment Marketing, The Coca-Cola Company. “He was successful in Mexico in the series there and came and had success at the Xfinity level and became a Cup driver. He shared the story with me a number of times that he knew he had a bigger responsibility and a bigger calling to his community.
“He said, he could win all of these championships and that would be great, but a bigger win for him would be to have more Hispanic fans in the stands.”
It didn’t take long for the two to create an outreach program that has become highly successful.
“Out came this program called ‘Daniel’s Amigos’ which was supported by Coca-Cola because he was part of our Coca-Cola Racing Family, but also supported by NASCAR and now his team, Trackhouse,” Rondon continued. “It really fits in the goal of NASCAR and Coke that we attract new fans, and we have that with a mindset of diversity, equity, and inclusion.
“This program checked off those boxes.
“I think the biggest thing is it isn’t a Daniel Suarez Fan Club, but Daniel representing this community and inviting them in a very authentic and genuine way to come out and experience NASCAR. He serves as a role model as somebody that came to this country, didn’t speak English and is living the American Dream.”Al Rondon
Another company that saw Suarez’s ability to connect with the Hispanic Community is Freeway Insurance. The company has been in business for more than 35 years.
“Initially, when we started our company, a lot of our customer base was Hispanic and based in California,” explained Rose Carter, Senior Vice President, Marketing and Communications for CONFIE. “There is a huge Hispanic market there.
“As we grew as a company, we started expanding across the United States and that percentage of diversity stayed. Today, over 50 percent of our customers are Hispanic. What made it more diverse is as we started entering the Midwest and South states.”
Carter further explained that Freeway helps insure motorists or potential motorists who have experience problems or are new to the United States. They need insurance to drive and work.
“Our company is also very community focused,” she continued. “We sell high-risk insurance for people that have a lot of tickets, accidents and DUIs. It’s second-chance insurance because not all insurance companies want to cover high-risk drivers.
“That is our focus. In addition to that, we cover people with international driver’s licenses and that puts us in the Hispanic category as well.
“A lot of our stores are in low demographic areas with lower incomes.”
Freeway Insurance was hoping to find a spokesperson who could make newcomers to the United States feel at ease and had a story that was relatable. Someone who spoke their language.
“We wanted to create a spokesperson who spoke to that category,” Carter said. “Daniel’s story is similar to what a lot of our customers experienced, crossing the border and being able to get insurance and speak to somebody in an area where they may not speak Spanish.
“All of those things really relate to him. He can touch that consumer and create that connection. If we bring in someone like a former NBA player like Shaq (Shaquille O’Neal), he can’t speak to those experiences or understand them. He won’t have that touch point with a customer.
“Where we came from, where he comes from, we felt he was a perfect person to speak to that audience and speak to it with authenticity.”
Freeway Insurance was familiar with Suarez’s story before he joined Trackhouse in 2021. The company approached him and liked him as an individual.
The combination of the company’s goals and Trackhouse’s mission was in Carter’s words, a “perfect scenario.”
They loved the fact Trackhouse supports diversity, that Suarez is the first Mexican/American driver in the NASCAR Cup Series.
“It was a perfect scenario for all of us,” Carter said. “We aligned really well together.
“Daniel has not disappointed since. He is truly amazing. At most of our races, we host grass roots events, normally at our stores. We let people know we are having these events and his crowds have quadrupled in size.”
At a recent event in Fontana, California before the NASCAR Cup Series race at Auto Club Speedway, over 350 fans waited in the rain to meet Suarez and hear him speak to the crowd.
“He really touches people and represents Freeway Insurance and himself fantastically,” Carter said. “We couldn’t ask for anything more.
“Any company that aligns themselves to a celebrity there is that small wisp of fear about what may potentially happen, but he is so down to earth, so humble, he has never forgotten his roots. He knows he is a representation of a company and people are looking up to him. There is something to be said about being a first, that you have to represent your country well and he does it, 100 percent. He cares.”
The cause is also personal to Carter, whose parents are from Spain.
Suarez sent Carter a photo of himself with the fans in front of the Trackhouse pit stand at Auto Club Speedway proudly displaying a big Mexican flag, smiling broadly with pride.
“You can see how proud he is of that; how proud he is opening up a different demographic of the sport that might not have seen it previously,” Carter said. “I’m very proud of him as an individual. I’m proud of him representing us as a brand and that he is authentically connecting with our customer base.”
He also has an important message that he can share with new residents that come to the United States from Hispanic countries, hoping to get a new opportunity in life.
“In our country, we want to make sure people are insured,” Carter said. “Not just Hispanic drivers, but any driver, if you happen to hit someone without insurance, a bad situation just got worse. We as a country want to make sure people are insured so we don’t have those issues
“Part of that is information. We want to make sure that people that come to this country, you might not have a US driver’s license and might be looking for work, but you do have an opportunity to get auto insurance. There are carriers that insure folks that might only have an international driver’s license.
“The biggest thing is educating them that you might find yourself in more trouble if you are uninsured and driving a car. We have to do a better job educating them on the opportunity and that it’s available to them and how important it is and the negatives without having that. We try to do that and educate and give that opportunity.
“One of the things we can also offer is the ability to also insure those folks that don’t have that.”
Suarez is also a professional driver who understands both the rules of NASCAR Cup Series racing, but also the rules of the road and the highways of the United States.
Although he understands car control better than a normal motorist, he also understands the importance of safety on the roadways.
He is able to emphasize this point to people of his community because he is proud to be someone who came to the United States to live his dream.
“Daniel’s story that he has crossed the border and experienced needing to get auto insurance is much more valuable to them,” Carter said. “Letting them know that you come from another country doesn’t mean you can’t get insurance.
“A lot of that is what we are trying to resonate with Hispanics, that they know they can get auto insurance. One of the things Daniel can state is his own authentic story. Here’s what he did when he needed to drive to get insurance.
“Because we are an insurance company and want to protect his image and our image, we have partnered with a non-profit called BRAKES that teaches defensive driving to teenagers. We promote brakes as a company to promote driver safety. Daniel has posted some videos to our website.
“We have also launched a safety campaign with Daniel where he is letting people know that racing in the streets is unsafe and you don’t want to do that.”
Freeway Insurance will be on Suarez’s No. 99 Chevrolet for seven NASCAR Cup Series races in 2023 including this weekend at Phoenix.
“He is going to win more this year,” Carter said. “He is a talented driver and has been improving more and more. I would be remiss in saying I hope he wins in my Freeway car this year.
“I think there are big things to come for him, for sure.”
The same can be said for the reaction Suarez gets when attending a “Daniel’s Amigos” event, including this weekend at Phoenix where many in the crowd will be cheering on one of their own.
Prior to Suarez’s arrival in the NASCAR Cup Series in 2017 with Joe Gibbs Racing, that wasn’t possible. Hispanic fans did not have one of their own to cheer for.
“I think that is incredibly valuable and it’s not unique,” Rondon explained. “Bubba Wallace serves as that example in the African American community. You think of all the other athletes in different sports that have done the same thing. He is not the first Latino to drive, but he comes with the great story of not growing up in the sport or having the great legacy that other NASCAR drivers have where they have generations that have driven in the Cup Series before.
“He came in, broke in and did it in a way that everybody can understand and relate to. He is a relatable person that is humble, hungry, and always talks about what he had to do to get here. He talks about family and other people that were here to lift him up. Now that he has reached this great success of winning, he wants to bring others with him, not just Mexican drivers, but Latino drivers all over.”
The closest NASCAR race to Monterrey, Mexico is Circuit of The Americas (COTA) in Austin, Texas. Because of a variety of factors, including the massive layout of COTA, there won’t be a “Daniel’s Amigos” event at that facility this year.
Instead, “Daniel’s Amigos” will reach out to the Hispanic Community in Atlanta, Charlotte and Homestead, Florida. All have strong Latino communities in fertile racing territories who can connect with Suarez’s unique message.
“If you invite them in a very authentic way, they will feel at home and not feel like an outsider,” Rondon said. “We always include very authentic elements into our program like food and music and then Daniel tells his story.
“We have had testimonials from young fans that attended that saying, ‘Seeing Daniel and what he went through makes it more real that I could do something like this.’
“Whether it’s driving or being involved in a race team, there are so many opportunities and that is what Daniel talks about. It’s not just the driver, it’s the crew.
“All of these stories are building on the overall objective and his vision of filling the stands with Latino fans. NASCAR offers so much in the way of family and food and the rich history of racing and cars. It’s wonderful to see.
“I’ve been there when he goes out there and engages with fans at ‘Daniel’s Amigos.’ You can see the connection there that they see themselves in and that is wonderful.”
Suarez is successful in connecting to the audience through the power of his personality.
“He is genuine,” Rondon said. “He has a big heart, and he wears it on his sleeve. That is why he and I get along so well because we tend to be so like-minded in that respect.
“We do all of the events in Spanish. Everybody feels more comfortable in talking and that is the authenticity to it. You can see the engagement turn up a notch. The first event we did, we did it in a bilingual way, part of it in English and part in Spanish, but doing it in language was something everybody felt comfortable doing.
“They certainly appreciate that for the majority of the group, they enjoy hearing the stories in their native language.”
Plus, he represents the car culture of the Hispanic community in the United States. Fast rides and tricked out vintage machines are popular in the Latino communities of the United States.
“If you follow Daniel on social media, you know his love affair with VW Bugs and how he modified them and worked on them,” Rondon said. “You go to places like Los Angeles and Texas, those have a rich history of the Hispanic car culture.”
Suarez is rapidly becoming one of the most popular drivers in the NASCAR Cup Series. That extends beyond the Hispanic community and into the mainstream of the NASCAR fan base.
He is also part of the forward-thinking that has made Trackhouse a trailblazer competitively and culturally.
“Trackhouse is a representative of their ownership,” Rondon said. “The DNA of the ownership with Pitbull and his story with guys like Daniel Suarez and his story, you can see that.
“Trackhouse is thinking big. They think of themselves as a brand and not just a race team. They think of themselves in a much broader way connecting to people at a different level, not just racing the No. 1 or the No. 99 car.
“They definitely think bigger than that.”