Suárez takes oath as American citizen

Daniel Suárez hears the American national anthem every race day during the NASCAR Cup Series season, taking part in the pre-race tradition just minutes before the green flag each week. Tuesday afternoon, with hand over heart at the Charlotte field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services, “The Star-Spangled Banner” felt a bit different for the Mexican-born driver.

Suárez was sworn in as a United States citizen on Tuesday, joining 48 candidates from 28 countries in a naturalization ceremony as a group of the newest Americans. Suárez — and all 47 others — received a citizenship certificate from NASCAR President Steve Phelps, a surprise guest who was present for the oath-taking and delivered the keynote address.

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For Suárez, who came to America 12 years ago to pursue a racing career, Tuesday’s ceremonies represented a crucial next step in his stateside journey. The Trackhouse Racing driver’s celebration of his Mexican culture has been a significant part of that ride, but now he has another anthem he can call his own.

“It is different because now I feel like I have a little bit of a part in it,” Suárez said upon hearing the U.S. anthem in Tuesday’s program. “I don‘t know if that makes sense. I don’t know, but it does feel a little bit different. It’s almost like, OK, now that’s part of myself.”

Suárez was joined by his fiancée, Julia Piquet, and Trackhouse Racing president Ty Norris and other team representatives at Tuesday’s ceremony. Phelps’ arrival was news to Suárez, who embraced his friend before the 45-minute program.

“I’ve known about this for a couple of months, and it was a surprise, so Daniel was unaware of this,” said Phelps, who admitted to a mild case of nerves with the new experience. “But when the Trackhouse folks asked me to do it, I was absolutely thrilled. So, it means a lot to me, and Daniel and I have a special relationship, and to see him fulfill a dream to become a U.S. citizen, I just feel honored I was here.”

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The new citizens were greeted by a welcoming video address from President Joe Biden, who noted their shared courage in carving out a path in a nation full of opportunity. Phelps also made special recognition of Suárez’s resilience in his speech, noting how he charted his racing career from modest beginnings to becoming a winner at the top level of the sport.

When Suárez arrived in America, he was a 19-year-old prospect in what’s now called the ARCA Menards Series East, landing here with just two seasons of racing in the NASCAR Mexico Series under his belt. He made learning English quickly his priority, to better communicate with his racing team, sponsors and fans, getting a quick grasp of the language by watching television — specifically, cartoons.

Just five years later, he became an Xfinity Series champion who was soon promoted to the Cup Series ranks. After starting out in NASCAR’s big leagues driving for three teams in his first four seasons, he found a home with Trackhouse and became the first Mexico native to win a Cup Series race in 2022. He is now in his fourth year of wheeling the team’s No. 99 Chevrolet — which was on display in show-car form in the USCIS parking lot Tuesday.

It might be hackneyed to call Suárez’s journey and achievements through racing an American dream, but his story so far fits that mold.

“Honestly, a lot of people have been telling me that, and I don’t like to brag or anything like that, but I feel like it is,” Suárez said. “If you think about it, I came from a family with no money, I grew up in a small house, it was five of us with a two-bedroom apartment, a two-bedroom house with one bathroom. Like I grew up in a very humble family and a lot of people don’t know all the details, but to come here from being in Mexico, going to public school in Mexico and not having really much money, and coming here without speaking English, with not having the contacts, not having really the racing background, and being able to learn the language, making it to Drive 4 Diversity, racing in NASCAR, win races, win a championship and make it to the top of NASCAR in a sport that 15 years ago, every person that I knew, they were telling me that there was no way, that it was a very American sport. I feel like it is, and hopefully I can bring awareness to people to not let anyone tell you can’t.”

MORE: Photos from Suárez’s naturalization ceremony

The journey to citizenship has been its own path, and Suárez explained the various types of U.S. visas he’s had to apply for — all the way to his Permanent Resident Card, or “green card” — and the work involved to secure them. His studies for his citizenship test were extensive, and learning about the USA’s purchase of the Louisiana Territory from France in 1803, when America was still a young nation, was particularly eye-opening.

“Honestly, being part of this journey in the last few years has really taught me a lot,” he said. “I really hope that a lot of people have the experiences and the opportunity to go through something like this, because it really teaches you a lot of things in life. I feel that I won’t take this for granted. Maybe some people take some things for granted, and for me, I will never take this for granted because I know how much it cost me to get here and to get these opportunities and to be able to work hard and to be part of this group of people that they were able to accomplish the same thing that I did is very special.

“I just hope that this is the beginning of something great, and I can be the example for many people from my country, South America, Europe, you name it, Asia, to come to this country, to work hard, to be disciplined and to do things the right way, because in my mind, if you do all these things right, there is no question you’re going to be successful.”

Suárez said his next stop in the process would be registering to vote, a new privilege that comes with citizenship. Aside from potentially hearing the American anthem in a different light — “I’ll let you know on Sunday,” he says — Suárez insisted he’ll be the same person he’s always been, one who also celebrates his Mexican citizenship and shares his home country’s traditions.

The 32-year-old driver’s next opportunity to embrace his culture with fans comes Thursday in Chicago, where Suárez and Trackhouse have planned the largest gathering of his “Daniel’s Amigos” community in the lead-up to NASCAR’s second annual Chicago Street Race Weekend on July 6-7.

“Super excited for that. I’m sure that I’m going to be talking a lot about what happened today,” Suárez said. “I’m sure a lot of people there are Mexican-Americans, and there’s a lot of people there that are looking forward to one day having an oath ceremony like the one I had today. So hopefully I can inspire some people and push them to do things the right way.”

Daniel Suárez and NASCAR President Steve Phelps at the Charlotte field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services.