Stock-car racing's roots run deep in Mexico.
Now anchored by the country's premier series, the NASCAR Mexico Series, decades of history and memorable moments have the sport on an upward trajectory with a rapidly growing fandom that is passionate about racing.
"The important thing is to be clear that we are a prime form of motorsports in our region," said Victor Pineda, a manager with NASCAR International and a mainstay with the series since its inception. "NASCAR has changed the way we do races. Everything changed from the way we build new tracks to the way we build race cars. We understand that on the technical competition side we are grassroots series on the touring series level, but for us, it is the most important thing in motorsports in Mexico."
Hispanic drivers have a storied history of competing in NASCAR, dating back to Mexican legend Pedro Rodriguez competing in six Cup Series races between 1959 and 1971. Rodriguez raced to a career-best fifth-place result in the 1965 World 600 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.
Nearly three decades after Rodriguez's final race, Carlos Contreras debuted in the Camping World Truck Series (then-Craftsman Truck Series), serving as a pioneer of the modern era while making starts with Impact Motorsports and Richard Petty Enterprises for multiple seasons.
Through the years, NASCAR's relationship with racing in Mexico began to grow, resulting in a series of four Xfinity Series (then-Busch Series) races at Autodromo Hermanos Rodriguez in Mexico City from 2005-08. Notable stars Martin Truex Jr., Denny Hamlin, Juan Pablo Montoya and Kyle Busch each earned checkered flags in the country's capital city, racing alongside Mexican legends like Adrián Fernández, Michel Jourdain Jr. and others.
During this international stint, the creation of NASCAR's first series in Mexico in 2006, the NASCAR Corona Series, set a new standard for stock-car racing in the country moving forward. Now, 2022 is the series' 16th season of operation under the NASCAR banner, though the series was inactive in 2016.
STARS AND STABILITY
Because the NASCAR Mexico Series is the premier stock-car racing series in the country, it attracts the top stars who want to compete at the highest level. The race season is 12 races long and competes in nine different states with at least eight of the races taking place on larger speedways or short tracks.
German Quiroga at 31 years old became the first muli-time champion in series history, reeling off three consecutive titles from 2009-11. Former Xfinity Series and K&N Pro Series driver Ruben Garcia Jr. matched the feat in 2019 at just 20 years old after also claiming championships in 2015 and 2018. Salvador de Alba Jr. is the current defending champion, winning the prestigious trophy over Garcia just days before his 21st birthday.
Each year, the series is becoming more competitive and the stars are becoming younger. It's a healthy trajectory for the sport.
It even led to the creation of a new division for up-and-coming drivers to race alongside veterans: the Mexico Series Challenge Division.
"NASCAR Mexico created the Challenge Division in a way to showcase the new talent," said Pineda. "Former drivers, like Daniel Suárez, Rogelio Lopez, Antonio Perez, German Quiroga, all these names. Now, these young kids see them as a reference or a goal to be like them. Daniel Suárez is, of course, the main target. But they want to be like all these guys and each of those names inspired these young kids."
PHOTOS: Mexico Series through the years
SUÁREZ INSPIRES WITH SUCCESS IN THE STATES
Unquestionably, one of the most notable alums from the Mexico Series is current Trackhouse Racing star Daniel Suárez,who was born in Monterrey, Nuevo Leon, Mexico.
Suárez made his Mexico Series debut in 2009 and quickly made a name for himself in the series with 10 wins in 76 starts. Suárez's success elevated him to make NASCAR starts in the United States in the Camping World Truck Series and Xfinity Series, leading to his groundbreaking Xfinity title in 2016. In 2017, he reached the pinnacle of stock-car racing, the NASCAR Cup Series, and has been driving the sport forward in Mexico ever since.
In June at Sonoma Raceway, Suárez became the first Mexican-born driver to win at NASCAR's highest level. It was a historic feat for not only the sport, but also for those watching him back home - particularly the ones who saw him rise through the ranks.
"We saw Daniel since he was a young kid," Pineda said. "He started racing with us in the support series, so he was like 14 or 15 years old. So this was just like, really young guy with braces on his teeth and now we are seeing this great sportsman racing on the big ovals. I mean it's just fantastic. It's an inspiration for every one of us because I still remember the moment that we approved his first license to make his foray. So his first race here with us and now you can see how he's doing and that is inspiring. The young kids that it is inspiring, the drivers.
"So the old guys that raced against Daniel back in the day, they are happy because they say 'Well, we were racing together. We actually taught him a couple of things.\"" But the young kids, they say, 'Well, if he can do it, we can do it.\""
For more information on the NASCAR Mexico Series, visit www.nascar.mx and check out these exclusive driver highlights on rising stars Jaiden Reyna, Sebastian Arias and Nick Sanchez.
Race broadcasts can be found on FOX Sports 3 and Claro Sports (in Mexico and Latin America) and also streamed on the NASCAR Mexico Series social media channels.