When Daniel Suarez arrives at the Chicago Street Race, he will be as captivated by the thrilling turns and striking skyline as all other racers. But he will also be scanning his surroundings for something that means more to him.

Suarez has been a breaking star as the first Mexican-born driver to win a Cup Series race and has established himself as a perennial top 20 driver. He was coming off his best season, finishing 10th.

His success has propelled him from a modest life growing up in Monterrey to all kinds of accolades. He has made cameo appearances in several films — he was the voice of Danny Swervez in Cars 3 — and has been invited to tell his story to students at a special event at the White House. It was a remarkable arrival for someone who started his racing career in go-karts, as he and his father learned how to keep it up quickly.

Yet, for all he has accomplished, he still feels like an outsider at times, and it's refreshing when he competes in a part of the country that has a significant Mexican fan base. Knowing he would get it in Chicago, where 29% of the population is Hispanic, made the race even better.

“Every time I see the Mexican flag in the stands, I know who they are supporting,” Suarez told the Sun-Times. “There is only one.

Daniel Suarez fan displaying a variation of the Mexican flag bearing his name.

Daniel Suarez fan displaying a variation of the Mexican flag bearing his name.

Chris Graythen/Getty Images)

“This is very special for me. I would not trade my position for anything else. It's very special to be different and to be in a sport where it's not common to see racers from different countries. Hopefully we look back, and I can see myself as one of the riders able to take steps to make the sport more diverse and more international.”

As Suarez has ascended, his influence has grown beyond his native country. He is one of the most recognized names in NASCAR and will likely join forces to win in Chicago.

He never dreamed about such a thing as a child. He didn't even know a job as a professional race car driver existed.

He was 11 years old when he started go-karting, racing around a track about an hour from his home, and winning constantly. From there, he got his shot at the NASCAR PEAK Mexico Series and won even more. That led to NASCAR recruiting him to the Drive for Diversity program, where he made it into the Cup Series.

But nothing comes easy for Suarez. When he received an invitation to Charlotte, North Carolina, at the age of 21 to take part in the Drive for Diversity in 2013, he had to drive 2,400 miles from Monterrey. He and his father rebuilt the engine, ignition, and suspension on a black 1994 Volkswagen Beetle – he still has it and says, “That's one of my babies” – and it took Suarez three days to reach Charlotte.

“Beetles aren't very fast,” he said with a laugh. “It was in good condition but not great. . . . I just hope it will work.

The other hurdles are more substantial. He would eventually race against racers who had grown up immersed in the sport and had every advantage. He also didn't know much about life in America and could barely speak English.

Language was the biggest obstacle, and because he couldn't afford classes, Suarez taught himself by watching cartoons and movies, reading and trying his best to pick out words and phrases when he heard people talking. Ten years later, he still modestly downplays his eloquence but handles interviews in English non-stop.

“It's really cool to see what I can get without having money, experience or contacts, really,” he said. “It's been an amazing journey.”

Daniel Suarez (L) finishes 17th in the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 16.

Daniel Suarez (L) finishes 17th in the NOCO 400 at Martinsville Speedway on April 16.

Sean Gardner/Getty Images

NASCAR is also enjoying a renaissance. As his push to attract new audiences – and of course new ideas such as racing by a downtown Chicago lake are part of a wider endeavor – Suarez has sparked a spike in interest among Hispanic fans.

“This is huge,” said Brandon Thompson, NASCAR vice president of diversity and inclusion. “We're lucky that his rise through sport coincides with some of the things we've been doing on the marketing side. This worked out great for us.

“Given the increase in the Hispanic population here, it's really cool for us to see his talent come full circle and intersect with some of the things we're doing to open more doors for Hispanic fans.”

Suarez remembers the rave when Joliet's Chicagoland Speedway was part of the tour – he raced there in 2017, '18 and '19 – and “definitely” anticipates a similar vibe at the Chicago Street Race.

“There's a huge Hispanic population there, so it's going to be special,” he said. “And on the competitive side, having a racetrack on the streets of downtown Chicago, that's something really cool that we've never seen before.”

As always, Suarez is not daunted by the thought of something that has never happened before. Some drivers have expected accidents due to the narrower sections of track resulting from the laying of the 2.2 miles of track around Grant Park and Buckingham Fountain, and that creates a wide open field where drivers who know the best approaches to 90-degree turns and other oddities and staying intact for 100 rounds can take the trophy.

This is a brilliant opportunity, and Suarez always takes it.

“I said to myself, ‘No scenario is too big,'” he said. “I have worked my whole life for this. Yes, the odds are against me probably. . . but my dad had a lot of passion – along with myself – and we worked really hard. We are not here by chance or luck; it is the result of a lot of hard work and dedication.”