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NASCAR driver, Mexican native Daniel Suarez celebrates becoming American citizen

LOUDON, N.H. (AP) — Daniel Suarez took an oath this week and became a United States citizen, then had a surprise confession from his mother — the Monterrey, Mexico native learned he almost was American at birth.

Suarez’s parents flirted with the idea of heading to America ahead of his 1992 birth and having the future NASCAR star born in the U.S. One problem, the cost was too prohibitive so the idea was scrapped.

“In Mexico, I don’t know expensive it was, but it was cheaper,” Suarez said, laughing. “It’s really funny how my parents, they had that thought before I was born, about being born in the United States, I guess to have more opportunities. They didn’t do it.

“And now, I guess I did it my way.”

Suarez indeed did it his way, and was one of 48 citizens representing 28 countries sworn in at the field office of U.S. Citizenship and Immigration Services in Charlotte, North Carolina.

“The most special part of everything was, you see so many people there,” Suarez said Saturday at New Hampshire Motor Speedway. “I was not expecting it. I was not expecting to see so many people.”

His fiancée, Julia Piquet, members of his Trackhouse Racing team, and even NASCAR president Steve Phelps were among the attendees that saw the 32-year-old Suarez complete his journey of becoming an American citizen (he will hold dual citizenship with Mexico). Phelps was a surprise guest and delivered the keynote speech at the naturalization ceremony.

“I didn’t think many people were going to really care about it,” Suarez said. “A lot of people really did.”

Suarez never actually considered becoming an American citizen as he grew up in Mexico. He just wanted to race.

His father packed his car and trailer with Suarez’s karting gear for the States the first time when they road tripped to Las Vegas for an event. Just 12, Suarez finished strong enough to further fuel the idea he could have some sort of racing career.

As the younger Suarez grew fascinated with stock cars, Alejandro Suarez knew he needed to raise the whopping amount of money needed to support this pricey new venture. He sold his auto restoration business and Suarez’s stock car career soon took off in Mexico. Suarez had a ride in NASCAR’s Mexico series (winning five times in 2014) and NASCAR’s low-level K&N Pro Series East, and morphed into a teen sensation at home.

After a move to the States — that included a stint in Buffalo, New York — he landed a ride in NASCAR.

He won the second-tier Xfinity Series title in 2016 — El campeon! — and became the first foreign champion in a NASCAR national series. Suarez has two career Cup wins — including the closest finish ever at Atlanta Motor Speedway.

As he rose through the NASCAR ranks, Suarez at first was focused on his career more than becoming a citizen.

“It wasn’t a dream of mine,” Suarez said. “I came to this country to race and compete. I had been working really hard to try and go to the next step and be more competitive. In a blink of an eye, I’ve been already here 12 years.”

As he got older, Suarez realized the significance of becoming a citizen. About six years ago, Suarez became determined to start the process that would make him an American. He was quizzed by his team in April over Dover race weekend ahead of his citizenship test on that Monday.

He crushed it.

“If something bad happened to myself in the street, an accident, whatever it may be, with a green card, I could get kicked out an any time,” Suarez said. “I felt like it was the right time to start this process. Slowly, I’m getting more and more responsibilities in my life. It was the right time to feel more secure; that I belong here.”

He’s set to get married next month in Brazil and perhaps, in the next few years, start a family.

First, he has to get to the altar.

“As we speak, I can’t leave the country,” Suarez said. “I don’t have my green card and I don’t have my American passport yet. Julia was working her ass off to try and process my American passport to be able to get married next month in Brazil. I thought, hey, if you want to marry me, you’ll have to help me out with this.”

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AP auto racing: https://apnews.com/hub/auto-racing

Dan Gelston, The Associated Press