When Pedro Martinez moved from San Antonio, Texas, to his new home in Mooresville, North Carolina, NASCAR racing was the last of his concerns.
The 8-year-old rising fourth grader was more interested in other sports, and those interests carried him though South Iredell High School as a soccer player, wrestler and boxer.
It wasn’t until friends persuaded him to attend a race at Charlotte Motor Speedway that Martinez first became acquainted with NASCAR. And then he was hooked.
“What I liked about it was the competition, the adrenaline rush,” Martinez told the NASCAR Wire Service in advance of his home race this weekend at Texas Motor Speedway.
He decided to become a part of it.
Martinez used his athletic ability to develop skills as a tire changer. He was a quick study, and he found a way to translate his background in other sports into his new vocation.
“The soccer part is the footwork,” Martinez said. “The wrestling is the concentration and how well you prepare for the weekend, and then the boxing skills are just your hand-eye coordination basically—when you change tires and you hit the lug nuts.”
And Martinez’ Hispanic background also proved useful, when Mexican driver Daniel Suarez advanced to the NASCAR XFINITY and Camping World Truck Series. Though Martinez currently changes tires for BK Racing in the Sprint Cup Series, he also performs the same role for Suarez’ No. 51 Kyle Busch Motorsports Truck Series team.
As Suarez was learning English, Martinez was part of his support group.
“There’s only a few Hispanics in the sport,” said Martinez, who like Suarez is a product of NASCAR’s Drive for Diversity program. “I understand how it’s hard for him. There’s a language barrier there, just the way you have to explain stuff to the crew chief. I think the hardest part is the language barrier and having to explain yourself really well.”
Eduardo “Eddie” Troconis, a native of Mexico, also was a vital part of Suarez’ early success, because he could communicate with the driver in Spanish.
“They really wanted me to be a part of his team this year—be a coach, give a little advice ... and when he had a hard time understanding because of the language barrier,” said Troconis, who served as a race engineer for the No. 51 team earlier this season. “
“At the beginning of the year, he spoke very little English, but now he can carry himself. When he was trying to express what the car was doing, that’s what I was there for.”
Now that Suarez has improved his English-language proficiency dramatically, Troconis has moved on to a crew chief’s role with KBM’s No. 54 Toyota, with drivers Christopher Bell and Gray Gaulding. But he still lends engineering support to the No. 51 team, and he remains close with Suarez and Martinez.
“I’ve worked with Pedro already several years, and he’s done really great for himself,” said Troconis, who raced Indy Lights before embarking on a varied career in NASCAR racing. “He’s a kid who didn’t have nothing, but he’s a fighter. He’s a fighter, and he wants to make it.
“Daniel is the same. He knew that he really needed to turn around the image of the Mexican drivers that were not able to make it in the United States. He’s really impressed a lot of people with his driving skills and his learning skills—the language, and on and off the race track.”
Troconis’ father ran a race team in Mexico, but Troconis sacrificed what would have been a secure future in his native country to venture into NASCAR racing. In his early days in the sport, he worked for Bob Keselowski, and before he was situated, he slept in the race shop.
By the time Troconis arrived at KBM, he had performed just about every job possible on a race car, from front-end mechanic to setup man to shock specialist to race engineer to car chief. And it was Troconis whom Suarez sought out when he came to the States.
“When I moved to the United States, I knew that Eddie was here,” Suarez said. “I knew his dad very well. His dad told me he had been here for a while, and anything you need, look for him.”
Suarez didn’t get to know Martinez until they teamed up together.
“With Pedro, I didn’t know a lot about him until about a year, year and a half ago,” Suarez said. “And I’m amazed. It’s really cool to see all these Latin American people who have come to this sport and are doing good things, like Eddie, Pedro and myself.”
About the only good thing that hasn’t come Suarez's way is a victory in one of NASCAR’s top national series.
But if hard work and perseverance are major contributing factors, a win will come—perhaps as early as this weekend, when Suarez does double duty at Texas Motor Speedway, as NASCAR returns to Martinez’ native state.