By Jeff Olson

IMSA Wire Service

Victor Gonzalez Jr. felt satisfaction for a job well done the day after his team’s opening race of the season.
That’s when crew members of Victor Gonzalez Racing Team – all from Central America and the Caribbean, many experiencing Daytona International Speedway for the first time – set off to watch the Rolex 24 At Daytona.
“You should’ve seen them,” Gonzalez said. “They asked, ‘Can we stay here?’ I was like, ‘Come on, guys. You’ve got the passes. Go see the race. Enjoy it.’ I’m grateful to be able to create memories like that for them.”
The first Puerto Rican driver in NASCAR history is on a mission. Gonzalez’s team, which competes in the IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge, is staffed mostly by Hispanic employees, offering racing opportunities for talented drivers and mechanics who otherwise might not have a path to professional racing.
“That’s my mission,” Gonzalez said. “I know I’m not going to float everything by myself by any means, but you have to start somewhere. I’ve put all my life into this sport, and this is the right path. IMSA is the right place to do it.”
Gonzalez knows the struggle. After attending the Miami Grand Prix as a 16-year-old in 1991, he made racing his destination. It didn’t happen overnight, and it didn’t happen easily, but he eventually reached the Barber Dodge Pro Series, then Toyota Atlantics, then the Rolex 24 in 2005, and finally NASCAR, where he competed in 11 races, including two Cup Series events.
Now, he operates VGRT, which fielded two Hyundai Elantra N TCRs and a Honda Civic FK7 TCR for the season-opening BMW M Endurance Challenge on Jan. 26 at DIS. The team’s aim is to open doors for drivers, engineers, strategists and mechanics who might not otherwise have a chance to join the racing world.
The mission is a product of experience.

“I’m a diversity driver, always have been,” Gonzalez said. “I know the struggles. Along the way, I came to understand that if I had somebody to help me and direct me along the way, I’d be better off.”

That understanding has come full circle more than once. One of his favorite success stories is that of his lead mechanic, Miguel Guadamuz, who hails from the canton of San Carlos in Costa Rica.

“He comes from a family of farmers,” Gonzalez said. “They sometimes ride horses to the market. He’s a hero in his own hometown because of this. They’ve seen him on YouTube. That is the satisfaction that I get. It’s not that I’ve improved his life, but I added something to it. It’s not just me, but it’s everyone’s sacrifices that made this dream come true for him.” 

In all, Gonzalez’s team employs 16 people from Costa Rica, the Dominican Republic and Puerto Rico, including engineer Emily Rivera. 

“I’m trying to open a door not just for drivers, but for everyone,” Gonzalez said.

The mission has become larger than one small team. After VGRT competed at Daytona with drivers Julian Santero, Tyler Gonzalez, Morgan Burkhard, Clayton Williams and Colton Reynolds, the team owner and sixth driver that weekend received more than 150 messages from people eager to get into racing.

“You cannot imagine how many emails and messages through social media from people who wanted to know how to become a part of the team,” Victor Gonzalez said. “They were asking, ‘What do I need to do?’ I don’t have that many jobs. It’s overwhelming. People see us as a big team – which I’m not – but that means that people are putting their faith in me. I guess I’m doing something right because they want to be a part of it.”

Gonzalez’s plan to create a conduit for racing talent from the Caribbean and Central America came into focus after his final NASCAR Xfinity Series race in 2018 at Watkins Glen International.

“It was time for somebody to step up and show there’s an opportunity for Hispanics in racing,” he said. “I might not have all the answers, but I can tell people that this is the way I did it. Opportunities will be available. I’m here to help create a path.”

Before his crew members enjoyed their passes to watch the Rolex 24, Gonzalez said, they earned them through hard work.

“You see the way they work, it’s outstanding,” he said. “They won’t stop until everything is done. They want to be part of the success and know they were part of it. I cannot explain the commitment of my guys. They know this might be the only opportunity to be here and be part of the show. They come to me after the race and say, ‘Victor, thank you. If you hadn’t done this for me, I wouldn’t have had this opportunity.’”

The next chance at that opportunity is the Alan Jay Automotive Network 120 on March 15 at Sebring International Raceway. It’s where Gonzalez and Karl Wittmer drove to a memorable victory in 2022 in the Touring Car (TCR) class.

Afterward, a few people from VGRT will have opportunities to pursue and tales to tell.

“When they go back to their countries, they’ll have a story to tell,” Gonzalez said. “People will see them differently. They say, ‘He was part of the show.’

“It’s not just a racing story. It’s a lot more than that.”