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Nunez on fast track to auto racing stardom

By Alexander Gimenez - Jul 10, 2013

What were you doing at 13 years old? Starting middle school is the most likely answer. At 13, South Florida resident Tristan Nunez was racing cars. Currently the youngest driver in the Rolex GRAND-AM Series at 17 years old, Nunez has been making a splash throughout the world of professional racing.

The son of a Chilean professional tennis player, Nunez went against the grain when it came to his family’s choice of sport. Growing up he was a racing fan, but began karting at age 11, slightly older than many drivers with aspirations of a professional racing career because of a short-lived tennis career. Two years later he was driving cars for the Skip Barber Racing School.

“Our whole plan was to get me started in the car early, and Skip Barber Racing School allowed me to do that. As long as you have a background in the racing industry they’ll let you do their school,” Nunez said.

Since then, Nunez has proven himself on the track, rising through the ranks with relative ease. His career began to take off in 2012 when he signed with Performance Tech Motorsports for his first opportunity at a full season of racing. He won the overall championship of the IMSA Prototype Lites Series. He went on to win a 2012 Team USA Scholarship and competed overseas in England where he won the Walter Hayes Trophy race, named in honor of the founder of Formula Ford, a program which has turned out many top drivers throughout its 46-year history.

This season Nunez is racing in both the Rolex GRAND-AM Series and the American LeMans Series. He recently became the youngest class-winning driver in the history of the Rolex GRAND-AM Series with his victory in Detroit, and followed that up two races later with a victory at the Sahlen Six Hours at Watkins Glen International Raceway, a NASCAR track. In accordance with New York State law, drivers at the Glen need to be legal adults, so Nunez was forced to emancipate from his parents in order to be eligible for the race.

“My parents have been really supportive of my career so they were OK with it. Pretty much everyday I was dealing with my lawyer and it was a bit of a pain, but it was worth it,” Nunez said.

In a series of all older drivers, many much older than himself, Nunez has allowed his success on the track do the talking.

“For the most part everyone is really respectful of me, I’m so lucky to have the name that I have right now, and I don’t let age affect me at all,” Nunez said about the respect he’s received around the track.

In the Rolex GRAND-AM Series, each race team is made up of two or three drivers who switch in and out of the car during endurance races that can last over 24 hours. As a result, Nunez has shared the car with older and more experienced drivers than himself, and even his older teammates take advantage of his knowledge of racing despite his youth.

“Giving advice to a 50-year-old driver is kind of weird for a 17-year-old, but they like to take as much in as they can so if I can help them, I’ll help them,” said Nunez. “It was definitely weird at first, though.”

 Along with good teammates at MAZDASPEED Motorsports, Nunez is also racing his favorite car to date in the Mazda 6 GX. So far the team has reeled in two victories this year in the car.

 “It’s just a fast car, a lot of down force, really heavy, it’s an all-around beast," he said.

Nunez puts in countless hours of training to keep himself in physical shape. His training regimen includes mountain biking and upper body strengthening to prevent any muscle group from growing deficient.  To effectively race for hours at a time in dangerously hot conditions, Nunez has had to adjust more quickly than many drivers.

 “My first endurance race I really didn’t expect it to be that difficult, but you’re in a 175-degree car racing at 2:00 in the morning, I can’t even explain it but it's going to take me a full year to get used to it,” he said.

For Nunez, the sky is really the limit as far as his racing career. At just 17 years old, he has time to work on his skills and continue his success in the GRAND-AM Series. His humble approach and work ethic ultimately should allow him to be successful at the next level.

“My main goal right now is to just make it to LeMans, that’s been my dream ever since I started racing,” Nunez said. “One day if I can make it to IndyCar (racing) in the future, I’ll always leave that door open, but this is where I want to stay.”

 

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