Nick Sanchez carries his Cuban-American heritage with pride through his NASCAR journey

Nick Sanchez
(Photo: Nic Antaya/ARCA Racing)

CONCORD, N.C. — In 1980, when the Sanchez family immigrated to the Unites States from Cuba in search of a the promise of a better life, they had no idea what the future would hold.

They settled in Miami, Florida, and on June 10, 2001, Nick Sanchez was born.

One might say things went into overdrive after that.

RACING REFERENCE: Nick Sanchez’s career statistics

Nick Sanchez
(Photo: Adam Glanzman/NASCAR)

Sanchez, now 21, has become a regular face at the front of the field in the ARCA Menards Series. Driving for Rev Racing as part of the NASCAR Drive for Diversity Driver Development program, he leads the series standings with two races left in the 2022 season.

How Sanchez got here, it turns out, is an amusing story.

“The funny thing is most people know someone who races or have a family member who races,” Sanchez said. “I had zero outside influence.”

Sanchez’s father, who was just 8 when he and his family arrived in the United States as part of a mass exodus from Cuba in 1980, was never interested in racing. He was 16 when he began working in the construction industry and later owned his own construction business, which allowed him the opportunity to own a few classic cars. That was the extent of the elder Sanchez’s interest in anything automotive.

“He wasn’t a race fan; he never watched races,” Sanchez said. “He still never really watches. Unless I’m in it, he never watches a full race.”

When Sanchez was 5, he attended his first race at Homestead-Miami Speedway. He quickly became enthralled with racing, but his father instead preferred he stick to more traditional sports like football.

Nick Sanchez
Nick Sanchez pictured ahead of the General Tire Delivers 200 for the ARCA Menards Series at Pocono Raceway on July 22, 2022. (Mike Lawrence/ARCA Racing)

Finally, at age 12, Sanchez convinced his father to let him try racing. The question then became where to race, and the answer wasn’t obvious.

“I started playing tackle football at age 7, and when I was 12, I finally told [my father], I’ve been asking for probably two years, like, ‘Hey, I want to race.’ They were like, ‘Cool, but where do you race?'” Sanchez said. “There wasn’t a short track like Hickory or [Charlotte Motor Speedway’s] Summer Shootout right outside our backyard. We had no idea.”

So what do you do when you don’t know where to start? You head to the internet, obviously.

“We Google searched it,” Sanchez said “We read a bunch of threads about how to get started in racing. If you want to race, you get started in Legend cars or Bandoleros. In my case, Miami had a lot of the international open-wheel scene, so there was a lot of go karting.”

Sanchez spent the next several years racing karts all over the United States before landing an opportunity to run for Rev Racing in 2017.

He’s made the most of that opportunity. That includes this season, during which he’s won three ARCA Menards Series races and is in contention to win the championship. Sanchez also made his NASCAR Xfinity Series debut in 2022, competing for B.J. McLeod Motorsports and Big Machine Racing.

RELATED: Nick Sanchez’s Rev Racing driver profile

While Sanchez now lives in North Carolina as he continues to pursue his dreams in racing, he still loves opportunities to return to his hometown to experience a little bit of the Cuban heritage people like his father brought to the United States.

Growing up in Miami, Cuban culture was never far away for Sanchez. He could round a corner on any street and see it in the clothes people wore, or in the smell of the food being prepared at local restaurants.

“The Latin heritage, you can see it coming from a mile away,” Sanchez said. “I always try to embrace where I come from, Miami and Cuban American. I mainly [want to be] a role model for other people in Miami and Cuban Americans and bring NASCAR racing to that demographic.”

Nick Sanchez
Nick Sanchez pictured ahead of the NASCAR Xfinity Series Food City 300 at Bristol Motor Speedway on Sept. 16, 2022. (Adam Fenwick/NASCAR Studios)

On the subject of returning home, Sanchez will do that in October when he competes in the Xfinity Series race at Homestead-Miami Speedway for Big Machine Racing. It will mark the first time he’s competed in a NASCAR event at his home track.

“The first time I ever stepped foot in a racing vehicle was at the kart track at Homestead,” Sanchez said. “It’s literally my first time. It’s my home track. I practiced there twice a week practicing how to drive. I always go watch the races. Now I get to be a part of that.

“Miami, the culture down there is just different. It’s exciting to bring that to NASCAR.”

As Sanchez continues his upward trajectory, a path he hopes ultimately leads him to the NASCAR Cup Series, his goal is to show other minorities that racing and/or working in NASCAR is something anyone can do with the right amount of drive and passion.

“In the past, people might look at NASCAR as a blue collar, American working sport. You wouldn’t see a lot of diversity in it,” Sanchez said. “Not until Aric Almirola or [Daniel] Suarez or Juan Pablo Montoya. To be that driver, especially to be from Miami, and not really knowing anything about racing, it shows you don’t have to be born into it.

“You don’t have to have a connection to racing at all. You can love something, and you can do it. I think you’re going to see, hopefully, a lot of Latin Americans getting into NASCAR.”