Daniel Suárez, driver of the No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) in the NASCAR Cup Series, is a fan of many sports and athletes the world over. The athletes he admires the most are the ones who not only show excellence on the field, or on the court, but off of it, as well.
One of those Suárez admired the most is the late Kobe Bryant, one of the greatest players in National Basketball Association history who for 20 years graced the court for the Los Angeles Lakers and was endeared by fellow players, friends and fans throughout Southern California and around the world – particularly in the Hispanic community.
During this weekend’s NASCAR tour stop at Auto Club Raceway in Fontana, California, Suárez will honor the memory of Bryant, his 13-year-old daughter Gianna, and the seven others who perished in a tragic helicopter accident last month. The native of Monterrey, Mexico, will don a pair of specially designed driving gloves and matching shoes that bear the likeness of Bryant, the Lakers’ iconic purple and gold colors, and Bryant’s jersey Nos. 8 and 24. Suárez’s racecar will carry the names of all nine people whose lives were lost. And he also plans to wear a No. 24 Lakers jersey on stage during driver introductions prior to the Auto Club 400.
Beginning Wednesday, Suárez’s custom gloves and shoes, designed by renowned shoe artist and Los Angeles native Salvador Amezcua – aka “Kickstradomis” – whose works are hugely popular among players in the NBA, National Football League and Major League Baseball, will be auctioned on eBay with proceeds benefitting Vanessa Bryant’s “Mamba on Three Fund.” The fund was established to support the families of the crash victims. A link to the auction can be found through DanielSuarezRacing.com.
Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota teammates will look to channel Bryant’s fierce “Mamba Mentality” when they take to the 2-mile, Auto Club Speedway oval for Sunday’s 400-mile race. They endured an unexpected hiccup at the season-opening Daytona 500 two weekends ago when an accident not of Suárez’s doing knocked him out of his Thursday-night Duel qualifying event and out the 500. He and the team rebouned last Sunday on the 1.5-mile Las Vegas Motor Speedway oval, where Suárez qualified 35th on a grid determined by owners points after Saturday qualifying was rained out. He weathered an issue that saw his racecar briefly lose power on the opening lap of the race and went on to soldier home with a 30th-place finish.
Sunday’s race marks the first in the Cup Series for GBR at Fontana but the fourth there for Suárez, the native of Monterrey, Mexico who in 2016 qualified on the NASCAR Xfinity Series pole and finished fourth at Fontana en route to that year’s series championship, becoming the first Mexican-born competitor to win a NASCAR national series title. In his three Cup Series starts at Fontana, he has a best start of 10th and best finish of seventh, both in his rookie 2017 season.
With an opportunity to honor the legacy of one of his all-time sports heroes and the memory of those who left this life alongside him, Suárez feels honored and is very much looking forward to sporting the Lakers’ purple and gold, and Bryant’s Nos. 8 and 24, on NASCAR’s biggest stage in Southern California.