It’s the middle of winter in upstate New York and José and Mary Suero are in a garage with no heat, rebuilding a salvaged Honda S2000. Their hands would throb as they hammered an axle to get the car track worthy.
There’s nowhere else José and Mary would rather be than working on the car, or at the track with the NASA Northeast region.
“Mary told me a story about them first meeting and José said something to her like, ‘This is my girlfriend right here,’ pointing to his car,” said friend and NASA racer Joe Kush. “Mary pulled her hair back and said, ‘Well, let’s go. Teach me how to work on her’ and that’s pretty much how their relationship started.”
José and Mary are regulars at the track with José racing in Honda Challenge 1. Prior to moving into the Honda Challenge ranks, José did some autocross before starting in HPDE and Time Trials with NASA. José started racing when he was 11 years old in the Dominican Republic before his mom told him he needed to find a new sport.
“My mom wasn’t too happy about it at the moment,” said José, 32. “Then we had to immigrate (to the United States) and when we got here, I wanted to get back into racing as long as I remember.”
When José got his first opportunity to race again, he enrolled in an autocross event and laughs about that experience. “At the time we had basically all-weather tires on the car because I didn’t know anything about tires and autocross,” José said. “Before we got home, we were already buying tires for the next autocross.”
It was the next autocross that José mistakenly registered for a NASA event, and he’s been with the group ever since. While running autocross, José wanted to race, but didn’t have the budget for it. To make it happen, Mary and José had to basically build the car themselves.
They found a salvaged car that needed an engine, but the couple had little practical experience working on a car. Jose’s day job is basically an electrician at a hospital, so he had some mechanical knowledge. To build the car, he bought the Honda manual and the process took about two months before the Honda was ready.
The car needed a cage before it could go on track, and budgets being what they are, José had to get creative and had a half cage built. The cage was the only project the married couple didn’t do themselves.
“It definitely was tough building it, but it’s so worth it seeing him and the car on track,” Mary said. “I looked at him and I said, ‘Let’s get some track records.’ He was able to get, I believe three to four track records, on four different tracks, so it’s satisfying to see some accomplishment and that’s just momentum for him to carry him into this season.”
To get the car ready for Honda Challenge last year, José went through the car methodically to remove weight. They moved the battery to eliminate wires and pulled more than 50 pounds from the doors by removing the quarter panels and glass. Removing a single wire harness shaved 14 pounds, José said. The factory weight on the car is 2,850 pounds and the last time José checked, his racecar weighed a svelte 2,450 pounds with the cage.
Some racers go with carbon-fiber fenders to lighten up the car, but Jose doesn’t plan to go that route because of cost. “I like metal, if you have a problem at the track, you can just pull it off,” José said.
With the car dialed in, Jose’s philosophy is that any changes they make to the car have to make it faster. “I’m really competitive, so I believe if you are doing something, you have to do it to be the best of yourself and not halfway,” he said. “I apply that to my car.”
After each race, he checks the brakes and pads, calipers and will do an oil change. “I put a lot of miles on a weekend and I basically check for anything that’s loose,” he said. “I check the bolts for my alignment, make sure everything is tight and that’s it, back to the trailer.”
On the track, José is fast and ran every race in 2018 in the Northeast Region to win the Honda Challenge 1 class. He plans to compete in the National Championships at Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course in Lexington, Ohio, to see how he stacks up against other Honda Challenge drivers across the United States.
Although Kush competes in a different class than José, they drive the same car model.
“He passed me on the front straight like I was standing still, and I was just blown away,” Kush said. “I mean, he’s not forced-induction, he’s driving the exact same chassis as me. He’s got a well-put-together car.”
Jose describes his driving style as a cross between aggressive and opportunistic.
“If I see an opening and I can go for it, I will go, no matter what,” José said. “(That) may be aggressive, as some people will call it, but I don’t see it as aggressive, because that’s the whole purpose of racing.”
At the track Mary actively manages the car and because they are racing on a budget, the team tries to maximize parts and tires. He tries to get more than 40 heat cycles from a set of tires and saves the new ones for the race. The Toyo bucks he’s earned helps keep costs down.
Mary is often asked if she likes being at the track and often answers with a resounding yes. She wouldn’t have sacrificed long days in the cold garage near their home in White Plains, N.Y., if she wasn’t passionate about racing.
“I love watching him,” Mary said. “I’m in full support of his dream and this is what he loves to do.”
|Hometown:||White Plains, N.Y.|
|Racing Class:||Honda Challenge 1|
|Day Job:||Sr. maintenance mechanic|
|Favorite Food:||My wife’s mustard lamb chops|
|Favorite TV show:||Italian|
|Dream Racecar:||Mercedes C9|