As the nation’s frontline workers continue their battle against the COVID-19 pandemic, Daniel Suárez and his No. 96 Toyota Certified Used Vehicles Camry for Gaunt Brothers Racing (GBR) will honor a pair of heroes who are especially near and dear to his heart during Thursday night’s Super Start Batteries 400 NASCAR Cup Series race at Kansas Speedway in Kansas City.
The images of Dr. Elizabeth Sowell, an emergency medicine physician with Integrative Emergency Services at CHI St. Luke’s Health in Houston, and her husband James Sowell, a decorated U.S. Army veteran, will be riding along with Suárez on the rear quarter panels of his racecar during Thursday night’s 400-mile event. What makes them extra special? They are Suárez’s aunt and uncle.
Dr. Sowell is Suárez’s aunt on his father’s side of the family, and has been married to James Sowell since 2007. She and her fellow frontline health care workers have been working diligently for more than five months in the treatment of COVID-19 cases while also dealing with the more typical issues that require emergency medical attention.
James Sowell was a U.S. Army sergeant and a paratrooper with the 65th MP Company out of Fort Bragg, North Carolina. He served three deployments from 2001 to 2006, which included one tour of duty in Afghanistan and two tours of duty in Iraq during Operation Enduring Freedom and Operation Iraqi Freedom. He was awarded a Purple Heart for injuries sustained during his deployment and was also awarded a Bronze Star with a Valor Device for his actions on the battlefield.
The Sowells and their two young children have visited Suárez multiple times during race weekends at NASCAR tracks throughout the Southeast and remain among his most ardent supporters. In light of the current pandemic, however, they were not able to take advantage of the opportunity to sit in the grandstands to watch their nephew at last weekend’s race at their “home” track – Texas Motor Speedway in Fort Worth. So, it’s only fitting they’ll be riding along with him in spirit Thursday night at Kansas.
Suárez heads to the third consecutive points-paying race on a 1.5-mile oval on the heels of his 23rd-place finish Sunday at Texas. It was the fifth top-25 this season for the single-car team, which is taking on the full 36-race schedule for the first time since joining the Cup Series ranks in 2018.
It will be Suárez’s seventh career Cup Series start at Kansas, where his best finish of seventh came in his first outing there in May 2017 while driving the Joe Gibbs Racing Toyota. He nearly added a second top-10 finish in his most recent visit there last October in his Stewart-Haas Racing entry. He started eighth, led the opening six laps of Stage 2 and was running ninth coming to the white flag of the race’s first attempt at a green-white-checkered finish when he was caught up in a five-car accident.
Thursday night, Suárez will be proud to carry the images of a very special aunt and uncle with him on his No. 96 Toyota, and he’ll be hoping to give them a finish they will be proud of.
Talk about your aunt and uncle who are being saluted on your Toyota at Kansas, and how NASCAR and its teams work so hard to acknowledge frontline heroes.
“They have been race fans for a long time and they are great people and we have a very good relationship. They’ve been to a lot of my races. Normally they go to Texas, for sure, but last week they couldn’t be there. My thought on honoring frontline workers and veterans is that I have a lot of respect for people like Aunt Liz, and veterans like my uncle Jamie, not just because they are family, but because they give so much of themselves to serve their communities, to serve our country and protect us. I’m very proud to be part of a sport that gives so much respect to the frontline workers and our service members. Aunt Liz and uncle Jamie are very excited to be on the racecar with me at Kansas. I hope we can give them a good result.”
You raced with a limited number of fans in the stands at your last two events at Bristol and Texas. What was that like for you?
“As drivers, especially in our sport, we’re all about the fans and the sponsors. Having no fans there at so many races this year, I hope we never get used to that. We won’t have fans again at Kansas, which will be a little bit of a letdown after we got a taste of having fans there at Bristol and Texas, and at Homestead and Talladega before that. Honestly, it’s not fun to race without fans and sponsors all around us. It still feels weird to show up at the track the way it has been so far. One good thing is a lot of people are watching us on TV. But as drivers, we’re looking forward to the day when they will be back out there with us.”