Tristan Nunez hit the racing like a multi-stage rocket, shooting to incredible heights, then igniting anew and heading even higher.
He started racing at age 11 and started winning not just races but championships immediately—first in karts, then in Skip Barber formula cars, then in IMSA Prototype Lites, where he absolutely dominated the class. He finished on the podium in his first race, and won 11 of 14 races in his first full season.
At 17 Nunez was driving in the two top sports car series in North America, going head to head with the best drivers and biggest teams in the world—and still winning. In both the American Le Mans Series and the Rolex Sports Car Series, the teenager racked up class victories against drivers with much more experience.
Next Nunez, still in high school, signed on to drive Mazda’s new LMP2 prototype for 2014 in the new Tudor United Sportscar Championship. For an 18-year-old to get a top-tier factory ride is almost unheard of; Mazda must have really liked what they saw in the young driver.
Tristan Nunez takes a night stint in the #07 Mazda at the Rolex 24 at Daytona, Jan 25–26, 2014. (Chris Jasurek/Epoch Times)
The downside? Because the Mazda prototype was brand-new, Nunez would be more a development driver. In other words, he wouldn’t be racing to win. Instead, he would be turning laps with an eye to describing exactly what the car was doing in every situation, so the engineers could make adjustments.
Far from winning, Nunez has not even finished a race in the new car. At both the Rolex 24 at Daytona and the Sebring 12 Hours, the car broke down before the race ended, leaving Nunez to return to the pits on a tow rope. Worse still, the car was often the slowest on the track even when it did run.
The #07 Mazda died Sunday afternoon, failing to complete the Rolex 24; its sister car, the #70, failed likewise. Both cars would also fail to finish the 2014 Sebring 12 Hours. (Chris Jasurek/Epoch Times)
Suddenly the Florida teen’s career went from an incandescent arc to the top of the racing world, to fizzling into darkness. How does it feel for a teenager, living on the adrenaline of repeated victories, to suddenly find himself forgotten and ignored at the back of the pack?
The answer shows some of what makes Tristan Nunez such an exceptional young driver.