From Childhood Dreams to Trackside Reality: A Latino Fan’s Journey into the Heart of Formula 1

A fan holds a banner in support of Sergio Perez of Mexico and Oracle Red Bull Racing in the fan zone prior to the Sprint Shootout ahead of the F1 Grand Prix of United States at Circuit of The Americas on October 21, 2023 in Austin, Texas. Photo by Mark Thompson/Getty Images

As I entered the world of Formula 1, attending my very first live race, I couldn’t help but reflect on the decades I’d spent watching this exhilarating sport. The memories of legendary rivalries, like the epic battles between Brazil’s icon Ayrton Senna and Alain Prost, and the moments when Colombian driver Juan Pablo Montoya dared to challenge Michael Schumacher’s status quo, all flashed before me. I’ve witnessed the sport’s transformation from something enjoyed primarily by the elite to a passion that resonates deeply among a wider audience, much like Checo Perez’s connection with Mexico and the entire Latin American community.

I was born and raised in Santo Domingo, the only child in a working-class family of three. Despite our modest means, my parents strove to provide things that were not available to them in their own childhoods. In the late ’80s, El Mundo Deportivo Marlboro immersed me in the world of motorsports—an experience that has spanned over 35 years. I began watching Formula 1 at a time when the internet was not yet available, relying on local newspapers to find out the results of practice and qualifying held on Fridays and Saturdays of race weekends. Occasionally, I cut and pasted photos into a notebook that served as an archive of my growing passion.

Ayrton Senna: Photo courtesy of Mclaren F1
Read more

I vividly recall the day when I got up close and personal with a Formula 1 car in the Dominican Republic at an exhibit featuring contemporary race cars. Standing before me was the iconic white and red livery car immortalized by Ayrton Senna. Despite my excitement, the McLaren F1 sat silent and still, awaiting someone to bring it to life. Though my dream of hearing a live Formula 1 engine and smelling burnt rubber didn’t come true then, who knows—perhaps Joel will get to experience it firsthand someday.

I often felt a sense of loneliness. However, the ongoing Formula 1 discussions over the phone, provided a connection to my father back in DR.

In 1996, I relocated to New York City, a place where, despite its bustling population, I often felt a sense of loneliness. However, the ongoing Formula 1 discussions over the phone, provided a connection to my father back in DR. During this period of adaptation and struggle to find common ground with others, conversations about race results or the enduring dominance of Michael Schumacher became a comforting link to my childhood memories. Little did I imagine that one day, I would have the opportunity to visit a Formula 1 track, especially when my adventurous spirit and the professional platform to make it happen were still distant prospects.

In late 2016, Liberty Media acquired a controlling interest in the Formula One Group, putting an end to decades of control by an individual who seemed out of touch with the changing demographic. A sport that appeared destined to decline alongside its aging audience suddenly became attuned to a generation that demanded greater access to the drivers and teams. Along came ‘Drive to Survive’ (2019), a show that purists may dislike, but I love because it attracted a new audience to the sport. This realization prompted me to understand that I was not the only person waking up early to watch a race and then later on the day discussed the results and plots as if it was a blockbuster drama series. Destiny was paving the way to make my childhood dream come true.

If you’re still reading this editorial, things are about to get real.

Joel Moya & Will Buxton

On Sunday, October 22, I woke up early in Austin, Texas. My childhood dream of attending a Formula 1 race weekend was just a few miles away at The Circuit of the Americas. The buildup of the race was palpable at the multiple airports I passed through, with people proudly wearing hats and other items that identified them as fans of the sport. As we approached the track, the sounds of the Porsche Carrera Cup support race filled the air. As a 42-year-old motorsport enthusiast who had never been to a race track, arriving at the parking lot used by team members was just the beginning.

Entering the Formula 1 paddock was like stepping into a fantasy world, where my weekend heroes, the teams, and the fans all converged in one place. Despite knowing I had access to the paddock, encountering Checo Perez was beyond my expectations—the very individual tasked with bringing the Driver Championship title to Latin America in 2024. I even had the chance to share a moment with Mexican sports journalist Giselle Zarur Maccise and later with Will Buxton, the voice behind Netflix’s ‘Drive to Survive.’ I shared my early fan story with them and expressed gratitude for Buxton’s impactful work. As I walked away, he playfully dubbed me a legend (my heart melted).

Despite all the excitement, I had yet to see a Formula 1 car or hear the sound of its engine. It was closer to 1:13 pm local time when I managed to catch a glimpse of a Mercedes F1 W14 entering the pits after an installation lap. Yes, this time the beast was alive, and the rumble of all six cylinders firing up triggered an embarrassing moment. I couldn’t contain my emotion, basically screaming “NOOOO” like a character from a soap opera, drawing the attention of those around me who quickly understood my excitement.

It took 35 years for me to witness the iconic lights off, and while some argue that any sport looks better on TV, the magic of experiencing it with all senses engaged is unparalleled. From savoring the taste of trackside food to inhaling the distinct scents of gasoline and burning rubber, from witnessing cars whiz by at speeds exceeding 150 mph to hearing the crowd react to the thunderous roar of 20 cars on the grid—every sense is heightened. Although we can’t touch the cars, there’s a tangible connection forged by shaking hands with fellow enthusiasts who share the same passion. I found myself immersed in memories of my childhood home, where I’d be glued to the screen every Sunday morning. There was an anticipation, an eagerness, as I awaited my father’s awakening to share a brief recap of the race—an act that deepened the special bond between us.

As another Formula 1 roar on, I reflect on the passion that ignited my love for racing at the age of 10. If I could go back and talk to that younger version of myself, I’d share the profound experiences and connections this sport has brought into my life. A Grand Prix weekend is more than just a race; it’s a four-day celebration where fans of all age groups and backgrounds come together for one thing – to show their love for the sport. The on-track experience is surreal; TV doesn’t do justice to the real-life racing, where all senses are entertained. Dreams do come true, and it happened in real life at the Circuit of the Americas on Sunday, October 22, 2023.