Note: This is the first of a series of stories highlighting Hispanic and Latino members of the INDYCAR and Indianapolis Motor Speedway community as part of the celebration of National Hispanic Heritage Month, which runs from Sept. 15-Oct. 15.
Ricardo Juncos is defined by determination, on and off the racetrack.
As INDYCAR celebrates National Hispanic Heritage Month, U.S. open-wheel racing has no finer example of a competitor continuing to overcome long odds challenges.
After Argentina’s economy collapsed in 2001, taking down Juncos’ family car repair shop, he left the country with the American dream, carrying only a strong work ethic, a backpack and $400 given to him by his grandmother. Juncos landed his first job as a mechanic for a karting team less than 24 hours after arriving in Miami, accepting the job even without a guarantee of pay.
Juncos parlayed the knowledge gained from racing in Formula Renault in his home country to find racing success in this country. In short order, Juncos became the karting team’s de facto team manager, and soon after he had enough funds to start his own team, which quickly began attracting attention with driver Sebastian Ordonez winning races.
Future INDYCAR veteran Spencer Pigot and his family were among the first to join what was then known as Juncos Competition, and they shared a significant amount of karting success before going their separate ways.
In 2009, Juncos entered the Pro Mazda Series – now Indy Pro 2000 – in what would begin his march up the Road to Indy ladder. In 2010, the team won the Indy Pro 2000 title with Conor Daly at the wheel, and four more series championships and a pair of Indy Lights titles have followed despite Juncos having to start over in 2010 after a sponsor unexpectedly bailed.
In 2017, the team that had recently moved to Indianapolis made an impressive INDYCAR debut when it led Sebastian Saavedra and Spencer Pigot to 15th- and 18th-place finishes in the Indianapolis 500 presented by Gainbridge. Two years later, the small team with the big heart famously knocked two-time Formula One champion Fernando Alonso and his mighty McLaren team out of the 2019 “500” when Kyle Kaiser delivered a last-minute qualifying run.
All of that is the success story Juncos has become known for, but few knew the struggle of 2020.
Like many businesses across the globe, the beginning of the COVID-19 pandemic had a devastating effect on Juncos Racing. With Indy Lights canceling its season and many sponsors in financial distress, Juncos had no choice but to release nearly all of his 45 employees. For most of the year, the team fielded an IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship entry and two Indy Pro 2000 cars with five people, including Juncos, his brothers Alejandro and Mariano, a truck driver and an engineer. To save as much of the small line of credit they had, they worked with the shop lights off.
How did the season turn out? They won the championship in Indy Pro 2000 with Sting Ray Robb and stayed afloat in sports cars.
“One of the best years,” Juncos said this week. “Somehow, we survived.”
With Robb ready to move up to Indy Lights, Juncos had to rebuild that side of the team from scratch since none of the 2019 employees remained. As expected, this season’s results have been difficult to come by, and Robb stands 10th in the standings with one event to go (next week’s doubleheader at the Mid-Ohio Sports Car Course).
The Indy Pro 2000 side of Juncos’ business has regularly fielded three cars this season and has won a pair of races. Reece Gold is fourth in the championship.
The best news of Juncos’ year has been the addition of Brad Hollinger as a business partner. Hollinger once was the second-largest shareholder and a board member of the Williams Formula One team, and his experience seems to blend well with Juncos. Together, Juncos Hollinger Racing has a financial platform to continue its march back to relevancy. As proof, the team hired 22-year-old English standout Callum Ilott for the final three NTT INDYCAR SERIES races of the season and plans to be a full-time team in 2022.
Quite simply, Juncos will not give up on his motorsports dream regardless of the challenges put before him.
“Never, ever – no way,” said Juncos, now 46. “Even if I have to lose everything again, I will make it happen. It’s like, ‘OK, keep pushing.’
“I have so much trust in what I do, 110 percent, that (good) things will happen.”
Juncos also has his wife, Danielle, who has been alongside in this journey since they met in 2003 and serves as the company’s vice president. Juncos raves about her support, a complement to the technical side he brings to their pairing.
“She knows me so good, and she has a sixth sense,” he said. “She’s probably the main reason we’ve got to this point.”
Juncos Hollinger Racing is up to having a couple dozen employees again, and the confidence within the organization is growing with every outing. As Juncos said, there is great comfort in knowing “we will race” each weekend, including INDYCAR’s season finale, the Acura Grand Prix of Long Beach (3 p.m. ET, NBCSN) on Sunday.
That’s what Juncos does. He races on.