Love of racing reunites Newport Beach buddies

The stereotypical boy growing up in Orange County is involved with

such activities as surfing, skateboarding or volleyball -- the type

of events Southern California is known for.

But for Casey Suzuki and Trinon Cirello, growing up in Newport

Beach centered around different activities.

"My uncle would take me to the [Orange County International

Raceway]," Suzuki said. "As a kid, I just loved the noise and how

fast [the dragsters] could go."

Cirello grew up in an auto racing family. His grandfather built

parts for Indy cars in the 1950s, followed by his father in the '70s

and '80s.

Now 35, Suzuki and Cirello -- who live a couple of blocks from

each other in Newport Beach -- are co-owners of a dragster set to

compete at Pomona Raceway Friday through Sunday in the Goodguys

Pomona Nitro Nationals.

This is not the first time Suzuki and Cirello have teamed together

on a racing endeavor.

Cirello asked for and received a motorcycle for Christmas when he

was a teenager. He promptly entered the junior nationals at the Costa

Mesa Speedway. But he needed someone to help him take care of the

bike. Cirello's friend from grade school -- Cameron Evans -- and

Evans' friend from junior high -- Suzuki -- became the mechanics.

"My grandfather used to watch me race and he never understood why

I wanted to do that instead of help the cars go faster like he did,"

Cirello said. "I just loved the competitive side of it and I liked

the excitement of racing."

Cirello won the American Motocross Association's United States

Speedway junior championship in 1984 as a 15-year-old with Suzuki as

his mechanic at roughly the same time the Ritz-Carlton hotel opened

in Dana Point.

The total sensory experience of racing is what drew Suzuki, when

many in Orange County found enjoyment out of other activities.

"The way the cars would start would shake your chest," Suzuki

said. "And the smell -- it just smelled exciting to me."

Cirello continued for a brief time as a motorcycle racer after

graduating from Newport Harbor High and spending two years at Orange

Coast College. But he soon followed his family heritage and opened

his own business, Lift and Store portable storage.

Suzuki stayed in racing and stayed behind the scenes as a

mechanic. He traveled the United States, building his knowledge of

automotives and racing mechanics.

"A lot of people ask me if I went to school to learn this stuff,"

he said. "I learned by watching other people and asking questions."

Suzuki never missed an opportunity to learn something new, which

helped keep him employed.

Members of racing crews have specific areas of the car he or she

focuses on. If a crew member didn't show up or quit and the crew

chief couldn't find a replacement, Suzuki was eager to learn and fill

in where needed.

His widespread knowledge of cars, racing and mechanics led Suzuki

to more and more responsibilities and he eventually became one of the

most respected mechanics in racing.

He was the chief mechanic for Ashley Force when the Yorba Linda

native won the U.S. Nationals in Indianapolis in 2003.

"For drag racing, [the U.S. Nationals at Indianapolis] is the

equivalent to the Indy 500," Suzuki said. "It's the most prestigious

thing you can win."

Suzuki not only was the chief mechanic on that winning crew, he

also headed the crew for Marcus Lucas when he won the U.S. Nationals

at Indianapolis last year. Both wins were with John Force Racing, the

legendary racer with 118 career wins, second only to Richard Petty's

200 wins for the most victories in all of racing.

Last year a friend took Suzuki to Bakersfield for the March Meets,

a series of drag races that includes a car show and exhibition. While

there, Suzuki ran into someone selling a dragster on the cheap.

"He basically needed it out of his garage so he could work on his

other car," Suzuki said. "When I told people how much he sold it for,

they couldn't believe it. They thought we robbed him."

The "we" in question was Suzuki and Cirello.

Suzuki couldn't afford the car on his own, but Cirello, whose

business had become a success, jumped at the chance to be co-owner

and get back into the racing lifestyle.

The dragster was going to be part of the Goodguys racing circuit,

which puts on drag races with nostalgic cars and shows like the March

Meets in Bakersfield. Just like at the Costa Mesa Speedway in 1984,

Suzuki is the main mechanic and Cirello will be the driver.

Suzuki and Cirello's dragster is a nostalgia car in looks only --

it is actually a relatively new automobile.

There are nostalgia categories where the car actually has to be

made before 1972, but in the dragster event the car only has to look

like it predates 1972.

"Our car is only two years old with state-of-art parts, but it has

the engine mounted in the front like they did in 1972," Suzuki said.

"But it has the same wheels of the newest dragsters. All the nuts and

bolts are titanium. It has a $20,000 computer in it. Everything is

very state-of-the-art except the engine is in the front."

The computer monitors various outputs and inputs from the car

while it is racing and Suzuki deciphers the numbers and finds what

may be wrong or what needs to be adjusted.

But the real amazing thing isn't a space-age dragster built to

look like it was from the disco age of racing. The real amazing thing

is two friends bonded by a common love for cars reunited after two

decades.

"I still think sometimes how long I've known him," Suzuki said. "I

was his mechanic when he won at Speedway. Now we've come full

circle."

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