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
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
"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