Mara Reyes was the first Mexican woman to race in NASCAR in the States. In recent years, she has been one of Mexico’s leading saloon racers.
She comes from Pachuca, and like many other speedqueens, as well as NASCAR drivers, she got into motorsport through her father. In 1987, when she was ten, she navigated for him in rallies. She had to wait until she was fourteen before she could get on the circuits.
1991 was her first season of circuit racing. She drove a spaceframe VW Beetle in a junior series. She was the only female driver in the championship, and was fifth overall, as well as Rookie of the Year.
The next four seasons were mostly spent in the Mexican endurance championship. Despite still only being fifteen, Mara was tackling 12- and 24-hour races in the GT II class in 1992. She was eleventh in the championship, with a best finish of sixth, earned in a twelve-hour race. Unfortunately, it is unclear which car she drove. In 1993, she moved up to the GT III class. She continued to improve, and was ninth in the championship.
1995 saw her try a wider range of racing disciplines. Her main focus was still the GT III championship, in which she was now a serious contender, with podium finishes. Later in the season, she joined the new one-make Chrysler Neon Challenge, in which she was eleventh. This was only a part-season, as she was sharing the car with her father, Miguel.
Another achievement was being invited to take part in the Shell Grand Prix, in El Salvador. This was a race for Super Touring cars, giving Mara a taste of more power. She was fifth overall, and third in class. Again, the make of her car is not recorded. That season, she also raced trucks, and a Nissan prototype.
After a good 1995, she was offered support by Daimler-Chrysler of Mexico for 1996, and her single-seater career began. The company arranged for her to attend the Skip Barber racing school. Saloons had definitely not been forgotten, however; her second season in the Neon Challenge included a win and a third place, plus three pole positions. Again, she was part of the Chrysler team. She was eleventh in the championship. Some more Truck racing netted her more good results, and she was eighth in the Mexican championship.
She continued to be competitive in the Neon Challenge in 1997, winning a race and coming second in another. She was tenth overall. Her Truck results kept improving, too, and she was fourth in the championship. This year’s big challenge was meant to be a one-make series for the Ford Mustang, but Mara’s sponsorship only stretched to one race, in which she was fifth.
In 1998, she put together a deal for a full season in the Mustang, and was ninth in the championship. By now, she was showing some real speed in a race truck, and she was that year’s championship runner-up. This earned her attention from the Scuderia Rodriguez team. After learning to drive a single-seater in 1996, she drove one competitively in 1998, coming seventh in Formula Mexico, a series for Skip Barber Formula cars.
Mara continued to race in multiple series in 1999, but it was truck racing in which she really excelled. She was second in the Mexican championship again, and would win the title outright in 2000. This was the first of two truck championships, as she defended her title in 2001.
During this period, she not only raced HGVs, but Pickups as well. She took to Pickup trucks immediately, and was second in 2001. In 2002, she raced in a Dodge Pickup championship, finishing third.
She continued to race the Mustang, and improved steadily, finishing eighth in 1999 and moving up to fifth in 2000 and 2001. She was tenth in 2002.
2003 was a season when a lot went wrong for Mara. She struggled for sponsorship, and did only a few races in the Mustang, and in Pickups, at the start of the season. She had established herself in third place in the Pickup series, but slipped down the rankings due to her enforced absence.
Things improved dramatically for her in 2004. She was signed by the Telmex team to contest the Corona Mexican Stock Car Championship. This was a new championship, and Mara claimed the first pole position. She was sixth overall, with one podiium finish. The series was very popular and had large grids, and the final points table was very close towards the top.
Her Mexican stock car adventures inspired her to try for a seat in NASCAR, and her team and sponsors agreed. Driving for the Telmex team, she was classified 18th in a K&N Pro Series race at Irwindale, in 2004. She had been running as high as twelfth, but was black-flagged and just sneaked a qualification instead. This did not deter her, and she took a step up to the Busch Series in 2005, one below the Sprint Cup. She was signed to drive Jay Robinson’s Ford for the Mexico City round. This ended in a disappointing 35th place finish, although she was only five laps down. She had secured her place in the annals of motorsport, however, as the first Mexican woman to race in a NASCAR-sanctioned event.
Another season in the Corona series in 2005 gave her eighth. She had worked her way up to second place when she had to drop out due to illness. This signalled the end of her time with Telmex, and the conclusion of the first part of her career. She retired for a long time, to spend more time with her family. This was partly down to problems with sponsorship, too.
After a long lay-off, she returned to the track in 2015, driving a Mercedes in the V8 Super Copa. She was ninth overall, despite being out of the cockpit for the best part of ten years.
In 2016, she was third in the Mexican Super V8 Challenge, taking one win at Monterrey, and three second places. These were her first podium places since her comeback. She was supported by the Arris-Telmex team, and picked up plenty of favourable media attention.
That year, she also made a return to NASCAR, in the Mexican series. Her Arris-Telcel team got her guest spots on the grid for the first two rounds, in Mexico City. She was eighteenth and fourteenth.
She planned to race with the Telmex team again in 2017, but this does not seem to have happened.
(Image from http://www.arriseverywhere.com/)