The Coastal Star

Around Town: Tristan Nunez has a need for speed — and to discourage distracted driving

Boca Raton race car driver Tristan Nunez, shown here with his high-tech race course simulator, visits schools to stress to students the dangers of distracted driving.  Photo by Thom Smith

By Thom Smith

When most 20-year-olds are choosing their college majors, Boca Raton native Tristan Nunez is on the road much of the year, going as fast as possible, seizing every opportunity to pass any car in front of him. But no speeding or reckless driving tickets, thank you: Nunez has goals as a race car driver and role model.
He races cars for a living, specifically Mazda prototypes in the Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge of the IMSA Weathertech SportsCar Championship, the nation’s top sports car racing series.  
At 16, Nunez became the youngest driver ever to win a sports cars championship. This year, with a hot new Mazda engine, his team has started in the front row of four races. He briefly held the lead at Daytona Beach. The team led by 25 seconds halfway through the Canadian Tire race before a mechanical failure knocked the car out. The drivers were in front and cruising at Elkhart Lake, Wis., when they were done in by a faulty pit strategy.  
Sadly, Mazda has celebrated only one podium finish this season because of other mechanical problems, but Nunez learned long before his first race that all winners also lose. His Chilean-born father, Juan, played tennis professionally and now runs a training academy in Delray Beach. His pupils included Chris Evert, Arantxa Sánchez Vicario and Gabriela Sabatini.
Nunez tried tennis but discovered karting before hitting his teens and decided he preferred racket to racquets. His twin, Dylan, once a ranked junior tennis player, now pursues an acting career in Atlanta.
Tristan’s mother, Diane, is his manager.
“If I didn’t have the support from my family, I wouldn’t be where I am today,” he said. “My mom does the hard stuff behind the scenes. My dad’s been a racing fan since I don’t know when.”                                                                  

Nunez also cites inspiration from legendary British driver Derek Bell, who has a home in Boca Raton; but all the support in the world wouldn’t help if he didn’t have the tools both mental and physical.                                                    

“That’s the good thing about the racing world,” he said. “If you have a good head on your shoulders and you’re knowledgeable about racing, age doesn’t matter. We all have that mutual respect for each other.     
“The night before a race, I can’t sleep. It’s like any athlete before a game. And when you get out after a three-hour stint, it’s like ‘Wow, I can’t believe I just did that!’ I sleep like a baby, but the next morning is hard; I can’t get up.”
But he does … and not just to take a few laps. With the opportunity afforded by “celebrity” comes responsibility. Last spring first lady Michelle Obama invited him to the White House Easter egg roll because of his work as founder of Dnt txt n drV Foundation, which is waging a campaign against distracted driving. With his 200-mph Mazda in tow, he visits schools to stress to students that a second of distraction can be fatal.
The foundation provides grants and scholarships, mostly to teenagers, to help them spread the word. “It’s the teens who are most at risk from distracted driving,” he said, “but they can also have the biggest voice. The only way it’s going to spread is through a team of young, dedicated advocates.”
Back on the track, Nunez will glean what he can from this year’s experience and prepare for the changes to be made by IMSA for 2017, in hopes of seeing more checkered flags and saving lives.
    ***                                
Kevin, we hardly got to know you. In 2012, TV comedian Kevin James paid $18.5 million for a 12,828-square-foot estate — big enough for its own “Mall Cop” — at the north end of Delray Beach’s public beach. Last winter, he put it on the market. As real estate deals go, he didn’t make a Trumpian killing, but then what’s a few million.
    Asking price: $28.85 million. Sales price: $26.4. James had also bought the adjacent lot for $4.25 million, a total outlay of $22.75 million or a profit of 16 percent.
    James was often seen dining downtown; the family were regulars at St. Vincent Ferrer Church on George Bush Boulevard. He even shot a trailer for Paul Blart: Mall Cop 2 nearby at Boca’s Town Center. So why did he leave?
TV maybe?
James will return to the 4K screen this fall in Kevin Can Wait, a sitcom about a newly retired cop who finds life is tougher at home than on the streets. It premieres Sept. 19 on CBS. More significant, James is co-producer and the series will be shot in Bethpage on Long Island, just a few miles from his hometown of Mineola. He should be able to find a fixer-upper along the shore.
Actually, James has been gone from Delray Beach for months. Developer, author and philanthropist Frank McKinney, who also lives at the north end, jogs in the area every day. James’ house was noteworthy, he said, because six to eight garbage cans would always be put out in the alley on collection days.
“Then about six months ago, no more trashcans,” McKinney said. “He loved it while he was here, but I’m sure it was because of the show.”  
          ***                          
    After a month in the rumor mill, the truth is finally out. On Aug. 23, Nick Morfogen, executive chef at 32 East, announced his departure, 17 years to the day after taking over the kitchen at the acclaimed Delray Beach restaurant.
    “I am astonished almost daily witnessing the transformation from sleepy little town that was just waking up, to a world-class destination. It has been a privilege for me to have been at the forefront of the culinary evolution that continues to reshape the heart of Delray,” Morfogen wrote on the restaurant’s Facebook site.
      But, as the saying goes, Nick got an offer he couldn’t refuse.
      He’ll run the dining operation at Pine Tree, a private golf club west of Boynton Beach. The change is dramatic, and some friends have called it a “waste of talent,” but for Nick, family considerations prevailed.
      Nevertheless, the separation will not be total: He’ll remain a partner at 32 East. In that role he no doubt will have some say in its future, which includes new executive chef John Thomas, his protege for a decade at Tryst.
    “Thank you to the staff, past and present that have helped me live my dream, the guests who have trusted me in this culinary journey, and to the farmers, fishermen and purveyors who I have been fortunate to work with; they educate and inspire me on a regular basis,” Morfogen wrote, concluding with a reminder to 32 East fans, “it’s still all about the food. … ”
                                     ***
The inaugural Dine-Out Delray apparently was a big hit. Final figures aren’t in for the weeklong promotion that featured specially priced, three-course prix fixe meals, but response from the 30 participating restaurants, juice bars, cafes and pizza joints was overwhelmingly positive.
More than 3,000 meals were served, and several restaurants continued the promotion beyond the initial week of Aug. 1-8.
“It was a great way to introduce our menu to new diners,” Max’s Harvest General Manager Pete Stampone said. “It was a nice perk for our regular guests.”
Sponsored by the city’s Downtown Development Authority, the event boosted business in the dog days and provided $3,000 to Healthy Bellies, a program through the Achievement Center for Children & Families. Founded by Dada executive chef Bruce Feingold and his wife, Amanda, it promotes education and nutrition for disadvantaged children and families.    
                                     ***

At 50 Ocean in Delray Beach, chef Joe Bonavita says diners will find three tower gardens that not only look good but provide fixings for salads, cocktails and daily specials. Photo provided


Who needs flower arrangements! At the entrance to 50 Ocean in Delray Beach, guests are greeted with heads of lettuce, herbs and varieties of spinach. Only a few weeks on the job, new exec chef Joe Bonavita is boosting the seaside eatery’s garden-to-table menu with three grow towers that not only catch the diner’s eye but also provide fixings for salads, craft cocktails and daily specials.
Hydroponics and aeroponics are as old as the Hanging Gardens of Babylon, but only recently have they been reintroduced into modern American kitchens. General Manager Mark DeAtley even envisions the towers serving as an educational tool while providing a little fun for diners in the process: “They can interact with the plants and even pick fresh strawberries off the vine.”
                                     ***
    One of the first lessons a surfer learns is that a wipeout is not the end of a ride, just an interruption. Waves don’t stop, nor do surfers.
Same can be said of the Palm Beach County Surfing Museum in Delray. In surfing terms, the break — its building on North Federal — has blown out. The landlord, who had provided temporary space, has found a paying tenant. So after a year and a half, the Palm Beach County Surfing History Project has, to steal a phrase, packed up the woody with boards in the back — plus displays and memorabilia —  and headed out.
Some will go to a storefront on nascent Park Avenue in Lake Park, the rest just a skateboard ride away to the Sandoway House on A1A in Delray. “They’ve been very generous to let us stay there for a year,” project founder Fred Salmon said. “The county is so big that it’s good to split up the exhibits so people all over have a better chance to see it.”
History Project board members even used the closing event on Aug. 18, a reception for the Delray Beach Chamber of Commerce, to spread the word. The chamber group, few of whom were surfers, were captivated by the board members and historical displays — old Holmsey and Nomad boards, images of the beached Amaryllis on Singer Island and gremmies at Lake Worth Pier — as longtime local surfers such as Tom Warnke and Scott McCranels made their case.
The gang hopes to open the Sandoway exhibit this month. Lake Park may take longer, but the project should be safe for another year while devotees work to find a permanent site. And the waves will come and go. (www.surfhistoryproject.org)
                                     ***
Cancer doesn’t discriminate. It can hit anyone. Since 1992, Connor Moran Children’s Cancer Foundation has been serving affected South Florida families, and now it’s out to prove the disease is a “drag,” in the most upbeat sense.
Tom Hantzarides, host and producer of GET OUT! South Florida, America’s only terrestrial-radio LGBTQ talk show, and Tracy St. John, afternoon drive jock at 97.9-WRMF, will co-host Cancer’s a DRAG — A Magical Musical Tour!
Set for at 6 p.m. Sept. 25 at the Crest Theatre at Old School Square in Delray, this sequins-and-glitter show will offer decades of hits performed by famous South Florida drag queens Big Mama, RaeJean Cox, Kataleya Davenport, Destiny Devine, Roxi DiVine, Dupree Edwards, Lupita Hollywood, Rianna Petrone, Nicole Saphire, Melissa St. John and more.
International cabaret star Chris Barrett will perform hits from Broadway and the great American songbook. Tickets, $25-$75 at www.getoutsouthflorida.com.
                                     ***
One of the most interesting TV commercials to come along in years may be for the New York Grilled Cheese Co., a new franchise that opened in April across Federal Highway from Boca’s Mizner Park. Needless to say, the star — bewigged blonde in heavy makeup — is tres campy as she interviews diners, including Boca’s Broadway queen, Jan McArt.
Folks farther south may recognize Miss Daisy Deadpetals, one of the best-known drag queens in South Florida for two decades.  
Owner Leor Barak, who opened his first cheesy joint in Wilton Manors in 2013 and envisions nationwide franchises, confesses he likes to think out of the box. He also believes in giving back to the community. Daisy could be very busy.

Reach Thom Smith at thomsmith@ymail.com.

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