Inside Mazda MX-5 Cup: Nate Cicero leaps from karts to Cup

Photos by Ignite Media

Inside Mazda MX-5 Cup: Nate Cicero leaps from karts to Cup

When Nate Cicero finished eighth and top rookie in race two of Daytona International Speedway’s Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich season opener, he added more weight to the idea that the improbable can occasionally be anything but.

Cicero, 18, doesn’t come from a family of racers, or even automotive enthusiasts. As a child, he developed his fascination with all things automotive all on his own.

“From when I was two or three years old, I just fell in love with cars,” he says. “My first words had to do with cars, and I would go up to people and ask them about theirs.”

So began his journey to the cusp of a career as a professional race car driver.

Aged 10, he took his first step into racing at a well-known indoor karting facility outside of New York City called Grand Prix New York. It wasn’t part of any master plan to turn pro driver, yet it soon became clear that Cicero had a budding talent. Fortunately, the facility was also where Cicero met Steven McAleer, his current MX-5 Cup team co-owner. Within two years, guided by McAleer, Cicero transitioned from indoor rental karts to full-on outdoor race karts.

“Once I started racing outdoor at Oakland Valley Race Park with Steven, our plan was to work our way up the ladder with the eventual goal of racing with Mazda since he (along with Chad McCumbee) had a team already competing in the MX-5 Cup,” Cicero explains.

Cicero’s progress through the karting ranks was swift, culminating in a win in the 2021 ROK Cup USA in Las Vegas, his first time competing in the Senior Division for 125cc TaG karts. The performance earned Cicero an invitation to the Mazda Spec MX-5 Shootout in Sebring later that year. He just had one little detail to take care of beforehand…

“I had one day to test the MX-5 and learn how to drive a manual, H-pattern transmission,” recalls Cicero. “I had a weekend of kart testing, then I had one day at Roebling Road with a Spec MX-5, before going back to North Carolina for a karting race and then to the shootout in the middle of the following week. It was a huge challenge, but I was able to figure it out reasonably well.”

Cicero managed to master three pedals and an H-pattern shifter all right — so much so that he netted the Spec MX-5 Scholarship.

“The following year was pretty successful in Spec MX-5 with a win and few podiums,” recalls Cicero, at that point a fully-fledged driver for McCumbee McAleer Racing. “That led me to an invitation to the MX-5 Cup Shootout.”

Once more, the competition level was high, and Cicero came in with eyes wide open.

“Of course, I hoped to win,” he says, “but just like with the 2021 Shootout, I told myself that even if I don’t win it’s a great opportunity to get two days of track time surrounded by amazing coaches and people that I could learn from. When the announcement came, I genuinely thought it wasn’t going to be me. So when they did announce me, I was super surprised and really happy.”

The first race of his 2023 MX-5 Cup rookie season was a dive in the deep end. While Cicero had experience once before on Daytona’s high banks, the level of competition was an eye opener.

“There was a lot I wasn’t expecting,” he says. “It was super busy with photo shoots and other things I wasn’t used to. Once I got in the car, I felt like my pace was pretty strong. I had to figure out the draft, which was at a much higher level than what we had in Spec MX-5.

“I made a mistake in the first race that I got a penalty for. But the second race was a lot better. I stayed in the front group, had the third fastest lap and ended up eighth. The competition was way higher than anything I’ve experienced, but it was super fun.”

Assessing his own strengths and weaknesses, Cicero believes his biggest challenge is striking the right balance between aggression and discretion. He’s been caught out being overly aggressive at times in the past, and it’s not an experience he enjoyed. Yet when the competition is as sharp as it is now, there’s little reward in being overly cautious. It’s something he knows will come with experience.

Next up, Cicero is relishing the challenge of his first street race in St. Petersburg, Fla. Like he did at the Shootout, he’s looking at the race and the rest of the season as part of a learning and growth process. But, as he says, “While I’m not trying to rush anything, at the same time if I can go for win in St. Pete, then I’m going to for a win in St. Pete.”

You could say it’s a strategy that’s served him well so far.

All rounds of the Idemitsu Mazda MX-5 Cup Presented by BFGoodrich are streamed live on and archived at The RACER Channel on YouTube. Watch rounds 3 & 4 from the streets of St. Petersburg, Fla., March 4. To view the full season schedule and learn more about the series visit