During the day, Charles Santos is an IT professional. At nights and on weekends, he loses the tie and dons a helmet, taking to the race track in his Scion FR-S. Suitless Pursuits recently caught up with him to talk about the world of Autocross racing.
Name: Charles Santos
Suitless Pursuit: Canadian Autocross driver
What you do as your day job?
I work as a Technical Support Supervisor at a large corporation in Toronto—my team and I manage infrastructure support. We support internal clients, and sometimes external as well, with anything from user and device management to the actual tech infrastructure of the company.
And you race in the Canadian Autocross?
Yes. Canadian Autocross is a grassroots association, governed by Canadian Automobile Sport Clubs (CASC), and planned with the assistance of the Canadian Sports Compact Series (CSCS). There’s a difference though: when people think of “racing” they think of the professional races like NASCAR or F1, but there's a whole range of amateur racing circuits open to people who aren't at that level yet.
What car do you drive?
A Scion FR-S! I drive it daily- it’s a lot of fun and a really good car.
Are you part of a team?
No, but I'm part of a car club. In summer 2013 I joined Push it to the Limit, hosted by the Mazda of Toronto car club. You can sign up for the entire series, where they have about two events a month for five months. You get a lot of experience during each event.
Where do you race and what are the courses like at Autocross?
The Bramalea GO Station lot is a frequent location and the courses are man-made. Every event has a different course layout to create challenges for the participants.
Funny story - my coworker had left her car in the lot for the weekend and they actually built part of the course around her car!
A lot of these races are really good outlets because they’re built to allow racing in safe conditions. And everything is done legally - the organizers go through the proper channels to rent out these lots. You also have damage and responsibility forms to fill out, because accidents can happen.
Sounds like it could be dangerous. How fast do you go?
Usually no more than 60-70 km/h. I usually don't leave third gear.
At those speeds, do you race alongside other cars at the Autocross?
It’s a bit different because it’s a solo event, meaning you don’t actually race against people at the same time on the course. That’s why it’s safe: you’re going at your own pace on the course and they time you. Your competition is a time trial, so wins are based on time. The cars go one by one and you wait for your turn in the queue. There are also track marshals and course rules that have to be followed.
How and when did you get into car racing and cars?
I’ve been into cars since I had to buy my own when I was in college. Before I bought my first car, all I was concerned about was finishing school and I needed a car to get me from point A to point B. But when I had to buy my own car, I did a lot of my own research and came across a lot of race communities and also got really interested in the culture surrounding them. Cars and racing quickly became more of an outlet and a hobby.
Tell me about your first race.
It was a lot to take in. I was really nervous when I walked the course because I had to take track notes in my head and remember where there were tight turns and things like that. When you finish walking the course, they give you a number and then they separate drivers into groups. When I got to the start line, all I could think about was how I was going to run the course. You can’t really see what the racers in front of you are doing so you have no idea what to expect.
As soon as I drove up to the start line there was a guy there who yelled, “Wait! Okay...GO!” and it happened so fast. I remember thinking, ‘‘What? Okay, I’m going!” and taking off off, trying to balance the adrenaline rush with remembering the mental track notes I took.
Sounds intense! What happens when you’re done racing?
Once you finish the course - and I actually didn’t even realize this at the time because of the adrenaline - there’s an announcer at the finish line that tells you what your time was and how you did compared to your last time. It’s neat because it’s able to tell you if and when you went off course - which is what happened to me. That was a little bit of a bummer.
Overall, what sensation do you get from racing? What do you think about?
I feel like I’m in a movie. When you roll up to that starting line - even though it’s a parking lot - it’s different because you’re in your own car driving with your own skills. Everything’s on you: it's the real thing, not a racing game. It’s a great feeling but sometimes the adrenaline gets to you and it becomes hard to focus because you start thinking about other people’s times. You can’t help but get a bit competitive.
I guess that’s human nature! Do a lot of people come and watch you race?
It’s a really family-oriented event because most of the competitors are fathers - guys who just really like cars. It’s predominantly male, and there are even older guys who bring their classic cars!
So what does your family think about you racing?
My mom isn’t too happy about it but overall, my parents are very supportive and they always will be. I always tell my mom that it could be worse.
What about your coworkers?
Some know about it. But because I do a lot of my own research and know a bit about cars, they always ask me questions about their own vehicles. They’re cool with it. I sometimes show them videos and explain how races happen.
Would you ever get your coworkers and friends involved in racing?
Yeah, I actually encourage them! As much as it is a hobby, you take a lot of positive things away from these experiences. All you need is a driver’s license. They have rental helmets on site and it's only $40 for the entire day of Autocross with lunch included. The best part of it is that before you even run a course, you can ride with an experienced driver.
A lot of the event organizers have promoters for certain driving instructors. It’s about $150 for a two day training session with a driving instructor - these guys are part time amateur race car drivers.
What’s the scariest thing that’s ever happened to you while racing?
The scariest moments are when you encounter an unexpected reaction from your car. Those are the times that you have to explore your limits. This one time, I took a turn too aggressively and since I have a rear-wheel drive car, my car over-steered. It gave me a bit of scare but I had to regain my composure quickly. The worst thing you can do is lose focus.
That would be pretty scary! Do you have someone you look up to or that inspires your passion for cars?
I do. It’s a friend of mine that I met in college and he’s really inspiring. He drives a classic muscle car, a 1977 Chevelle, and he’s built that thing from the ground up. He bought it when he was in high school, and he does his own engine swaps and tuning. I always admire the patience he has with his car.
And finally - what does racing your car in the Canadian Autocross mean to you?
The Autocross is not limited to a particular demographic. There’s a guy in the U.S who has a physical disability but is able to race using a car with tiptronic. That’s passion, and it means a lot. For me, it's all about passion.
To find out more information on car racing:
Push It To The Limit (Primary local Autocross/Auto Slalom in which Charles participates)
Touge.ca (Local track day event organizer)
Want to get serious about learning how to drive at a performance/advanced level? Check out: Car Control School