In just more than two years, Cameron Das has settled into the seat of a go-kart, attended a prestigious driving school, earned his first racing license, dabbled in domestic racing series, dominated the inaugural Formula 4 United States Championship and earned a ride overseas to the British F3 Championships.
And he still doesn’t have his full, unrestricted license to drive on the street.
“It is kind of weird,” the 16-year-old Das said. “I think about my racing career in terms of months. Other drivers talk about various parts of their career in years. They’re looking at a much larger scale. My whole career is in a very condensed window. It definitely feels weird.”
“Surreal is probably the best way to describe it,” said his father, Babi Das. “I know he is incredibly humble, and I am not sure he realizes what he has accomplished in one year. Going from indoor karting to an FIA [Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile] National Champion and sharing the stage with F1 champions, like Lewis Hamilton and Nico Rossberg, may never be repeated.”
If not for a fortunate whim, it the ascent of Cameron Das might not have happened at all.
As Das recalls, in September 2014, he and two friends kicked around the notion of giving go-kart racing a try. A quick Google search showed that the Autobahn Indoor Speedway, in Jessup, was the closest kart facility to Das’s Baltimore home.
“My mom took us,” Das said. “We were all avid car guys, but we had never actually raced before. We were just trying to have some fun, friendly competition between the three of us. We wanted to see who was the fastest, and Autobahn was our way of proving who was fastest. It proved to be me.”
About two years later, it seems that fateful first trip was more pivotal than Das ever could imagine. Since, Das studied at the Bertil Roos Racing School, in Pennsylvania; competed in a handful of Formula Lites and F1600 F Formula F Championship races in 2015; then raced a limited Cooper Tires USF2000 Championship schedule in 2016.
Then he dominated the inaugural 2016 season of the U.S. Formula 4 Championships — with nine wins in 15 races, including the last eight in a row — in becoming that series’ first champion. He earned top-five finishes in 14 of 15 races, and earned close to $40,000 in prize money.
“I guess I thought that was possible, but how possible, I had no idea,” Das said. “We all went into that series with blindfolds on. We had no idea what to expect. It turned out to be a huge success, and I found that I had more skill than I thought.”
On His Mark
Das received more such affirmation when he earned an invitation to race in the British F3 series’ Autumn Trophy, a four-race, season-ending series culminating the British developmental league. He placed seventh overall. Das will spend next racing season overseas, competing for Carlin in British F3.
“I am his father, so one might believe I am biased,” Babi Das said. “However, I am a realist, and I don’t think anyone can argue that Cameron has innate abilities not found in a driver with his level of experience. When he showed up for his first pro league race at Autobahn when he was 14 and proceeded to beat everyone, I have to admit I was shocked. … No question, he has ability to do things with a car that others cannot even comprehend. However, time will tell if he can advance in this sport as the competition gets stronger and stronger.”
Looking back on that first trip to Autobahn, Cameron Das certainly didn’t see that as a portent.
Racing on the facility’s Monaco course, Das beat his buddies. “I had one of the quickest times of the day,” he said. “Looking on the sheets, though, I wasn’t close to the fastest guys at Autobahn. I was just faster than everybody there that day, so I knew I was above-average.”
“Hooked,” he returned for a few Arrive and Drive visits before employees took note of his skills and he was encouraged to return to compete in one of the track’s leagues.
“They were like, ‘You could probably be competitive. You should see how you can do in a league race,’” Das said. “In my first race, I qualified on the pole with a new track record and won by quite a margin. I thought, ‘Maybe I have something here.’”
The results of the races since have been a bit of a blur.
First came regular league races, practice in a home racing simulator, then the trip to the Roos Racing School, where he earned his license to race single-seaters. Das said his kart experience translated well to bigger, faster open-wheelers.
“I’d say it wasn’t too difficult of a transition,” he said. “A lot of stuff you do in go-karting translates. I tell people, the physics don’t change. The speed changes. You don’t really drive differently. You just do it faster. When you’re driving, you have a brake, throttle, you’re shifting gears and driving. It’s the same in a kart.”
Still, the success Das has had since that first trip with his friends, and the speed with which he has achieved
that success, has turned heads.
“It’s amazing,” said Bill Harris, Autobahn’s director of development. “He’s a good racer, obviously. It’s like the elite athlete getting a deal elusive to the majority of other elite athletes. I don’t know the [racing] industry well enough to know what compares to that, but it’s exceptional beyond belief.”
Karting has been a springboard for countless pro racing careers, including those of Michael Schumacher, Ayrton Senna, Sebastian Vettel, Alain Prost, Fernando Alonso, Kimi Raikkonen, Jenson Button and Lewis Hamilton, who grew up racing karts before ultimately claiming F1 World Championships; and many NASCAR drivers, including Darrell Waltrip, Jeff Gordon, Danica Patrick, Ricky Rudd, Juan Pablo Montoya and Lake Speed, started out racing karts.
“We are an entry point to the Performance Racing Industry. However, we are also very accessible,” Harris said. “Anyone can come out to Autobahn and have a great time and race. We’re in the sports and entertainment industry. To me, [Das’s accomplishments] are on the sports side.
“In sports, maybe you have a kid who goes out and plays a pick-up basketball game, and he’s really good at it,” said Harris. “Maybe somebody works with him, and he works hard and plays junior varsity and then varsity, then becomes a pro player before he even goes to college. He just has that natural knowledge of the sport. We could have that same kind of correlation here.”
Das dreams of Formula 1, though he won’t rule out a more domestic path. “Formula 1 is certainly the goal, but being a professional driver is the main goal,” he said. “Formula 1 is far in the distance. Maybe, if I work hard enough, I can do that, but I’m not throwing out American racing. IndyCar racing is really good, too. Both are challenging environments. I love driving race cars, and if I can do that professionally, that’s what I want to do.”
Curiously, Das never dreamed of becoming a race-car driver until he was one. Babi Das recalled young Cameron’s infatuation with toy cars and beyond-his-years appreciation for luxury cars as a youth. But the idea of driving fast for a living didn’t enter the picture until Autobahn did.
“When I was little, I might occasionally watch a NASCAR race if it was on,” Cameron Das said. “I had the dream of being a driver, I guess, like a kid might say he wants to be an astronaut one day. But I never watched it that closely or really thought it might happen.”