Rio De Janeiro, Brazil born racer, entrepreneur, philanthropist and businessman Carlos Vieira is one of the busiest individuals in racing. He uses his love for speed and racing to fuel his success in each of his many other endeavors. Vieira began his racing career later in life, but his move to team up with Campbell Motorsports and Derek Thorn in 2016, shows just how driven he is to reach the front of the pack in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series.
Vieira moved from his birthplace in Rio at a young age, when his parents moved to the Central Valley of California to try to make a better life for the family. His father worked for his uncle in the fields of California’s rich agricultural industry for several years until he was able to purchase a small sweet potato company from him. Vieira would spend the early years of his life working on that farm and establishing the work ethic he has practiced to this day.
“I grew up working on the family farm growing, packing and selling sweet potatoes while learning the business. I worked after hours, after school and during breaks to help with the family business,” Vieira would tell Speed51.com powered by JEGS.
When Carlos graduated from high school, he did what many others his age did and left home for college. But his sense of family obligation brought him home shortly thereafter. His drive, vision and dedication for the family company made A.V. Thomas Produce the huge success that it is now.
“I wanted to do something else so I moved to L.A. to go to college for a couple of years, but I decided that the family needed me to come back to run the company,” Vieira said. “I decided to move back to Livingston (CA) and take over running the company. My goal was to take what my father gave me and make it bigger and better, to go national and introduce new ways to cook, eat and sell sweet potatoes. We are now the largest sweet potato company in the country and the world”, Carlos said with pride. “I really enjoyed my time in Huntington Beach (at Golden West College)…….and I even tried some surfing while there, but it really wasn’t my thing. Even though I enjoyed college, I chose to put the family and all the employees that were working for the company first. If I didn’t come back, the company would most likely have been sold, as my father wanted to retire. That wasn’t going to happen.”
With a successful business under his belt, Vieira was looking to fulfill one of his dreams. He would jump in with both feet in 2007 and began racing Asphalt Late Models at Madera Speedway (CA) and the now defunct Altamont Raceway Park (CA) in Central California.
“It was always a dream of mine to race cars, so at the age of 35 I decided I would do it,” he explained. “I started at Madera Speedway in 2007 to get my feet wet, and then Altamont Raceway Park. I didn’t have any racing experience and my team was made up of buddies of mine, who also didn’t have any experience. I guess I could have started off with dirt racing or in a lower division, but I wanted to race NASCAR and the Late Models were a division of the (NASCAR) Whelen All American Series. Altamont was really a place I enjoyed racing so we made it our home track. I really enjoyed the speed of the half mile and that’s where I got my first win. It’s too bad that it closed down (after the 2008 season).”
After the 2008 season, Vieira raced at both Madera Speedway and Stockton 99 Speedway (CA), which had just re-opened after a two-year hiatus. He finished sixth in Stockton’s Western Late Model Division and racked up 27 starts with 24 top-10 finishes between the two facilities.
In 2010, Carlos began a streak of 63 consecutive appearances with the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series, missing only one event in 2012 due to a qualifying accident at All American Speedway in Roseville, California. In addition, he continued to race his Late Model and added the NASCAR K & N West Series to his resume in 2011.
Now in his seventh full SRL season, Carlos has seen steady improvement in his results and his patience behind the wheel. During the 2015 campaign, Carlos completed the most laps of any driver on the “Tour” to show a consistency that had been lacking in the past. He would go on to finish fifth in the final standings and score seven top-10 efforts to establish a personal best in the series.
When asked about his reasons for participating in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series, Vieira was complimentary of the management in the series.
“I love the way the series is run,” he said. “I think Larry (Collins) and Brian (Olsen) do an excellent job, they are very organized. The cars are fast, they are quick and they are lightweight. They are a lot lighter than the (NASCAR) K & N cars. With the K & N Series, there is also a lot of travelling and I have multiple businesses that I need to run. Racing is my hobby and I don’t do it for any other reason than to satisfy my urge to live life on the edge and bring more excitement into my life. Of course I also race to grow the 51 FIFTY Energy Drink brand and promote Race for Autism. I’m just very happy to be a part of this series.”
That first season of racing, in 2007, also saw the birth of Carlos’ new endeavor, 51 FIFTY. It is a brand that goes hand in hand with his racing and was named after his passion for speed and excitement. To Carlos, it means to be just crazy enough to go after your dreams despite what others my say.
“In 2007, when I began my racing career, I needed a car number….. I kept hearing my friends tell me that I was crazy for racing cars at the age of 35, and for asking them to be part of a team that lacked any racing experience. I knew what 5150 meant, in terms of the California legal code, so it gave me the idea of creating something beyond just the car number 51. I wanted to create a logo that represents what I believe my reasons are for racing and my successes in life. It’s about living my dream and taking risks in life. At 35, I had taken a small family owned sweet potato company and turned it into the most successful one in the country. Its success was due to the fact that I wasn’t afraid to take chances and risks. I didn’t listen to the people around me who said, “Hey Carlos, you shouldn’t do this, or that’s not going to work.” I did my own thing and I believed in myself enough to make it happen. Therefore, I created the 51 FIFTY logo and put it on the hood of the car to represent that sentiment.”
Carlos’ other passion is helping those in need. As a result of this passion, he formed the Carlos Vieira Foundation in 2010, which primarily focuses on his “Race for Autism”, “Race 2B Drug Free” and his new “Race to End the Stigma” programs. The “Race for Autism” program helps raise funds and awareness for those families who have a child stricken with this terrible disorder. The “Race 2B Drug Free” program is an after school boxing program designed to keep kids off the streets and away from drugs and gangs. “Race to End the Stigma” is a program focused on helping families, who may have a family member with a mental illness. It focuses on ending the negative stigma that is associated with the illness and to help them feel more comfortable in seeking help.
“One of the main reasons I started the foundation was because I wanted to give back. The United States and the community of Livingston were good to my family and me. My friends and my family always supported me. I have been through a lot in my life. I have been through a lot of ups and downs. I think that has humbled me a little bit…….because of the things I have gone through, a lot of people have forgiven me and given me chances and opportunities in life. I feel like I need to return the favor. That’s why I wanted to give back to the people of our community. That’s why we have the after school boxing program that’s free for kids in different cities in Merced County. That’s why I try to help families with autism that are less fortunate. Thank God that my family is healthy. Not everyone is so lucky. I just want to do as much as I can to help people, while at the same time living my dream.”
Vieira’s passion for helping children with autism started from humble beginnings, helping children in Merced County, and has now grown to help children in 21 counties across California through both a direct help program and through other autism research organizations.
Vieira recalled his first effort to give back to the community.
“When I started racing, I utilized my race team to host fundraisers,” he said. “We threw a dinner to raise a good some of money and we needed a good cause to donate to. A friend of mine had a child with autism so I asked her what we should do with the money. She suggested donating it to an organization in Merced County, because they didn’t have a (county) department to help kids with autism…… When we first started the foundation, it was about raising money to help other organizations that helped autism families and also for autism research. We have now become an organization that continues to donate to those causes, as well as having our own grant program, which is pretty unique. Families that have kids with autism can seek help from our organization. This is called our direct help program as we can help that child and family with exactly what they need.”
Most of the support for the Carlos Vieira Foundation comes through his 51 FIFTY Energy Drink Company and through his racing program which he utilizes to promote the 51 FIFTY brand. He strives to have his racing program be as successful as possible. As a result, in 2016 he made the move to team up with Campbell Motorsports and Derek Thorn to help bring him to that next level in racing. To have the ability to compete for wins and to run up front in the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series is one of his goals for success.
“I have a lot of respect for Byron Campbell and their team,” stated Vieira. “I have seen them win race after race and win championships, so I know they have the knowledge and the talent to win races. During the off-season I spoke to Byron about the possibility of us teaming up together to help my race program. At the same time, Byron also said that he respected what we were doing with our ‘Race for Autism’ campaign and he wanted to play a part in that as well. Together we decided to team up and race for autism. At the same time, I would be able to utilize his crew chief (Mike Keen), his team, and to set-up my car to help me improve. So far it has been great. We are still learning about the differences between my driving style and Derek’s. Mike (Keen) and I are learning about each other every time we practice, in terms of what I need from him and what he needs from me in order to make the car better.”
So far the results in 2016 have been promising. Vieira started his 2016 season at the Winter Showdown at Kern County Raceway. He proved to be very quick by qualifying 12th, out of the 43 cars present, to lock himself into the feature event. Vieira was running third, late in the event, when on lap 214 of 250 his rear axle broke. The broken axle was the result of an earlier restart incident, where a fellow competitor got into him.
The championship season has also seen him run very consistently. He has three top ten finishes in the first four events. Only a rain shortened 13th place finish, at the Las Vegas season opener, showed him outside the top ten. To date, Vieira sits tied for fifth in the championship standings with 2015 series champion Jacob Gomes.
“First, of course, we all want to win races. I want to do well week after week. I want to run up front with the best of them, but I also want to keep using the racing venue to boost what I’m doing for the (Carlos Vieira) Foundation and what the foundation is doing. Also to continue to help grow the 51 FIFTY brand. Everything that the foundation does is supported by 51 FIFTY. The bigger 51 FIFTY gets, the more the foundation can do to raise money and help families in need. They work hand in hand to grow and be successful, and racing helps achieve that goal.”
Although Vieira’s original goal in racing was to race in the top divisions of NASCAR, and run at the big tracks, he now has a different bucket list item in mind.
“I’m not sure if that is my goal any longer. My life is busy and it takes a lot of time and effort to get to that level. I think that my goal now is to, at one time or another, get a chance to race just one race at Daytona or any superspeedway. An even better goal now would be to win a championship in the SRL series.”
If he does achieve that goal, he has one person he would like to single out and thank in his racing and business career.
“From the beginning of my racing career, Aysia (Carlos’ wife) has come to all my races. She has never once given me a hard time about my race schedule,” stated Vieira. “One season, when I first started racing for autism, we ran every weekend throughout the season. She was with me and supported me the whole time. We even changed our wedding date, when the SRL schedule came out and it conflicted with a race. She has also been a huge supporter of the foundation. She has helped me build the foundation to what it is now, as well as the 51 FIFTY brand. She has been a partner in all of that.”
Vieira’s next race will be a special one at his home track in Madera. The “Race for Autism 125”, for the Spears SRL Southwest Tour Series, will take place at Madera Speedway on July 16. He would love for everyone to come out and support a great cause and see some fantastic racing. He will compete against the series regulars along with several stars from the area such as three-time NASCAR K & N West Champion Eric Holmes, LoanMart Madera Speedway 2015 Open Late Model Champion Buddy Shepherd and many-time Madera Speedway Late Model Champion Justin Westmoreland. The father and son team of 2015 Pacific Challenge Series (PCS) Champion John Moore and 2015 PCS Rookie of the Year Cole Moore are also on the entry list. The grandstand is always open for fans to witness practice with the ticket booth opening at 3:00 PM. The SRL is scheduled to qualify at 7:00 PM with the Main Event scheduled for 9:00 PM. They will be joined by local classes that include the Late Models, Junior Late Models, MST’s, Toyota Sedans, Hobby Stocks and the touring Legends of the Pacific. Qualifying for those classes begin at 2:00 PM with Heat Races following SRL practice at 4:00 PM.
-By Kevin Peters, Speed51.com West Coast Correspondent