The last race of Xavier Dorsnie’s season saw some of the most challenging conditions he has raced in. The rain was torrential, obscuring the view of the tight, Formula-1-inspired turns of the Mont-Tremblant karting circuit.
The course was slippery, “like a sheet of ice,” said the 11-year-old.
“I just focused on the yellow lines on the edge of the track,” said Dorsnie, who was able to pull ahead early, build his lead and beat the closest competitor by a full 10 seconds.
With the victory, Dorsnie swept the weekend’s races, having dramatically won an earlier race by a fraction of a second the day before. The wins have capped of an impressive inaugural year on the Canadian Karting Championship Circuit in which Dorsnie finished second amongst Quebec competitors.
Like his mother, Dorsnie traces his heritage to the Métis nation, making him an anomaly in a sport dominated by white, affluent families.
And given that most people he’s racing against are three to four years older, many people are predicting that Dorsnie may have a long, illustrious carrier in the auto racing.
“I believe that Xavier has the potential to become one of the best drivers in North America – if not the world,” said Ben Cooper, a three-time world karting champion who is Dorsnie’s coach.
“He just loves to drive. And he stays relaxed and poised behind the wheel. And that’s not something you can teach.”
According to Dorsnie’s mother, Cynthia Hansen, he’s always been passionate about cars.
“Xavier has loved cars from before he could walk. That’s never wavered. He’s always said he wanted to be a race-car driver,” she said. “Some children watch cartoons. Xavier watched races.”
Dorsnie also played racing video games. In fact, the origins of his racing can be traced back to F1-2010, a video game that allows players to play as professional drivers. He began playing the game at the age of nine.
“One day Xavier came up the stairs and said, ‘I want to be a race-car driver, and I want to start right away,’” recalled Hansen.
He’d read the biographies, realized many professionals began their career racing on karting circuits at his age, and decided on his path.
Soon after the family – Dorsnie is an only child – travelled to Mont-Tremblant’s Jim Russell Karting Academy, where they were introduced to the sport.
It is, Hansen conceded, an alien environment. Neither she nor her husband were particularly interested in racing. And as far as she knows, Dorsnie is the only First Nations competitor racing in his division.
Racing in Quebec is still largely the preserve of the elite, with some families investing tens of thousands of dollars in teams and high-end equipment.
But Dorsnie races in a division called Briggs & Stratton Junior, which can be thought of as the NASCAR of the karting world. Everyone has the same kart and engine – basically a souped-up go-kart – and any alterations are strictly prohibited.
Racing costs between $150-$200 a weekend in registration fees. But the money adds up in other ways. In fact, Hansen estimates that the family spent between $10,000 and $14,000 this year.
They save all year to finance the racing, skipping vacations. But Hansen says it’s all worth it.
“If it were something that just Xavier and his dad shared – or just me and Xavier shared – then that would be different. But these trips really bring us closer as a family. We’re a team. I’m the organizer – booking hotels and making food. Dad is the mechanic. And the kid drives.”
But racing comes with its fair share of risk, especially given the fact that Dorsnie darts around hairpin corners, banked turns and straightaways at speeds between 70-to-140 km/h.
Dorsnie said crashes don’t happen often. But when they do, they’re “spectacular.”
This year they witnessed two major crashes, one of which left a young driver in a coma.
Hansen said that the danger is something that the family acknowledges and takes seriously. But perhaps counterintuitively, she said watching Dorsnie race actually allays her fears.
“I’m less nervous when I see him on the track, because his body language is so calm and relaxed. He looks like he’s out for a Sunday drive. I find that that calms me down, to know he’s so in tune with what he’s doing.”
For Dorsnie, the goal is simple: build a life in racing. His eventual goal, he said, is to race in European touring circuits, races that take place on open roads over long distances.
He likes other sports – especially ball hockey (he is a goaltender) – and is a good student. But racing remains his greatest passion.
He’s a precocious and articulate kid who steers away from sports clichés, and gives the thoughtful responses reporters dream about. But that’s not to say that he lacks swagger.
When asked if he is a friend to his racing competitors, Dorsnie pauses for a moment, considering his response.
“I’ll say hello if I see them off track. But I’d say I’m more friends with people in other divisions – it’s competitive out there.”
To support Dorsnie’s racing career, you can donate at www.gofundme.com/xavierdorsnie