Photo by Tom Johnson

The Doctor is infamous. In the street-racing scene, people come to master mechanic Charles Madrid — or “Dr. Charles” — when their cars suffer from a case of terminal slowness. Dr. Charles, currently on staff at Autolink Motorworks deep in the heart of the San Gabriel Valley, is notorious for giving import cars unholy amounts of horsepower. Clients run the gamut, from those who want their cars lowered or their exhausts customized to make the car run a smidge faster than stock, to those who want to go turbocharged or install nitrous oxide. The Doctor, who has a Lex Luthor–ish bald head and goatee, got his name from his uncanny ability to diagnose engine problems. “I can bring things back to life,” he says, “I wouldn’t say I’m the best, but I’m certainly one of the best.” But he also got it because people seek him out for a kind of genetic engineering. Make it fast, they say. Make it hug the turns. “People trust me to make their car perform well,” he says.

Dr. Charles is considered one of the grandfathers of street racing. Maybe this is because in the world of rice rockets and Hot Import Nights and seven-second quarter-mile runs, 33 years old is considered ancient. More likely, though, it is because he helped to set the standard for racing times in the scene. When drag racing was just coming of age in the mid-1980s, he was part of an 18-man crew called Wicked Racing. They were the fastest import drag-racing team, at first in the state then on the planet, thanks in part to Madrid’s evil genius with the socket wrench and power tools.

Dr. Charles specializes in Hondas and Acuras and is now learning Nissans. He can take an ordinary chunk of pipe and turn it into a working car part. Once, he gave a 1990 Honda CRX some 850 horsepower. Once, just for fun, just to see if they could do it, he and a fellow mechanic took apart an entire Nissan 240 piece by piece and reassembled it with no instructions or manuals, to proper working order — all within 48 hours. But like any tormented antihero, Dr. Charles also specializes in vice: the consumption of copious amounts of Pabst Blue Ribbon beer, hyperbolic multi-variant curse-word combinations, darts, the 200-mph death wish, and the wholehearted seduction of unsuspecting young women.

He has been a mechanic for over 15 years, and his résumé reads like the bio of a much older man: a stint at Goodyear, at Area 51 Fabrications building Hyundai and Lexus concept cars, in the pit for the Japanese pro drifters at the D1 Grand Prix. For a spell he even owned his own shop, Atomic Performance, which had outlets in both Los Angeles and Hawaii. When the Discovery Channel recently featured him in a street-racing documentary, Pedal to the Metal, the filmmakers certainly must have known this, though they probably hadn’t figured on his penchant for swearing — every other word was mysteriously bleeped out. At core, however, like any good man of science, Charles Madrid has “the skills” backed by an encyclopedic knowledge not only of the machines he works on, but also the environment in which they operate. Still feel the need for speed? Screw Dr. Faust and strike a deal with the real devil. Dr. Charles will see you now.

Charles Madrid at Autolink Motorworks; 4961 Santa Anita Ave., Suite A, Temple City; (626) 279-7122.

LA Weekly