Talk about awkward family dinners in the Cameron household.
Ricky Cameron’s job is to engineer the No. 90 VisitFlorida.com Racing Corvette DP. Dane Cameron’s job is to drive the No. 31 Action Express Racing Corvette DP. If Ricky does his job properly, VFR drivers Michael Valiante and Richard Westbrook will beat his son Dane to Victory Lane. If Dane’s done his job, he’ll beat his father’s car – and the rest of the field – to the finish line. Father and son, competing for different teams, using the same Corvette DP platform as their chosen weapon…it makes for one of the most fascinating rivalries in IMSA’s TUDOR United SportsCar Championship.
For the elder Cameron, a native of New Zealand who settled with his brother Steve in Northern California, racing has been his passion and profession for decades. Some of the best young open-wheel and sports car drivers have piloted cars graced by his mechanical touch, and with Dane, he’s blended a lifetime of engineering insights with his son’s prodigious driving talent to produce one of the sport’s most promising young stars.
Little did he know that all of the tips and tricks Dane began picking up in grade school would one day be used against him.
“He was around a lot, listening to what was going on in trailers when we were talking to drivers,” said the transplanted Kiwi. “I also think he learned how much input the drivers have to have to certain things. When he was young we talked a lot about the cars in general, what we were working on, what things did. I think he was privy to a lot of information that most kids aren’t privy to as far as things that we work on from the mechanical and engineering side.
“He’d come home when he was old enough, apply some of what he’d learned when he was doing go-karts, and had a sense of what we were changing on racecars to make them better for himself.”
Dane won last year’s TUDOR Championship GT Daytona title at the age of 25 while driving for Turner Motorsport, and with a vacancy at AXR, he was hired to lead the Whelen Engineering-sponsored Corvette DP with co-driver Eric Curran. Joining the defending Prototype class champions represents the biggest opportunity in Cameron’s career, and so far, he’s been more than a match for AXR’s veteran drivers.
A large part of his success – and his ability to adapt to the bigger, faster DP package – can be traced back to his mentor.
“It was always a natural desire for me to drive; it was always what I wanted to do, and being with my dad definitely helped me to speed up a lot of the process and to listen or just to learn technically,” he said. “I think being able to just sit there and ask questions, or watch them run the shock dyno, gives you a little bit of different understanding as a driver. I still have to get in and drive as hard as I can, but knowing more about the car and the technical side has been an advantage, I’d say, throughout my career. The more you understand about what you’re driving, the more feedback you can give and the better you can help the team to make the car go faster.”
The Camerons ran Lynx Racing, one of the legendary, championship-winning open-wheel programs that developed drivers like Buddy Rice, Memo Gidley, Patrick Carpentier, Alex Barron, Michael Valiante, and Bryan Sellers, to name a few. Beyond the technical lessons, Ricky says Dane was able to study the habits and traits of drivers he would soon emulate.
“I think one of the benefits that he had, we can always think of the guys when he grew up with Memo, Michael Valiante – who I work with today at Visit Florida – Sellers, Rice; they all ended up teaching him so much,” he noted. “He was with them on race weekends and test days and he got to see, how they behaved, how they interacted, how they downloaded their information, how hard they worked, their dedication. I think it helped because he knew going into his own career what was expected of drivers.”
So far in 2015, the internecine battle between the Camerons has been incredibly close. Ricky’s No. 90 Corvette DP has finished third in all three rounds, while Dane’s No. 31 has a pair of fourths and a fifth. The next event at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca is the closest thing they’ll have to a home race, and with plenty of family expected to attend, Ricky admits having his son serve as a key rival is far from comfortable.
“It would be much easier if he was in GTLM for me!” he said with a laugh. “If I had a choice, yeah, put him in GTLM right now. It is difficult because each career is difficult. His career is probably more difficult than mine because he has less options. It’s much harder to find a top job as a driver than it is as an engineer. The need for him to succeed every time out is probably higher than mine from a career standpoint because there’s so much competition for a job like his.
“I only do it because I love to win. We come from a long line of bad losers and where we get ourselves fashioned is in our success. We’re each going to have to live with each other’s success at this point. Some days it will be his day and, hopefully, some days it will be ours.”
Just as fathers want their sons to grow up and surpass whatever level of success they’ve achieved, most sons envision the same passing of the torch at some point in their lives. Within the construct of motor racing, that torch is up for grabs every time time Ricky and Dane Cameron face off in IMSA.
“It’s kind of funny: I don’t know why, but I never really imagined any stage where this scenario would play out to where we would race each other, and basically in the exact same car in the same series,” Dane said. “He’s done so many forms of racing and I’ve done so many forms of racing, you always just figured I’d be here, you’d be there, and maybe if you’re lucky you’d see each other on the weekend. You’d share a meal or whatever, but I never really thought it would be like that. It is kind of funny and I guess if our car can’t win, or my teammates can’t win, I guess having Dad’s car win is third-best.”
If there’s a downside to the Camerons racing against each other in the TUDOR Championship, it comes in the form of busy schedules. Despite working from transporters that may be just a few feet away from each other, the demands of the job make bonding a challenge during the season.
“For me the more difficult part is I actually spend less time with him now that I had most time in his career,” Ricky explained. “And his career to me is more important at this stage. It is more difficult because he is doing his thing and at this level it takes a lot of time. We see each other less now than before. It is easier for his mother because she just goes and follows him and doesn’t worry about me!”
The 2015 TUDOR Championship is far from over, and with plenty of racing to go until the season finale in October, the duel between Dane and his dad will continue through Petit Le Mans. Provided the Camerons remain in the Prototype class, father and son can look forward to years of bragging rights to claim. Behind the friendly competition, however, you’ll find nothing but love and admiration.
“I think it’s really cool to have this scenario where we’re racing against each other, but supporting each other the whole time,” Dane explained. “Obviously, for both of us it’s the only thing that we’ve ever been really good at or that we really wanted to do, so it’s cool to now be in it together.
“And it’s really special to be on two very good teams and have two cars that can win every weekend. It’s the dream situation for both sides. Either one of us can win every weekend, at the top level, and you can’t ask for a whole lot more than that.”