DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Dane Cameron began his racing career in single-seater open-cockpit cars on a path toward the IndyCar Series.
But when funding dried up in the Formula Atlantic Series and the pathway to Indy fizzled, Cameron got practical about his passion.
“All I really wanted to do was to earn a living being a race car driver, I wasn’t too fussed on what shape the car was or where it was racing,” Cameron said on the latest episode of the NASCAR on NBC Podcast. “I wanted someone to pay me to drive a race car.”
With a minimum of two drivers for its top rides, sports cars inherently offered more opportunities. So about a decade ago, Cameron, 31, made the switch to a relatively unfamiliar form of racing.
The lack of experience made little difference for Cameron, who quickly excelled into a full-time Daytona Prototype ride after racing for various teams in the Grand-Am and American Le Mans Series over a few years.
Since the series merged in 2014, Cameron has become the first three-time champion of the IMSA WeatherTech Series. He won a GTD title with Turner Motorsport in 2014 and a DP championship with Action Express Racing in ’16.
Last year, he teamed with Juan Pablo Montoya to win his second title in IMSA’s premier series. The Team Penske duo will enter this weekend’s Rolex 24 at Daytona in search of its first endurance victory.
It’s validation that Cameron’s sports car gambit has succeeded.
“I knew I could go here and commit early, and it might take a year or two or three, but it gives me a better shot at a long career, which is what I wanted,” he said. “It took a couple of years to work your way through some of the higher teams to build a network takes a little time of meeting people to trust you and know you aren’t going to bounce off guys or off fences.
“You definitely feel you have to put in your time and earn your stripes to earn the opportunities you really want at the top teams.”
Though NASCAR wasn’t an opportunity for Cameron, he actually is from an area known for a Cup race, having grown up just a few miles from Sonoma Raceway.
But though Jeff Gordon started in nearby Vallejo, and other Cup drivers (such as Kyle Larson) progressed to stock cars from the dirt tracks of northern California, the appeal sprint cars didn’t resonate. Cameron’s family raced small formula cars for a living, so he trained on road courses under his father’s guidance.
“It just made the most sense at the time; who knows what would have been different if my dad had known more about circle track racing than road course racing,” he said. “You’re just a product of your environment, and that was mine. I did want to go to IndyCar and Champ Car because I grew up around it. I wanted to get there but never quite did.”
The Rolex 24 will offer the chance to race with some of the biggest names in IndyCar. Besides Montoya (who won the Indianapolis 500 in 2000 and 2015), Team Penske’s lineup also includes former Indy winners Alexander Rossi, Helio Castoneves and Simon Pagenaud.
“They have such a reputation and success in formulas that are more mainstream than IMSA is, so it’s cool to have those guys around and the draw and the people they bring to the races is not to be underestimated for sure,” Cameron said. “It’s cool to share a car with those guys. When the program is over, it’ll be cool to think back when you’re done racing that you got to share cars and time with those guys who have achieved so much success and will be hall of fame and legendary type guys in the future.
“It’s cool to share a car with those guys and prove not only to yourself but to everybody else that you have the caliber and pace to run with the best guys in the world and best there ever were. It’s hard to argue with the caliber of people we have. It’s a special crowd. There’s a lot of bling and ring.”
Other topics discussed by Cameron on the NASCAR on NBC Podcast:
–On being the defending DPI series champion;
–Why the Rolex 24 is so difficult to win (“it’s like running qualifying laps for 24 hours”);
–His working relationship with Juan Pablo Montoya;
–Whether he’d like to race in another series for Penske;
–His family connections in IMSA.