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Local turned legend: Dane Cameron

Local turned legend: Dane Cameron
Dane and Rick Cameron.Source: Rick Cameron

By Brandon Sparks

“Take your time, really learn your skills. It’s going to be a lot of work, but if that’s the type of thing you really wanna do, then it’ll be worth it for sure.”

These are the words Glen Ellen local Dane Cameron told K1 Speed in an interview when asked what he’d tell someone who wanted to grow up and do what he does best, and become a three-time IMSA karting champion.

Cameron started his career in Sonoma, where his uncles had race shops. He’d go out to what is now Sonoma Raceway and would drive his mini kart around in the parking lot where SimRaceway Performance Driving Center is now. This was only a start, of course, but those early drives, going around in circles in a parking lot, paved the way to where he is now.

In his interview with K1 Speed, Cameron speaks on his love for driving early on, saying how his dad, who worked in racing as an engineer for over 40 years, would ask Cameron whether he wanted to go to the movies, see his friends, or go to the go-kart track. Cameron would light up and tell him, “Forget all that other stuff! Let’s go to the go-kart track! I wanna go drive!”

One of his first tracks was in Sacramento, the Prairie City track, and there he would practice constantly to improve to one day race. His first race was the Kinsman Kart Club, but he never won any of the races he attempted his first year, except for one. His dad and uncle pushed him to constantly improve, and they were a part of a racing team in Formula Atlantic, which ended up bringing in many racers who also influenced Cameron. Having famous racers constantly around you growing up will inspire passion in any child for racing, as Cameron let us know in an interview.

“Looking back at it, I was so fortunate to be around all these drivers when I was a kid. The team had a lot of the top up-and-coming guys, so to be able to watch and learn what it takes to make it as a pro was priceless,” he said.

“For sure, Michael Valiante had the biggest influence on me. I was racing karts at the time and felt like he really took me under his wing and taught me so much. We were karting together almost every day of the week and he really pushed me to the next level. We worked on everything from driving, passing people, setting up, driving under pressure — you name it we worked on it.”

Between 2000, when he was 12 years old, and 2007, Cameron’s karting career quickly took off, with a second-place finish at the Canadian National Karting Championship, a first-place finish at the Jim Russell Karting Junior Shifter Championship in 2003, and a scholarship to the Jim Russell Racing School and a spot in the 2004 Red Bull Driver Search.

His time at the Jim Russell School really pushed his skills to the limit, Cameron said, and gave him a great taste for what his professional career would turn into as he transitioned from karting to real cars at the school.

“The transition from karts to cars is pretty big, and Sonoma Raceway is a tough track, so being able to do as many miles there as I did really helped me get comfortable and understand how to make cars go fast,” he said. “They always changed the layout of the track and you always had a different car that drove differently, so I felt like I learned a lot about how to adapt to anything and find a way to make it go fast, which is such an important skillset that I still use today in sports car racing.”

Today, Cameron races for Honda in Charlotte, N.C., and he competes against his father in racing, as they are on separate teams, forcing him to take a completely different approach in racing.

“It was different because he was my sounding board and could answer any questions that I had about what to do with the race car, even how to handle a situation, because he had been in motorsports for so long,” Cameron said. “All of a sudden, I couldn’t do that anymore, and share those secrets or ask him those questions.”

When we asked Rick Cameron, Dane’s father, about the competition against his son, he said that it’s worse for Dane than it is for him, as Rick isn’t the one in the driver’s seat.

“I wish he was in a different series because then we wouldn’t compete against each other,” Rick Cameron said. “But I also like having him there because I see him all the time. We still talk a lot about other drivers and such, but not so much about teams because we don’t want to give information or anything like that.”

Rick was always scared that Dane might not make it in racing because of how competitive it is and the small amount of opportunities that open up for people. As a parent, he always worried, even after Dane’s big wins and the scholarships he gained. He didn’t stop worrying until Dane was 26 and winning against other pros, proving that he belongs on the track. With all of his mentorship and famous racers around him, Dane Cameron was raised to be a legend.