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Cameron Is Young and Restless With a Bright Future in Sport

When a teenager grows into a sturdy 6-foot-3, 210-pound frame, it might be good for college football, but not for driving an Indy car.

Austin Cameron is 22 and looks like a tight end, but football is not his game. Racing is, and from growing up wanting to be like Indy car legend Rick Mears, Cameron has grown into a stock car driver.

“I wanted to be an open-wheel racer when I was racing karts, back before I was even a teenager,” said Cameron, who will race stock cars tonight and Saturday night at Irwindale Speedway. “I kept growing and now it looks like stock cars are my future. That may be better, though, because NASCAR offers more opportunities for sponsorship than open-wheel racing.”

Cameron will drive tonight in the super late model main event and then come back Saturday night to drive his dad’s No. 12 Chevy Monte Carlo in the $107,000 Irwindale 250, a Winston West series race on Irwindale’s half-mile paved oval.

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“I love that new track,” he said. “I raced there a couple of times and I’ve done a lot of testing for Goodyear, so I feel like I know my way around. I like bumping, and Irwindale is a track where you may need to get down and dirty. I’m not afraid to trade a little paint.”

Cameron, who lives in El Cajon and recently completed two years at Grossmont College after a year at UC Santa Barbara, has been racing since he was 9 1/2.

“I started when my dad got me a kart. Once I got into it, that was it. I haven’t stopped racing and hope I never do.”

Cameron won six national karting championships in a variety of equipment, an experience he credits for his quick rise in the racing world.

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“My dad put me in every type of go kart there was. I ran six to eight classes on a weekend. That really helped a lot to have to adapt to different motors, different horsepower and different [car] weights.

“As soon as I got out of karts, I ran three to four different types of open-wheel cars. Racing a lot of different types has been a key to my career. That’s the reason I can get in a car and adapt so quickly.”

Cameron first tried stock cars in 1996 when he was rookie of the year in the late model division at Willow Springs Raceway.

This year, in addition to racing the Winston West series in the AC Motorsports Chevrolet, owned by his father, Terry, Cameron will also drive in four NASCAR Craftsman Truck races for Tim Buckley’s Yorba Linda-based Vintage Motorsports team.

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Bill Sedgwick, a two-time Winston West champion also driving in Saturday night’s race, is crew chief for the truck that Cameron will race at Michigan, Texas, Las Vegas and California Speedway.

“I first met the Camerons when I was racing karts,” said Buckley, 44. “Our plan is to get a solid team established, run the truck series next year and get some solid sponsorship. Austin is the perfect driver for us, young, coachable and ambitious.

“One thing that impressed me from the first time I saw Austin is that he is great at handling speed. Not every young driver can do that. He seems to be a natural. Now all we need to do is help him with fine tuning.”

Cameron laughed at the thought of fine tuning. It’s something his father has preached since his son got into stock cars.

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“We only had one car at the beginning of last year, so my dad was really adamant about not crashing. I learned to keep my nose clean and be patient. He taught me that it’s sometimes better to give up some spots in the beginning, when everyone is slicing and dicing, [because] you can get a lot more back in the end if you save your car and just relax.”

Although he did not win a race last year, Cameron’s five top-five finishes earned him Winston West rookie-of-the-year honors. His best finish was a second at California Speedway.

This season, after six races, he is fourth in points, 29 behind 1994 series champion Mike Chase, a former Northern Californian who lives in Concord, N.C. Chase has 886 points to 880 for Sean Woodside of Saugus, and Brandon Ash of Umpqua, Ore. and 857 for Cameron.

At California Speedway last month, Cameron set a Winston West track record of 180.664 mph to win the pole for the California 200, but he was caught up in an accident during the race and finished 29th.

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“It was a race we could have won,” he said. “We were running first or second most of the day. I like running on those big tracks.”

California Speedway, where Jeff Gordon won his second California 500 the next day, is two miles around.

Buckley said he expected Cameron to eventually crack the Winston Cup series.

“If he wants to move on up to the Busch series or Winston Cup after racing our truck, that’s fine,” said Buckley. “We’d love to see him do that. Then we’d find another young driver. Our plan is to remain a solid factor in the truck series.”

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One thing that makes driving Winston West cars and Craftsman trucks so attractive is that they use the same engine, the same chassis and the same rules. Only the body style is different.

“Engines are one of the costliest items in racing, but we can switch them back and forth between the Chevy and the truck,” Sedgwick said. “That can save time, as well as money.”

More than 30 entries are expected for Saturday’s 250-lap Winston West main event. Qualifying will begin at 5 p.m.

Three former champions are in the field. Butch Gilliland of Chino Hills, champion in 1997 and winner two weeks ago at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, joins Chase and Sedgwick as series winners. Kevin Harvick, last year’s champion, is not defending his title.

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Giving the entry an all-star appearance will be Craftsman Truck winners Mike Wallace and Ron Hornaday Jr. Wallace has won two Winston West and two truck races already this year, driving for Jim Smith of Buena Park. Hornaday, who began his racing career at now-closed Saugus Speedway, has also won two races in the truck series.

Wallace and Hornaday are scheduled to drive in a truck race tonight in Portland, Ore., then fly to Ontario for Saturday’s race at Irwindale. Wallace will be in a Ford Taurus, Hornaday in a Pontiac Grand Prix.

LAST LAPS

Steve Fried, the crew chief critically injured in a pit accident during the Indianapolis 500, has been released from Methodist Hospital in Indianapolis. Fried, who suffered a fractured skull, internal brain injury, fractures to the right eye socket, jaw, ribs and several bones in both inner ears, as well as collapsed lungs and a separated left shoulder, will remain in Indiana while undergoing therapy. Medical personnel reported that he was not breathing when they reached him on pit lane.

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The Brabham family made the most of a visit from Australia last Sunday. While dad Sir Jack was winning the seniors race against Tom Sneva, Gordie Johncock and Rodger Ward at Tustin, daughter-in-law Roseina was winning the pro-am women’s runabout in the International Jet Sports Boating Assn. finals at Coronado Beach. And where was son and husband Geoff? Back home in Australia caring for the children.

Alex Barron of Vista will be replaced by Gualter Salles of Brazil for the next three CART races in Dan Gurney’s All American Racers Eagle, starting this week at Portland.

When Sleepy Tripp won his 103rd U.S. Auto Club western midget car race last month at Orange Show Speedway, it was the 23rd season that the Costa Mesa driver has won a main event in the series. The USAC record is 32 years by midget veteran Mel Kenyon of Lebanon, Ind.

Jeff Gordon is No. 8 among sports celebrities most desired by companies to endorse their products, according to a survey by Burns Sports of Chicago. The Winston Cup champion comes in behind Michael Jordan, Mark McGwire, Wayne Gretzky, Tiger Woods, Arnold Palmer, John Elway and Sammy Sosa, but ahead of Michelle Kwan, Magic Johnson and Pete Sampras.

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Carl Sheffer, former director of communications for Chevrolet, has been appointed vice president of SEMA (Specialty Equipment Market Assn.) by president Charles R. Blum.

NECROLOGY

Herb Porter, one of the most famous engine builders for the Indianapolis 500, died Wednesday in an Indianapolis hospital from injuries suffered in an auto accident last month. Porter, 84, was inducted into racing’s Hall of Fame the day after the accident. Known as “Herbie Horsepower,” Porter was a specialist on turbocharged engines. Services are Tuesday in Indianapolis.

(BEGIN TEXT OF INFOBOX / INFOGRAPHIC)

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This Week’s Races

WINSTON CUP, Pocono 500

* When: Today, first-round qualifying, noon; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 8:30 a.m.; Sunday, race (TNN, 10 a.m.)

* Where: Pocono International Raceway (triangle oval, 2.5 miles, 14 degrees banking in turn 1, 8 degrees in turn 2, 6 degrees in turn 3), Long Pond, Pa.

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* Race distance: 500 miles, 200 laps.

* Last year: Jeremy Mayfield raced to his first victory, holding off Jeff Gordon by 0.341 seconds.

* Last race: Dale Jarrett took the lead from Gordon on the 53rd of 200 laps in the Kmart 400 in Brooklyn, Mich., and easily held on for his 20th career victory.

* Fast facts: Only three drivers have won the Pocono 500 from the pole. The most recent was Gordon in 1996. . . . Bobby Labonte is the only driver to have led at least one lap in 13 out of 14 races. . . . Ken Schrader leads all drivers with three poles.

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* Next race: Save Mart 350k, June 27, Sonoma, Calif.

****

CRAFTSMAN TRUCKS, Portland 200

* When: Today, race, 6 p.m. (ESPN, Saturday, 11:30 a.m.).

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* Where: Portland (Ore.) International Raceway (permanent road course, 1.967 miles, nine turns).

* Race distance: 73 laps, 143.591 miles.

* Last year: Inaugural race.

* Last race: Dennis Setzer withstood final-lap pressure from pole-sitter Jay Sauter to win the Pronto Auto Parts 400 at Texas Motor Speedway.

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* Fast facts: Series points leader Jack Sprague is winless in 11 career starts on road courses. . . . This is the first week of back-to-back road-course races for the trucks.

* Next race: Bully Hill Vineyards 150, June 26, Watkins Glen, N.Y.

****

CART, Budweiser-G.I. Joe’s 200

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* When: Today, first-round qualifying, 12:45 p.m.; Saturday, second-round qualifying, 12:45 p.m. (ESPN2, 2:30 p.m.); Sunday, race (ABC, 1 p.m.)

* Where: Portland International Raceway (permanent road course, 1.967 miles, nine turns), Portland.

* Race distance: 192.766 miles, 98 laps.

* Last year: Alex Zanardi led the final 26 laps for his 12th career victory.

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* Last race: Paul Tracy won the Miller Lite 225 in West Allis, Wis., his first win of the season. It was his 14th career victory but first in nearly two years.

* Fast facts: Rookie Juan Montoya has won three races and leads the point standings over Dario Franchitti, 73-71. . . . Christian Fittipaldi has finished in the top nine in nine consecutive races. . . . Michael Andretti has won three times in Portland (1990-92).

* Next race: Medic Drug Grand Prix, June 27, Cleveland.


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