DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As he drove through the tunnel leading to the massive complex that is the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday morning Cameron Hayley could not help but think how lucky he was.
Yet, here was – an 18 year old kid who grew up in Calgary with a dream of racing in NASCAR – a dream he never thought could come true – now living that dream.
Hayley is the first Canadian in the annals of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series to have contract to run a full season.
In an exclusive interview with The Toronto Sun, Hayley, who will start Friday’s NCWTS Nextera Energy Resources 250 in the No. 13 ThorSports Toyota Tundra, said the whole thing sometimes seems “pretty crazy” when he takes a minute to think about how he got here.
“I have dreamt of this ever since I was little,” he said. “My first memories of NASCAR were from when I was three years old and the thought of racing at this place has always been my goal.
“To realize that dream as I drove into the track was pretty crazy.
“Not only to get a start in the Truck series but to get a Truck ride with such an amazing organization like ThorSports is almost unbelievable.”
That would be the same ThorSports team that has won the last two CWTS championships.
The lanky – at six foot three he’s huge for a race car driver – teenager just didn’t wake up one morning to discover he had a special gift.
It was a long and arduous journey, especially for a Canadian and even moreso for a kid from Alberta where race tracks are few and far between.
“It was very difficult,” Hayley said. “I am a kid from Calgary, Alberta, Canada, I mean what kid in Canada who has a dream of racing in NASCAR can say ‘I am down at Daytona International Speedway racing in one of NASCAR’s top three series’ – it’s insane.”
He got his start like just about every big time race car driver anywhere – at a local GoKart track.
By the time he was 14 folks started to notice that he was something special.
It was then his family began to invest in his career – building him full bodied race cars and sending him off to tracks in North Dakota, Nevada, Washington and Montana racing in Late Model classes.
It was a steep learning curve, but one that Hayley now sees as the key to his finding his way to NASCAR’s upper echelons.
“The steps I had to take to get here were harder than say a kid from North Carolina or Georgia or California would have to go through,” he said. “Sure it’s been a tough journey but I think I have taken the right steps.
“I am here today so I must have done something right.”
Where he is today came after three seasons in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series where he was the youngest driver to start a race at 15 and the youngest to win one at 16.
It was there that NASCAR officials began paying attention, picking Hayley for the NASCAR Next program, a group of young drivers who look to have what it takes to make it to the top.
Last year, as well as a full schedule in the K&N Series, Hayley raced three times in the CWTS.
He finished all three races without a dent in his race truck – something that gets attention.
It was after that that ThorSports came calling.
“The whole thing just came together at the end of last year,” Hayley said. “They just liked the way I drove; liked the way I presented myself.
“They came to us. It was a long process to get things sorted out but we are here now.”
One of the things that went into it was primary sponsorship from Cabinets by Hayley, the family firm that builds and sells high end steel cabinets.
The hope is that once Hayley shows his stuff at the Truck series level other sponsors will come on board.
Hayley is realistic in that to win the CWTS championship as rookie might be over reaching, but it still has his eye on the prize,
“ThorSports is going to give me the resources to be able to contend for some wins this year and hopefully a championship, but our main goal is to go out there and be a solid top 10 truck every week and be rookie of the year at the end of the season,” he said.
As for after that, Hayley has the Sprint Cup series squarely in his sights.
“My plan is to get to Sprint Cup,” he said. “It’s hard to put a number on how long that will take but if you were to ask me five years ago if I would be running in the Camping World Truck Series today I would have said no and here I am.”
Right now he will be satisfied with finishing all 23 CWTS races this season
“I want to race every lap of every race I am in and learn.”
DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – As he drove through the tunnel leading to the massive complex that is the Daytona International Speedway on Thursday morning Cameron Hayley could not help but think how lucky he was.
1: The Kids Are Alright
There is a youth movement at NASCAR’s top level that began in earnest last season with the debut of Kyle Larson in the No. 42 Chip Ganassi Racing with Felix Sabates Chevrolet and Austin Dillon in the No. 3 Richard Childress Racing Chevrolet.
Those two are back for a sophomore season.
Larson won the rookie battle but Dillon has vowed to come back stronger this season. While there may not be as intense a rookie battle this season, two new faces will make it to the Cup on a parttime basis – Ryan Blaney, 21, who is expected to drive in half a dozen or so races in the No. 12 Team Penske Ford and Chase Elliott, 19, who will get a handful of races in a JR Motorsports Chevrolet before replacing Jeff Gordon in the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet in 2016.
2: Have At It Boys
It was two seasons ago that NASCAR boss Brian France loosened his tie and announced Sprint Cup drivers who have problems with one another should settle it amongst themselves.
What resulted was a hockey game breaking out quite regularly during Cup races.
It shouldn’t be any different this season.
Already, with only one exhibition race in the books there was pushing and shoving post race on pit road between reigning champion and perennial shift disturber Kevin Harvick and premium agitator Joey Logano.
Expect to see that feud continue into the season.
Let’s not forget Jeff Gordon and Brad Keselowski.
Those still haven’t settled their differences from last season at Texas Motor Speedway where Keselowski punted Gordon right out of the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship.
3: The Danica Dilemma
Danica Patrick has presented NASCAR with a unique problem – she has hundreds of thousands, if not millions, of fans who buy millions of dollars worth of tickets and NASCAR merchandise with her name on it – but her performances on the race track have not been even near equally as successful.
She is now starting her third season of Sprint Cup racing and there will be even more attention paid to her and the No. 10 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet team to see if she can break through the mediocrity if her first two seasons.
There are some who think this will be her year to make it past 20th place in the championship.
Listen, there is nothing wrong with being one of the 20 best stock car drivers on the planet.
It would be huge feat, but it is within her grasp with the kind of equipment SHR will give her.
To expect a win, however, is another matter.
4: The Long Goodbye
Jeff Gordon has come full circle in his 22 year NASCAR Sprint Cup career.
When he came into the sport that was then dominated by good old boys from the U.S. South as a fresh faced kid from California he instantly became the object of ire.
And when he began beating the likes of Dale Earnhardt Sr., Rusty Wallace and Darrell Waltrip on a regular basis, fans turned on him even more, showering him with boos at every turn
Fast forward to this season, his final Cup campaign, and things could be more different.
Gordon is now considered NASCAR royalty and gets standing ovations after race wins.
There will be considerable attention paid to him and the No. 24 team this season as he winds down his Hall of Fame career and prepares for the next chapter in his life – likely that of a team owner.
5: Smoke Rising
There can’t be another athlete in sport anywhere who is happier to start a new season than Tony Stewart.
The litany of issues the three time NASCAR Sprint Cup champion has had do deal with over the past two seasons would be enough to end the careers of a dozen race car drivers.
There was the spectacular wreck at Brantford’s Oshweken Speedway dirt track in July of 2013 followed a month later by a another dirt crash that resulted in a severely broken leg.
That cost him nearly half a season out of his No. 14 Stewart Haas Racing Chevrolet.
Last season he was again back on a dirt track, only this time more tragic when he was involved in a crash that killed 20 year old Kevin Ward Jr.
Stewart will be the focus of attention as he tries to put all that behind him this season.
6: Chasing The Dream
NASCAR has always been able to deliver drama in its quest for more eyeballs in front of the television and more bums in the seats
Last season it cranked up its hype machine by introducing a new element in the Chase for the Sprint Cup Championship – an elimination format.
There were plenty of skeptics who saw it as nothing more than smoke and mirrors.
But with 16 drivers to start the 10 race Chase and eliminations rounds right through to the final race at Homestead Miami Speedway, the new system delivered – in spades.
There were bumps but overall it worked at getting sports fans attention in a crowded 1,000 channel universe.
This season there will be even more emphasis on winning early in the season to cement a spot in the Chase.
7: Favourite Son
It has been 17 seasons since Dale Earnhardt Jr. made his Sprint Cup debut at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1999 driving the No. 8 DEI Chevrolet.
Just two seasons later he lost his father in a horrific crash on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.
It has been an up and down career since then for NASCAR’s most popular driver, never quite seeming to measure up to the championship calibre of his seven time Cup champion dad.
Last year, however, he showed that he still has the fire to win and he came close to having his name, too, on the Sprint Cup.
This season with a new crew chief – Greg Ives – to guide him Earnhardt is primed to build on last year’s results.
At 40 years old he only has a few seasons to get it done. This could be that year.
8: Lucky No. 7
There has only been two seven time NASCAR Sprint Cup champions – the aforementioned Dale Earnhardt Sr. and Richard “The King” Petty.
Jimmie Johnson has six to his name driving the No. 48 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet and would like nothing better than to join the iconic pair as a seven time winner.
Johnson is coming off a season he would rather forget, finishing 11th in 2014 – his worst result since he began his full time Cup career in 2002.
Look for he and crew chief Chad Knaus to bounce back big time this season.
Johnson wants that seventh crown so bad he can taste it and a motivated Johnson is a dangerous beast on a race track.
But unlike his past championship years, the competition in 2015 is tougher than ever.
Johnson will have to be at the top of his game to win again.
9: Cousin Carl
In 11 seasons with Roush Fenway Racing Carl Edwards won 23 NASCAR Sprint Cup races and twice – once in 2008 and again in 2011 – finished second in the championship.
In 2011 he actually tied Tony Stewart but lost on a tie breaker.
Edwards watched two years ago as RFR teammate Matt Kenseth jumped to Joe Gibbs Racing and immediately started to tear up the series.
It had to cross his mind if his career would get that kind of boost with a change.
So he too signed with Gibbs and will start this season in the No. 19 Toyota.
He said this week that he feels good things are going to come his way.
The fact is, Edwards is tired of finishing second.
He believes he has the talent to win a championship and he wants to prove it in 2015.
10: Speed Demons
When NASCAR put together the Generation Six car for the 2013 season it wasn’t really sure what it had.
But with a few critical changes the next season it knew exactly what it had – a rocket on wheels.
There was hardly a race last season where a track speed record wasn’t broken by the Gen 6 car.
At Michigan International Speedway, Texas Motor Speedway and Atlanta Motor Speedway speeds in excess of 200 mph became the norm and not the exception.
But with added speed came added danger so in the interest of safety NASCAR made changes for this season – reducing the spoiler for one – to slow the cars down.
It will be interesting to see how it affects the racing.
If it was up to James Hinchcliffe he and the rest of the Verizon IndyCar Series drivers would already have hundreds of miles of test laps in the cockpit of the revamped Dallara DW12 in preparation for next month’s season opener on the streets of St. Petersburg, but that isn’t the case.
Hinchcliffe and most of the rest of the drivers will have only two days – March 15 and 16 – in the newly configured cars at Barber Motorsports Park in Birmingham, Ala., just 13 days ahead of the 2015 season launch March 29 in the Sunshine state.
In an interview on Thursday, prior to attending media day functions at the Toronto International Auto Show, Hinchcliffe said in a perfect world IndyCar bosses should have rolled out the new aero kits months ago to give everybody a chance to work the kinks out.
“Yes, sure, absolutely, as a driver you wanted to be in that thing a couple of months ago to get as much work done as you can,” he said. “Obviously from the team’s perspective it’s the same thing.
“There is lots things that go into it and we kind of understand why it played out the way it did but certainly the ideal situation would have been as soon as the checkered flag fell at Fontana (last August), everybody would have had body kits showing up at the shop the following Monday and we could have been working during this long off season.
“But it is what it is.”
Hinchcliffe also isn’t happy that two IndyCar teams – the Chevrolet team at Penske Racing and the Honda team at Andretti Autosport – got a big jump on the competition by being picked to be in on the testing of the significantly improved aero package as it was being developed.
“I think Penske and Andretti head into the first race with a bit of an advantage,” he said.
“That’s the nature of the beast, we just have to deal with it and do the best we can.”
The 28-year-old Oakville native also has to deal with being on a new team in 2015.
Hinchcliffe signed in the off season with Schmidt Peterson Motorsports to drive the No. 77 Honda this season after three seasons at Andretti where he got three wins and seven podium finishes.
He likes the new team, especially that it, too, is a proven winner with four victories with Simon Pagenaud in the driver’s seat over the past two seasons.
“The group of guys there are super nice,” Hinchcliffe said. “It has been a pretty seamless transition in a lot of ways.”
He admitted there is sure to be some adjustments on both sides but he confident it can challenge for wins right off the transporter in St. Petersburg.
“The big goal, without having the (new) body kits, has been getting to learn how we work together – getting to know what I like out of the car,” Hinchcliffe said. “There is a couple of differences in my style from the way Simon drove.
“It has been kind of an evolution in that sense on the chassis side but we have made a lot of progress and I am really happy so far.
“I don’t see why we can’t go out and race for wins right away.”
Hinchcliffe has been on the track doing some testing – two days at Sebring International Raceway and two days at NOLA Motorsports Park – but in the old chassis.
Still, he was upbeat with the results.
“The team has been getting better; the preparation side is great; the pits stops are great,” he said.
Once he gets his hands on the steering wheel of the upgraded car, Hinchcliffe said he feels it will fit his style.
“I have heard second hand that with the added downforce from the top, it will play into my strengths,” Hinchcliffe said.
He can’t wait for the season to start, joining the legion of IndyCar fans who have expressed frustration that it will be nearly seven months between the end of their 2014 campaign and the opening race in St. Petersburg.
“It’s been a long off season,” he said.
Hinchcliffe was tight lipped about who his teammate will be at SPM this season. Speculation has both veteran Simona de Silvestro and rookie Conor Daly at the top of the list for the second SPM race car. … Hinchcliffe was third fastest at NOLA this week with a lap of 1:18.3. Penske’s Will Power led the way at 1:17.9 with Graham Rahl second fastest at 1:18.1. Pagenaud tied Hinchcliffe for third.
When Jeff Gordon announced on Thursday that the 2015 season would be his final one in the NASCAR Sprint Cup series it brought with it a flood of memories of his feats behind the wheel of the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet.
In my mind Gordon, the four time Sprint Cup champion, was singularly responsible for dragging stock car racing kicking and screaming from his Southern U.S. roots into the mainstream of North American major league sports.
Without Gordon taking NASCAR by storm in the mid 1990s as a then 24 year old from California and presenting corporate America with an articulate and charismatic personality there would be no $7 billion dollar broadcasting deals, no multi million dollar driver contracts and no million dollar motorhomes for pampered Sprint Cup stars that are the norm in 2015.
He was the first NASCAR star to transcend the sport to become an international celebrity, hosting Saturday Night Live, guest hosting Regis and Kelly and regular on red carpet events with his super model wife Ingrid Vandebosch.
All of this while winning 92 races, earning 454 top 10s and 77 pole positions making him NASCAR’s winningest active driver and third best in the sport’s history behind only David Pearson and Richard Petty.
He is to NASCAR what Tom Brady is to the National Football League.
And he has a Canadian connection in his 23 year Cup career.
Toronto’s Ron Fellows was a road course rival and Chevrolet teammate to Gordon over much of his stock car career.
The pair battled in 25 Sprint Cup races, the most memorable was in 1999 at Watkins Glen International, when Fellows, driving the No. 87 Bully Hill Vineyards Chevrolet, was on the bumper of Gordon’s No. 24 Chevy over the final half dozen laps around the classic New York road course.
“Jeff was the first Cup driver to take road racing seriously,” Fellows said on Thursday from Daytona International Speedway. “I remember that race vividly.
“I had a great car and I was waiting for him to make a mistake. Time and again I would get up to him and once or twice he wiggled but he was able to get the (No.) 24 back under control.
“He made himself really wide on the final lap and I just missed being able to get by him. But I have so much respect for him. He always raced me hard, but clean.”
At the finish line on that Sunday afternoon Gordon crossed the finish line a mere 0.763 seconds ahead of Fellows.
The two drivers were together again this past week at the Barrett Jackson Auction in Scottsdale, Ariz., where they were part of a charity event involving selling a one of a kind Corvette.
It was there that Gordon told Fellows – six days before making it public – that he was on the verge of packing in his full time Cup career.
“I wasn’t surprised at (Thursday’s) announcement,” Fellows said. “We had a brief chat about it last Friday. He said that he was getting older and retiring from driving was on his mind.”
Fellows said that the timing of the announcement was perfect, especially given Gordon’s superb 2014 season where he notched four wins and was in a fight for his fifth championship until the final lap at Texas Motor Speedway in the third last race of the season where he wrecked after contact with Brad Keselowski.
“I think he put to rest any talk of him not being on top of his game,” Fellows said. “Every athlete would like to go out on top and that is the way Jeff will go out.”
Gordon did say on Thursday he isn’t about to disappear from NASCAR after the final race this season.
“I plan to stay extremely busy in the years ahead, and there’s always the possibility I’ll compete in selected events, although I currently have no plans to do that,” Gordon said in a Hendrick Motorsports team release. “I don’t foresee a day when I’ll ever step away from racing. I’m a fan of all forms of motorsports, but particularly NASCAR. We have a tremendous product, and I’m passionate about the business and its future success.”
HOMESTEAD, Fla. – NASCAR boss Brian France wasn’t making any promises, but he did say in his state of the series message at Homestead Miami Speedway that Canadian Tire Motorsports Park is on the radar for a Xfinity (Nationwide) race possibly as soon as 2016.
The 3.957 km permanent road course has been part of the NASCAR Camping World Truck Series for the past two seasons with record crowds and highlight reel racing.
Track owners Ron Fellows and Carlo Fidano have made no secret about their desire to build on the Truck series success by hosting a Nationwide – to be renamed the Xfinity series next season – at the Bowmanville circuit.
France said the numbers NASCAR sees in terms of fan interest in Canada is a factor in deciding future race sites for its top three touring series.
“Well, Canada, and you’ve heard me say this, is a very clear (big market) – not only because it’s contiguous with the United States, but more importantly because we have a nice fan base there,” he said. “We’re going to always be looking to see how we can take events, not just on television but to and from at various places, because that’s a fan base that we know is there … it’s very important to us.”