February 16, 2014 — Audio and story by Managing Editor Jacob Seelman for Speed77 Radio and Race Chaser Online — photo courtesy Cameron Hayley — CALGARY, ALBERTA, CANADA and DAYTONA BEACH, FL — For a driver who wins at the World Center of Racing, there’s nothing like a repeat performance.
NASCAR Next standout Cameron Hayley would like to see to it that the repeat happens sooner rather than later.
Hayley, 17, returns to the Sunshine State with a new team and unbridled confidence as the defending winner of the UNOH Battle at the Beach at Daytona International Speedway a year ago. The young Canadian, a rising star in the touring ranks of NASCAR, follows a path to the East Coast much like his western comrade, Dylan Kwasniewski, did a year ago.
He knows exactly how that path turned out, too.
“It’s a special privilege to be able to move to the K&N Pro Series East for 2014 with Turner Scott Motorsports,” Hayley expressed of his newest opportunity. “It’s a huge move for me in my career, and the guys at TSM are so supportive of what I want to go out and do this year; they have confidence in me, and I have confidence in this team that we can go out and perform this season.”
Hayley, a native of Alberta, Canada, began his racing career at age seven, driving go-karts for four years following an impressive third place finish in his motorsports debut. The young talent moved through the Canadian motorsports ranks over the next three years, racing MMRA Baby Grand cars until 2010. However, Hayley recognized that to achieve his goal of moving into the upper levels of the sport, he would have to search his dreams in the United States.
“As I got a few years under my belt, I realized that I was going to have to start searching for opportunities in the U.S., because while I have a lot of loyal fans in Canada, the NASCAR draw and NASCAR program in Canada just isn’t what it is south of the border.”
With that knowledge, Hayley made the jump to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (KNPSW) in 2011, competing for veteran team owner Bill McAnally in a partial schedule and becoming the youngest driver to compete in KNPSW history, at just 15 years and 23 days old. Hayley finished second in his first-ever KNPSW start at Montana Raceway Park and ran a full schedule in 2012 for Bill McAnally Racing, finishing second in the season-long Rookie of the Year standings to Austin Dyne.
If 2012 was a strong debut for Hayley though, 2013 was a breakout. As referenced, Hayley started off the season last year with a bang, scoring the victory in the inaugural Battle at the Beach at Daytona on a last lap, last turn pass of young gun Gray Gaulding. Hayley followed that performance up with a banner year in the K&N Pro Series West driving for Gene Price Motorsports, scoring a tour-high six poles on the season and adding to that his first career win at All-American Speedway in Roseville, California last fall.
“We had a great season last year on the west coast and I’m so thankful to everyone at Gene Price Motorsports for giving me such great equipment last year. We just missed out on that championship by six points; we were so close, but you know, I have no regrets about 2013 at all. We proved we belonged, and that was the important thing.”
Hayley now steps into the No. 98 car for co-owners Steve Turner and Harry Scott Jr. in 2014, the same machine that powered his colleague Dylan Kwasniewski to the NASCAR K&N Pro Series East (KNPSE) title a season ago. While Kwasniewski moves to the NASCAR Nationwide Series, Hayley looks to replicate his teammate’s success and claim back-to-back championships for TSM.
The Canadian acknowledges though, there is pressure stepping into the footprints of what Kwasniewski accomplished in 2013.
“It’s a ton of added pressure. What Dylan did, last year, was amazing, and to know that we’re stepping into the same equipment that he had last year, it’s huge for me. The biggest thing is though, we’re trying not to focus so much on what Dylan did, but to focus on me, as Cameron, and what I can do this year.”
“I do feel like we can contend for the championship, no doubt. If I can do what I did last year out west, we should have a shot at it.”
Hayley’s first test of the 2014 K&N Pro Series field will come tonight during the JEGS 150 at New Smyrna Speedway, where he was fast in winter testing and among the top five fastest in practice earlier today. However, he says he’s got two dates circled on his calendar for this season more than any others.
“I’m excited about Watkins Glen, for sure. We run a lot of road courses out west, so I feel like I’ll have an advantage over a lot of the East regulars when we get there. I’ve watched Watkins Glen on TV since I knew any better, and it’s one of my favorite race tracks, even though I’ve not driven there yet.”
“But Tuesday night, that’s going to be special. Whenever you can come into Daytona International Speedway with the title “defending winner” attached, that’s a huge confidence boost and that makes it super-important to try and go out to do it again.”
Can Hayley become a two-time winner at the World Center of Racing on Tuesday night? And can he open the season with a K&N Pro Series win just as he did a season ago?
“I think we have a great shot to win both races on the Florida swing. Track position is going to be key at New Smyrna, but I’m gunning for Daytona.”
“We’ll just have to see what happens and how things play out.”
Listen in as we caught up with Cameron just before he arrived in Florida to begin on-track activities for the beginning of the K&N Pro Series East season: