Off-Road Racer Podcast presented by Monster Energy Episode 2: Cameron Steele
The sport of off-road racing is full of incredible stories, wild characters, legends, and even villains. We cover it but there’s only so much we can put down in an article. Sometimes we have to dig a little deeper and that means sitting down with some of our industry’s most influential characters and hitting “record”. Welcome to the Off-Road Racer Podcast. Each month, we go beyond the dirt and into the homes, shops, and lives of the most interesting and game-changing icons of our sport. You’ll hear about their history, success, failure, and everything in-between, as we pull back the curtain and reveal the stories of their lives.
Cameron Steele is more than a championship off-road racer, he is a true ambassador of off-road culture. From racing to commentating, to leading tours down the Baja peninsula nobody has done as much to share off-road racing with the world as Cameron. In this episode of Off-Road Racer, we talk with Cameron about his past, present, and future covering everything from racing in the desert, to short course and most recently racing 5 different races at King of The Hammers.
An excerpt on King of the Hammers and rock racing:
How’s everything going?
It’s a crazy world we live in. Things are good. I am a dad times two. I have a new little baby at home. Although we have been locked down quite a bit, it’s been cool because we have been able to share time together as a family. It’s a lot of fun.
You have been racing a little bit, right? How was Hammers?
Hammers was incredible. I love the community of off-road racing. The thing that hammers offers you is spending time on the trail and there is always this bottleneck of people when you are pre-running. You get out and walk around and talk to people. I love the off-road racing community so for me, it’s cool to get out of the car, stretch my legs, hike some rocks, and be in the outdoors. Also for me, I get to race these different disciplines. I get to get on my motorcycle, which I don’t do very often in competition. It makes it fun, just being out there and smelling it.
Why did you choose to make the transition from desert racing to rock racing?
Cody Waggoner, who is a friend from San Clemente, CA who I just got to know over recent years, came on my ride “Trail of Missions”. While we were there, we became better friends and we got to talking and he asked if I wanted to race his car. He has motion sickness, a lot of people don’t know that. I didn’t want to do it that year because of the short timeframe, but I was willing to do it the following year with enough time to prepare. What I love about it is the challenge. Something totally different. My whole life since I was a kid I have been going to the desert, as far back as I can remember, and that led into racing off-road cars. You add in the rocks and it adds a whole different element to it. It’s still off-road racing, but it’s different thinking, and I love thinking. That’s also why I love to rally on my moto because it’s thinking, there is so much more to it. I am not saying desert racing is just on the gas all the time, but it’s second nature to me. Now I am thinking about something different. The reason why I did it is because it’s fun and a whole new group of people. It’s just expanding my horizons a little bit.
How was the learning curve?
Steep! The learning curve is steep. You know one thing I don’t talk about a lot is I hate exposure and I hate side-hilling. If you are going to rock race and race hammers you better get ready to side-hill and live with exposure. So I had to get used to that. You gotta really think about what you are doing, but you have to be ahead of what you are doing. You can’t think in the moment, you gotta think 100 yards ahead and really pick your lines on what you are doing. It’s been really interesting. I have had Cody Waggoner who is a 7x rock crawl champion as my coach and Wayne Israelsen as my navigator who has been at Hammers forever and is the most switched-on tech guy in every aspect of racing. The stuff we have on our car is unbelievable. Then I have Jason Scherer helping me as well. It’s been a cool transition and I am having a lot of fun with it.
You put in a lot of time out there.
I think if you are going to do something you gotta be married to it. I have been married for 23 years so I know what that’s all about. You gotta really knuckle down and do it if you’re going to do it right. For us, our goal was to win the Baja 1000 for 14 years. It took us a little bit of time to get there. I am applying the same discipline as I did to Baja to the rocks. I think it’s paying off. People think the easy formula is to just go out and run it all the time. I am not going to give away all my secrets, but we worked really hard. Spending 20 days in the rocks is nothing for us, especially when you think about all the effort and how cold it is out there. We were out there in 25-degree mornings riding our dirtbikes. Not fun, not fun, but we’re doing it. We made it fun. It takes a lot of time. I love the effort it takes. A lot of hiking.
Isn’t it pretty intimidating to take on?
I was intimidated for sure. The first year when Cody asked me to go with the Lasernut team, I really didn’t have enough time to put the effort in. That’s why I wanted to wait. It’s intimidating. I have been locked into battles racing head to head with the Gomez Brothers, Shannon Campbell, Wayland Campbell. I got nerfed this year by Wayland Campbell at the top of a mountain. I was nervous. Those guys Randy Slawson, Eric Miller, so many great names, and so much talent. The advantage I had is that I have done a lot of different sports, especially off-road. I have spent a ton of time in the dirt, so reading and understanding that wasn’t the hard part. Learning how this particular machine is going to work was the hard part. I had to undo all the things that I had already learned and all the things that I have spent time doing and apply what I knew without being too much of a “know it all” to rock racing. I have a little bit of a different approach than the other drivers. I don’t think anybody has caught on to that yet, but I think what we are doing is working. Like I said it’s fun because I have all these different people counting on me, but at the same time giving me all this coaching I feel like a sponge just soaking it all in. It’s cool because it’s helping my off-road racing as well.
Do you think your experience in desert racing has helped you with becoming competitive quickly in rock racing?
I think it does. The one thing I think is a big transition for other people is the tire you are racing on. What’s ironic is we are racing on the same BFG 40-inch tire in our rock racer, the Lasernut #48 car, as the #16 Trophy Truck. It’s just a little different compound. So for me to get familiar with that was super easy. Taking everything from desert racing to rock racing, but trying to wipe clean and take their notes, was pretty interesting. I think that it’s a little bit of a rapid learning curve, but at the same time, I have tried to apply myself to be sure I am sucking all up and putting it all back out on the table. Because if I don’t do a good job I am going to lose the interest of Wayne, Cody, and Rodney who preps the car and everybody that’s involved.