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.
"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.
"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.
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.
"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.
"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."
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.