Cameron Hayley, 22, was on the right track to be a prime NASCAR driver but on his way to achieving his goals, he lost major sponsorships and ultimately, his ride.
Born and raised in Calgary, Hayley was introduced to racing at a very young age. As a young boy, his father and godfather would take him to see races at Race City Motorsport Park.
He got his first go-kart at five, began racing at seven and was racing in small versions of stock cars by the time he was 11. He knew NASCAR was where he wanted to end up.
“You’d think being in go-karts is the natural progression for going into road racing or something along that line, but NASCAR was always the passion for where I wanted to go.”
Hayley also grew up idolizing four-time Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, whom he would later get to know personally.
Hayley raced across Alberta and nearby tracks in the U.S. By the time he was 14, he was racing in full-size stock cars. It was at this time he caught the eye of American Bill McAnally, who owns a team in the NASCAR K&N West Series.
Catching the big break
“His contact there got me into NASCAR,” Hayley said, adding that getting into NASCAR requires major networking.
“It’s really just about talking to the right people.”
Hayley joined McAnally’s team for the end of the 2011 K&N West season. The rule change that season allowed Hayley to race at 15 years old instead of 16. “I actually became the youngest driver ever to start in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.”
In his K&N West debut at Montana Raceway Park in Kalispell Montana, Hayley finished second.
In 2012, Hayley ran the full K&N West schedule for McAnally, finishing seventh in the final championship standings. By this time, he was beginning to make a name for himself in the NASCAR world.
Named one of nine drivers on NASCAR Next, a list picked by NASCAR showcasing the next great drivers, Hayley’s name appeared alongside drivers like Ryan Blaney, Chase Elliott, Daniel Suarez and Darrell Wallace Jr, all of whom are now racing full-time in the Monster Energy Cup Series.
“We went on different media tours, we got trained on how to deal with the media, we got taught a bunch of different things about how to represent yourself,” he said.
“That was basically NASCAR putting their efforts to help us get to that top level.”
The next year in the K&N West series, he would move to Gene Price Motorsports. Hayley earned his first and so far, only career victory in a NASCAR series at All American Speedway in Roseville, California. Hayley also finished second in the final championship standings.
Moving up the NASCAR ladder
In 2014, Hayley moved to the K&N East Series, driving for Turner Scott Motorsports. In addition to running a full-time schedule in the K&N East, the team gave him his first opportunity to race in one of the top NASCAR series.
Hayley debuted at the Camping World Truck Series, the third highest level of NASCAR racing in the world now called Gander Outdoor Truck Series. He finished 11th at the event held in Canadian Tire Motorsports Park in Bowmanville, Ontario.
He would make two more starts in the Truck Series that season.
At the end of the year, Turner Scott Motorsports was shut down due to financial difficulties, leaving Hayley looking for a new ride.
“I worked with a marketing company that approached multiple …teams about me joining their team,” said Hayley.
From there, Hayley got in touch with Duke Thorson, the owner of ThorSport Racing.
“He’s the type of person that likes to find young talent like me. They actually approached me about potentially doing something with them. I flew out to their shop over the offseason and we were able to put a deal together.”
Hayley drove the number 13 Toyota Tundra truck, with sponsorship from the Carolina Nut Company and Cabinets by Hayley, his family’s business. Hayley had a solid rookie season, finishing the year sixth in the championship standings, with 13 top-ten finishes. He was also second in voting for the rookie of the year award.
But going into 2016, Hayley once again had no sponsorship lined up.
However, before the season, he landed a spot with RIDE TV and had the help of his family’s business. He had 11 top-ten and two second-place finishes, but he also endured some sub-par results.
Hayley finished 11th in the final standings. Unable to secure sponsorships in 2017, he had to review all his options.
“At the end of that year, I had an opportunity to go back and race, but it was equipment that I couldn’t win in.”
“At that point, you’re basically stalling. You’re stalling for the next opportunity, you’re stalling for sponsorship, you’re stalling for something else. But you can also get yourself trapped into an endless loop of never getting back to the top,” Hayley explained.
Instead of stalling, Hayley returned home to Calgary and has since, not been able to find a ride in NASCAR.
The big sponsorship problem
Finding sponsorship is the biggest challenge in racing. It costs millions of dollars to run a NASCAR team.
Hayley said Canadian drivers are at an extreme disadvantage when it comes to sponsors.
“This is one problem in racing in Canada. Why would a Canadian sponsor, who is Canadian-based, who sells their product in Canada, want their name on a TV show that only airs in the U.S.?”
Another challenge is the fact that Canadian drivers are often not the first choice when a sponsor is looking for a driver.
“A U.S. company …isn’t going to sponsor a Canadian driver. So that’s the biggest problem and that’s the reason why most Canadians don’t make it.”
DJ Kennington is one of the most successful Canadian NASCAR drivers, a two-time champion in the Pinty’s Series, NASCAR’s only series based in Canada.
He’s also made his way into the top three series of NASCAR, making 77 combined starts in the Cup, Xfinity and Truck Series.
In 2013, Kennington had Hayley run two races in the Pinty’s Series for the team he owns, DJK Racing after becoming friends. Kennington says he knows how tough it can be for drivers like Hayley.
“It’s unfortunate because there are probably people [in the U.S.] that he’s more talented than, but he doesn’t have the support. People don’t understand the cost it takes and the money it takes to do NASCAR in the U.S.,” Kennington said.
“Canadians can go down there and do it, there’s nothing stopping us except for finding the right opportunity, but it’s very hard to find the right opportunity.”
Kennington highlights what is possible when Canadian drivers get the right opportunities to run races in the top series of NASCAR. “I’ve just been very fortunate to be put in situations with the right people.”
Hayley added there aren’t as many companies looking to sponsor race teams as there were five to 10 years ago due to high costs and time on television becoming less valuable for companies to gain exposure.
Whether racing for teams in the U.S. or running karts in Calgary, nothing in the industry is easy on the wallet.
Frank Sartor, president of the Calgary Kart Racing Club, explained that racing go-karts, which is usually how most drivers start out, isn’t cheap.
“For about $5,000 a year, you can buy a used kart and race all year. On the north side of that, you can spend $30,000 a year if you want.”
Hayley raced in a late model stock car last fall in Las Vegas.
His old crew chief from his K&N Series days, Jeff Jefferson, now a team owner, needed a last-minute replacement driver. Hayley jumped at the opportunity; it was his first time back in a race car in two years. Hayley had a solid night for himself.
“I ran top-three all race, had the chance to win. I felt that rush again that I hadn’t felt in two years.”
While he continues searching for a ride and sponsorship, Hayley hopes to see more local race tracks in Canada.
“Nobody’s gonna drive three hours to the track, day in and day out, to be able to race and that’s what we really need here in Canada.”
In the meantime, Hayley is keeping busy, working at his family’s cabinet business.
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