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The Pursuit of Speed
By Audrey Poff, photo by Kim Boyd Vickrey-Jones

Most days, Jonesboro native Cameron Tedder spends his hours as a mild-mannered young bank teller. But in his other life, he lives life large on the track pursuing his dream of becoming a professional race car driver.

A 2012 graduate of Jonesboro High School, Tedder is the son of Dr. Barry and Lisa Tedder. He is a graduate of Arkansas State University; he earned a degree in international business in 2016. He is currently employed by Arvest Bank in Jonesboro, but for the past year he has also spent considerable hours on the track competing across the country in the Lucas Oil Formula Series.

Tedder said he first became interested in competitive racing while still in high school. He pitched the idea of a three-day racing school to his parents as a senior trip, but that didn’t fly.

“During college my interest only grew,” said Tedder. “When you’re doing things you don’t love, it makes you realize what you do love. Not that I didn’t enjoy college or like my degree, but endless homework, tests and assignments are not fun no matter the subject. During that time, I’d let my mind wander and dream of things I would rather be doing. I always came back to racing competitively.”

What was your parents’ response to your desire to pursue competitive racing?
At first, I don’t think they really knew what they were getting into. I started doing autocross, which they didn’t think twice about. For college graduation, they sent me to the three-day racing school that I had brought up four years prior. When it came time to actually compete in a season of real, wheel-to-wheel racing, they understandably got a lot more nervous. They were cautiously supportive, but frequently pointed out the downsides as a subtle bid to convince me that driving as fast as I could in circles wasn’t a good idea. But as the past two years have gone on and I’ve developed as driver, they’ve become very supportive of it. My dad attends all the races he can, and my mom has come to several, as well. They’ll be with me at the season finale in Sebring, where I’ll be in contention for the championship win. It was a little difficult to get their full support at first, understandably, but once they saw my commitment, work ethic and passion for racing, they’ve been 100 percent on board, which has been great.

What was the first step in your journey to become a race car driver, and how did that influence future decisions?
I started doing autocross, which is a sort of time trial where you drive your street car (one at a time) through a tight course made of orange cones as fast as you can. I was good at it, but I wanted to actually race other cars, not just the clock. From there, I attended a racing school, a three-day training event where instructors teach you how to drive on a track and race. From there, I was invited to a shootout that the school holds annually for drivers showing promise. Thirty of us competed in a series of timed and scored events, with a prize being a full season in their race series. I placed seventh against many returning competitors, which was a nice confidence boost. It was just as well that I didn’t win the top prize, because the company went bankrupt a few months later and the prize never paid out. From there, I went to a similar series, the Lucas Oil Formula Car series.

How did you become a development driver for Group A Racing?
Jonathan Scarallo, the team manager for Group A, actually reached out to me one day via Instagram. We talked for a while, I told him some of my goals and he offered coaching services for my racing. It made sense to have a dedicated coach with me so I could speed up my learning process instead of banging my head against the wall and not improving. After coaching me for the 2017 season, he and the team felt I had shown enough promise to give me the title of development driver. In addition to coaching, they have given me access to some of their resources. Jonathan works with me on a racing simulator to train while away from the track, and I have attended a few Formula 4 events with the team to start getting a feel for what a pro race weekend is like. I’ve also done a few test days in a Formula 4 car with the team to get a jump start on my hopeful pro debut in Formula 4.

How do you train when you are away from the track?
I train a lot in the gym while away from the track. Racing is incredibly physical; not many people realize this. The car you drive to work in the morning has air conditioning, power steering, power brakes and a big comfy seat. A formula-style race car has none of this. It can be very taxing on your body just to hold your body and neck in place during some of the hard cornering, all while wearing a three-layer fireproof suit. For actual racing training, I use a simulator. In the last few years, simulators have come a long way. They now use-laser scanned tracks and incredibly detailed physics models to give hyper-accurate representations of tracks and how cars will handle on them. If there is a bump on the inside of a certain turn that upsets the car, it’s there on the simulator. I have a wheel/pedal setup plus a virtual reality headset, so I can fully immerse myself in the simulator. Simulators aren’t perfect, but they give you a big head start when heading to a new track for the first time.

What is your top finish in the series to date?
I have three wins so far, and I’m currently second in the 2018 Championship standing.

What has been your most disappointing moment in the series?
Road America in September: I won the first race of the event and was feeling good. During qualifying for the second race, I had a mechanical failure. A bolt broke and the rear suspension/wheel came off the car mid-corner, putting me out of the session with no fast lap time set. I had to start sixth out of seven for the race. Mechanics repaired my car in time for the race, and within three laps I had made my way up to the leaders. But, in the rush, the balance had not been set correctly on the car and the car was not turning as well and wanting to run wide. During a high-speed turn (115 mph), I couldn’t get the car turned and went off the track almost into a wall and had to stop in the pits, putting me back in last place. I went back out and managed to scrape out a fourth-place finish, but all the points I had gained the day before with my win were erased by this frustrating finish due to mechanical issues. The most heartbreaking part of racing is knowing that no matter how good you perform, there will always be things out of your control that can ruin your day.

How long does it take to complete most of the races in the series?
All races in the Lucas Oil Series are 30 minutes long.

What is it like in the driver’s seat?
The driver’s seat is very tight and cramped. I’m the opposite of claustrophobic though, so it doesn’t bother me. The seat is custom molded to you, so it’s surprisingly comfortable (relative terms here). You’re basically laying down, and once you’re strapped in, you can’t really raise your arms or move your legs up or down. It’s very hot, especially when sitting still in the car. The engine is inches behind your head, so there’s plenty of heat coming from that. Ambient temperatures on track can reach 130 degrees or more. Once you’re moving, the airflow helps, and once the race starts, all of that is forgotten. I love the infinite visibility you get with a formula car, since your head is basically sticking out of the top. When you’re racing closely with someone, side by side, you can see exactly how close you are to each other – typically just inches apart. I never thought I’d be so comfortable putting the wheels of my car that close to another.

What have been your biggest challenges in your pursuit of becoming a driver?
It can be a tough industry to break into. Lucas Oil does a fantastic job of helping new drivers do just that, but the biggest challenge going forward and into pro racing is sponsorship and forming business partnerships. It’s crucial to team up with companies in a way that will be mutually beneficial at the professional level, but the challenge of this has been fun for me. I’m getting to put my business degree to use. Motorsport is somewhat unique in that there are no limits or restrictions on what you can do for a sponsor. It’s so much more than a name on a car. There aren’t many corporate events that can put you in pit lane in the heat of a race or in the passenger seat of the pace car during the race start like motorsports can. It’s a challenge, but I enjoy it. Driving the car is the easy part.

What does the Lucas Oil School of Racing provide for drivers participating in the series?
Lucas Oil provides all the cars, the prep and setup work, organizes the events, provides coaching and data analytics, and hospitality tents. Basically, they take care of everything so you can just show up and focus on driving.

The final race in the series is Oct. 25-26 at Sebring International Raceway in Florida. As you conclude your first year of competitive racing, what are the next options to consider?
I don’t have any firm plans for next year yet. I’m still working on making my professional debut with Group A in the Formula 4 U.S. Championship next year. I’ve considered a few other options, perhaps moving away from open-wheel, formula-style cars and maybe into sports car racing or endurance racing. I’m keeping my options open at this point, but I really am hopeful that I will be on the grid in Formula 4.

What was the biggest factor in deciding to pursue your dream at this point in your life?
Fear of regret. I live in fear of an unfulfilling life. So many people give up on their passions and just do what is easy. Sometimes you have to. I’m extremely fortunate that I have had the opportunity to pursue this. I’ve also made sacrifices to make it happen. At night, I’ll sometimes wonder why I chose to do this, thinking it was silly and dumb, that I could have done something else with the time and effort I’ve put into this, that I could be further along in a professional career. But, each time I get back in the car, I remember why I do it. This is fulfillment for me, and even if I never go any further, I can always look back and know that I gave it my all. At this stage of my life, I can afford the sacrifices necessary to make this happen. Ten or 20 years later, I don’t know that I would be able to.

To follow Tedder’s progress in the championship series, find him on Instagram and Facebook @camerontedderracing.