In the ninth of our series on the people who race at PGP Motorsports Park, meet high school sophomore Cameron Grimes-Hess, a karter who loves racing and having fun on and off the track
KENT, Wash. — (Dec. 21, 2010) Ask ten racers what they love about racing and nine will say the thrill of going fast or the excitement of pitting their abilities against the elements and other drivers. If Cameron Grimes-Hess was the tenth driver you asked, his answer would be less specific but no less heartfelt.
“I love to race, to be at the track. If I could race the rest of my life, that would be amazing. Even if racing ended up just as a hobby, I’d still be happy because I’ve had so much fun and learned so many life lessons,” said the 15-year-old sophomore from Tahoma High School.
Cameron is in good company with how he feels, joining the late actors Paul Newman, James Dean and Steve McQueen among many others who’ve fallen hard under the spell of motorsports. McQueen, who raced motorcycles and sports cars at Le Mans, famously once said: “Racing is life, anything before and after is just waiting.”
To be sure Cameron enjoys the speed and competition of racing, either in his Rotax Senior or a B-Spec rental kart at PGP Motorsports Park, where he recently finished No. 3 overall in Rotax Senior in the Stars of PGP Kart Series despite missing several races. He also won the B-Spec finale in the Dec. 5 Stars of PGP Kart Fall & Winter Series event, holding off a field of drivers with much more experience.
“The field for that race was just amazing, including Maurice Shawver, Jerry Peterson, Derek Wang, Stepanova Nekeel — great racers,” said Cameron. “In the final Maurice was on my tail the whole time. I was lucky enough to pull that one off; racing against him is always nerve-wracking. After the race we checked the sheet and my fastest lap was just one one-thousandths of a second faster than Maurice’s.”
Cameron was introduced to kart racing two years ago by his father, Kurtis Hess. That first outing at an indoor track was nearly the last for Cameron, however, as his father was much faster. But Kurtis Hess insisted they try it again and Cameron improved his lap time by 10 seconds that next time — and he shaved off some more time in subsequent visits.
A few months after he and Cameron had started karting together, Kurtis Hess discovered PGP on a trip to nearby Pacific Raceways to watch a late-model race. One lap around the purpose-built .82 mile open-air course and Cameron was hooked.
“We tried out the rental karts and the first time I beat my dad again,” said Cameron. “A lot of the racing at PGP is really close. One of the best feelings you can get is to battle and battle, try different moves, and finally get that pass. The racing is close, but it’s just as fun off the track as on.”
“The people at PGP, racers and staff, have been nice to us 100 percent of the time we’ve been there,” he continued “The racing is positive, the people are positive. I can’t think of a thing I don’t like about PGP.”
Cameron is a pretty typical teenager who likes rock music (favorite group “by a landslide” is Nickelback), video games (“Modern Warfare 2” on Xbox; racing simulations on Playstation), TV (“Two and a Half Men” and anything on SPEED channel, naturally) and movies (“Happy Gilmore”, the “Back to the Future” trilogy and “Ironman”).
He enjoys American Sign Language class in school because it’s “new, a whole lot different and the teacher is amazing — the funniest teacher at school.” Cameron enjoys being active, listing PE as his second-favorite class, and although he played some basketball in middle school and enjoys baseball and soccer, racing has taken over.
“I’ve always liked sports and to be competitive, but just about every other sport is a team sport. In racing, if you go out and win the race, it feels like a huge personal accomplishment,” he continued. “Racing is still a team sport — and I consider everyone at PGP to be part of our team, with all the help and tips we’ve gotten — but if I do something, win a race, I feel a lot more accomplishment.”
Considering he’s been karting for just a couple years, getting to feel that accomplishment so quickly is a testament to Cameron’s skill and determination to improve. In his first Rotax Senior race, he surprised himself with a fifth-place finish after battling a much more experienced driver.
But if you ask the teenager about his development as a karter, Cameron quickly points to the assistance he’s received from his father and the staff and other racers at PGP.
“So many people have helped me, I could go on with a pages-long list of names,” said Cameron. “Given the chance, I would say ‘thank you’ to everyone, from where I am today to where I started, it’s just amazing.”
That’s a sentiment Kurtis Hess agrees with: “One of the biggest things I’ve noticed about Cameron is a growing sense of responsibility, that he’s taken ownership for his wins and losses, good days and bad days. He’s growing as a driver and a student of driving.”
Cameron’s transformation hasn’t been limited to racing, as he alluded to when talking about life lessons learned at the track. One of the most important has been how to communicate with others. By bench racing in the paddock, Cameron has been able to use the common denominator of racing as a starting point for exchanges of information beyond motorsports, often with people decades older than he is.
“In racing you get to communicate with real people; every weekend I’m talking to adults 10, 20 and 30 years older than I am,” said Cameron. “At school they don’t teach you how to communicate with people directly. Learning that will help me later in life, in job interviews and just day-to-day.”
Being at ease while talking to different types of people at the track is something that would surprise his friends at school, according to Cameron, but that just indicates how at ease he feels in that environment.
“People at PGP that haven’t met him — they will,” said Kurtis Hess. “He loves to socialize with people of all ages. If you’re out there racing, he understands your passion and will talk to you about it.”
During the last Stars of PGP Kart event, Cameron’s short walk from his pit to the office turned into a half-hour as he stopped to talk to various racers and their families and friends along the way. That roundabout journey led fellow Rotax racer and 15-year-old, Jessica Dana, to call Cameron a “social butterfly.”
“I thought that was pretty funny, but it’s true — I like to talk to everyone,” said Cameron. “At school that would surprise people, but the track is a place that I love to be, and a place that I fit in. I feel really comfortable there.”