When your family has a legacy, it can be difficult to live up to the expectations everyone has of you.
Cameron Wilkinson has done that and more, and other drivers are taking notice.
“He’s really talented. That’s for sure,” said Tyler Steckelberg, a driver in the stock car class with Wilkinson.
Wilkinson is a 19-year-old International Motor Contest Association driver from Neligh, Neb. who is gaining attention around the track. He’s been racing since he was 11 years old when he started in the Junior Hornets class at what is now Off Road Speedway in Norfolk, Neb.
Racing is in the Wilkinson family’s blood. They’ve been doing it for years. From Wilkinson’s grandpa and great uncles to now his dad and brother, their family is a large part of the racing community in Northeast Nebraska.
That’s a part of the reason why Wilkinson’s family felt it was necessary to lie about his age to get him behind the wheel. The Junior Hornets class is only supposed to have drivers 12 years old and up.
Wrestling in high school gave Wilkinson experience in an individual sport. He finished runner-up in the 2019 State Wrestling Championships and some of the qualities that made him a good wrestler have transferred to stock car driving.
“For wrestling and racing, it’s a mental deal,” Wilkinson said. “I get hot pretty quick, get worked up, mainly because if I’m going to do something I want to be the best at it.”
With his wrestling career behind him, Wilkinson now spends all of his time focused on racing. He races Thursdays in Columbus at US 30 Speedway, Fridays at Boone County Speedway in Albion and Saturdays at Off Road Speedway.
In his last race on June 27, Wilkinson finished second in the A feature at Off Road Speedway, which seems to be the track at which he performs best.
“For some weird reason, I don’t know why, that’s the track I shine at the best,” Wilkinson said.
He won the past three championships at Off Road Speedway in the hobby stock class. This year, he moved up to stock cars and now leads in points in the stock car class at Off Road Speedway.
“In the stock car class, you kind of have the cream of the crop for drivers, and I figured if you want to be the best, you gotta beat the best,” Wilkinson said.
Even more impressive, he ranks third nationally in IMCA stock car rookie points.
His dad, Jason, ranks fourth nationally in IMCA hobby stock points.
Jason’s chances to win a championship were damaged because of the COVID-19 pandemic, which forced the Wilkinson family’s racing season to start two months behind schedule. So when the South Dakota governor was one of the first to reopen their state, the Wilkinsons headed to Raceway Park in Jefferson, South Dakota and have been going there every Sunday since.
Off Road Speedway was lucky in retrospect and didn’t lose much revenue, according to Jerry Pospisil, the track’s promoter.
“We were supposed to open and couldn’t until June, and it actually turned out that because of the weather, we only missed two nights,” he said.
The racing community in Northeast Nebraska is tight-knit. If someone wrecks during the race, three to five pit crew members from different racers help out the driver. Because of the family feeling, Off Road Speedway also didn’t lose much revenue because of the area’s passion for racing.
“Because of our capacity, we could put 500 people into the stands fairly easily and the racers came out by the droves,” Pospisil said. “We averaged 10 to 15 more cars per week than we did last year strictly because people were wanting to get out and race.”
The track now allows 75% capacity for fans because of COVID-19.
“We’re supposed to have 6 foot distancing between groups,” Pospisil said. “The fans do. They stay separated. We have enough room that they spread around. We don’t require them to wear a mask. My feeling is this: if you want to come to the races, you sure can come to the races. If you fear the virus is going to get you, then don’t come to the races.”
Cam Wilkinson doesn’t really care if there are fans or not.
“That was a big talk throughout social media,” Wilkinson said. “Some drivers were saying ‘if there can’t be fans, I don’t want to race.’ Well, I don’t race for the fans, I race for me, so I could give a crap less if there’s someone there to watch me or not.”
Another driver in the same class, Tyler Steckelberg, feels different.
“I don’t feel like I’d want to race without the fans,” Steckelberg said. “It’s for the people. That’s the way I look at it. Every little kid in the stand has someone to look up to. If you don’t have that, then what’s there to race for?”
There are essentially no precautions anymore in the pit area because the drivers stay by their own trailers, according to Pospisil. Off Road Speedway is limiting the number of people you can bring in the pits to six people to a car, but that doesn’t necessarily limit the Wilkinson family because they haul four cars in one trailer.
The Wilkinsons are unlike any other family in the racing community, according to Pospisil.
“They support the three race tracks in the area with four or five cars a week,” he said. “I don’t know any other family that does that. They’re a great asset. They’re great racers. Really talented.”
The Wilkinsons will race every weekend until about the first week of September when IMCA puts on the Super Nationals in Boone, Iowa.
“My dad was the first Nebraskan to win it, and he’s won it two years now,” Wilkinson said. “We’re gonna go down again this year. It’s always a good time. They say it’s America’s racing vacation.”
Wilkinson said the town nearly quadruples in size and people come from as far as California and Hawaii.
“It’s definitely like the Super Bowl of dirt track racing,” he said.
His goal for the rest of the year: win the rookie national championship in the stock car class. IMCA puts on a big banquet where the driver gets recognized and gets their name out to big sponsors.
“I’m trying to bank on this rookie national deal,” Wilkinson said.
The next race for Wilkinson is Wednesday back at Off Road Speedway for their pre-July 4 special where a firework show will follow the race.