In most sports, catching the eye of a big-time talent evaluator is enough.
Kenai's Cameron McGahan, 22, has learned that is not the case in racing. Making it as a professional driver also takes a lot of money.
On two trips to the Lower 48 this summer, McGahan impressed Tim Clauson enough that McGahan received an offer to join Bryan Clauson Racing, which seeks to develop drivers for NASCAR.
"With Cameron, he's definitely got talent," Tim Clauson said last week from Noblesville, Ind. "There's no doubt about it."
As the father of Bryan Clauson, Tim Clauson knows talent. Bryan, 19, is a Chip Ganassi with Felix Sabates Driver who currently competes in the NASCAR Nationwide Series.
This year, Clauson has 19 starts and is in 31st place in the point standings. He has one pole, one top five and two top 10s. Clauson was recently scheduled to get a shot to run in some NASCAR Sprint Cup races, but rained-out qualifying sessions delayed his debut.
McGahan caught Tim Clauson's eye on a trip to California in late March and on a trip to Indiana in early August.
On the trip to California, McGahan raced Midget cars. Although most of McGahan's racing experience came driving Sprint cars at Twin Cities Raceway, where he has been winning races since he was 16, he held his own making the transition to Midget cars.
"He made a really good impression," Clauson said. "I knew a little about his background, that he'd done a little Sprint car dirt racing, and I knew the pavement Midgets were something new to him.
"Honestly, I was pretty impressed with the way he took right to it."
Clauson was intrigued enough to tell McGahan he could come race in the Midwest with him. In August, thanks to the generosity of local sponsors, McGahan took Clauson up on the offer. He raced four consecutive nights in Indiana at Union City Speedway, Bloomington Speedway, Lawrenceburg Speedway and Kokomo Speedway.
McGahan raced United States Auto Club Sprint cars. Unlike the Sprint cars at Twin Cities Raceway, the USAC Sprints do not have wings. Racing without wings makes a huge difference in how the car handles because wings put so much down force on the tires.
Except for a brief period of taking the wing off of his Sprint car and messing around in Fairbanks, McGahan had never raced a nonwing Sprint car before.
Making matters more difficult is that the USAC Sprint cars have more power than the Sprint cars in Alaska.
"Nonwing Sprint car is the toughest venue in racing," Clauson said. "They're high horsepower, lightweight and there's no wing to help the driver.
"It's just race car, motor and driver."
Although McGahan didn't win any of the races, that wasn't the goal.
"We did progress and get better," McGahan said. "That was the goal. Every night was different. I didn't know any of the tracks."
McGahan held his own in the unfamiliar nonwing Sprint even though he was racing against drivers that compete three times a week all summer long. McGahan said in Alaska, drivers typically compete 15 to 20 days in a summer.
"He's got a very good foundation under him," Clauson said. "He's able to get into a venue and it doesn't take him long to adjust to it."
Clauson said it is McGahan's ability to adapt quickly that makes him such an attractive talent.
"I'll be honest, that's what you look for as somebody trying to develop young talent," Clauson said. "You don't get a lot of time in this game."
Clauson said it normally takes a driver 20 to 25 races to get to the point McGahan did in his four races.
"If I can get Cameron back here, I think he could win races very quick here in Indiana," Clauson said.
Clauson said that is the quickest way to make it big in racing. He said drivers can win all the races they want, but unless those races are won in the right place and against the right people, a career will not advance.
According to Clauson, NASCAR drivers Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Kasey Kahne and Ryan Newman all proved themselves in short-track, Sprint car racing in Indiana.
The problem for McGahan and his father, Jackie, is finding the money to give Cameron the opportunity to race for Bryan Clauson Racing.
"I get told all of the time that I must be so excited and proud," said Jackie McGahan, a racing legend at Twin Cities. "It's bittersweet. There's also a pit in my stomach because I'm worried about the funding. This might not happen."
Cameron plans to keep his job at Tesoro's Nikiski refinery, where he works a week-on, week-off schedule. The McGahans will try and raise enough money to get down to the Lower 48 and race as much as possible. Tim Clauson said he will try and help the McGahans raise the money, but said Bryan's career has not advanced enough for Bryan Clauson Racing to provide the funding.
"I'm in the process of building things right off the template he gave us," Jackie McGahan said of Clauson.
The McGahans said they have no specific amount of money in mind. They said it's a situation where every little bit counts, but the sky is the limit.
Tim Clauson said that right now the economy is not conducive to companies writing out big checks for racers. At the same time, for companies that can't afford to get involved in NASCAR right now, a cheaper opportunity is to get involved with promising drivers.
"I hope to add validity to what they're trying to do," Clauson said. "I want to help them get the funding they need."
Clauson said his son's career opens the doors to access to the NASCAR world that normal fans don't get. McGahan's sponsors could get access to meet-and-greets and pit passes that actually gain access to the pits.
Jackie McGahan said he plans to keep racing in Alaska and get potential sponsors plenty of exposure doing that racing.
The McGahans will raise as much money as possible this winter, then make next summer's plans based on how much money is raised. If Cameron can get down and get a few wins, funds won't be nearly as hard to secure.
"This is doable," Cameron said. "We're excited about the work ahead of us. It all comes down to how much money we can raise this winter."
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