Nerves of ‘Steele’ Cameron Steele Wins the Baja 1000Mar 01, 2019 12:11PM ● By Mike Chamberlin
On the road to victory. Cameron Steele conquers the Baja 1000. photo by Steve Taylor
by Mike Chamberlin
Some people are born into families of attorneys, or doctors or teachers. Local resident Cameron Steele was born into a family of racers, or “gear heads,” as they are known. One could say he has motor oil running through his veins.
Cameron’s father, Mark “Big Daddy” Steele, was legendary in his own right. He made his name as an off-road racer and he knew the Baja Peninsula like the back of his weathered hands. So it’s no surprise that Mark introduced his son to a steering wheel or handlebar early in life.
“By five-years-old, Dad had me riding dirt bikes and not long after that introduced me to the legendary Saddleback Park and Escape Country,” Cameron explained.
It was the beginning of a lifelong fascination with racing.
Raised in San Clemente, Cameron went to Shorecliffs Middle School and attended San Clemente High School. His first job was as a cashier at the Pico 7-11. And like almost every other San Clemente teenager, he took to the ocean. He became a popular “pier rat,” and even found some success in the water as a professional body boarder, competing in six Pipeline Body Boarding World Championships.
But, once a “gear head”, always a “gear head.” The open air of off-road racing was calling him, and he took to Baja like his father before him. In fact, in 1985 at age 12, he navigated his dad to a Baja win. Three years later Cameron and Mark would switch seats and Cameron’s driving career would be off and running.
By his junior year at San Clemente High, he was already piloting the rugged terrain of Baja. “In the early years there were no GPS units or communications and it was very wild west. I think the family history and the vastness of the adventure Baja offers is what hooked me...as I have grown older it has become the people and the places that make it so engaging for me.”
Learning the ropes from a successful father and the legendary Baja 1000 racer Johnny Johnson, Cameron was destined for greatness. There were impressive wins here and there, but the one that eluded him for decades was the coveted Baja 1000, or what he calls “a life goal.” To off-road racers, the Baja 1000 is the Indy 500 of their sport. And in November of 2018, his life-long dream became a reality winning the Baja 1000.
“To be honest, it is really hard to digest reaching such a racing pinnacle. It was amazing to realize a goal with a great group of people, it was a massive team effort and this validated the efforts of our entire team over the last decade, and more, of racing.”
It was quite a year for Cameron, being inducted into the Off-Road Racing Hall of Fame and winning the Baja 1000 in the same year. Sadly, his father passed away just before his induction and Baja win. But although his dad passed away, he was still with him when he won the Baja race.
“Winning the 1000 was for sure a tribute to Dad, but also to all that have believed in our program/effort. For this race Dad's ashes rode behind my seat.” And if that wasn’t enough, he says his favorite memory of the Baja win was supplied by his daughter Kay.
“The number one memory for me at this Baja 1000 was my daughter singing ‘A Million Dreams’ to me on the phone as I headed to the start line that morning,” Cameron shared. “My wife Heidi and daughter Kay are all that matter in the world and it's a major bonus that Heidi and I share the passion for off-roading and off-road racing...she is actually the most successful Steele racer with five class championships and three Baja 1000 class wins.” Heidi earned the 2009 Driver of the Year award against all other off-road racers, men and women.”
So where does one go from winning the pinnacle of any sport? Pat Riley, long time coach of the Los Angeles Lakers, once said, “The hardest thing in all of sports is not winning a championship, but repeating as a champion.” Perhaps that’s in Cameron’s future; time will tell.
Last year he took the next step in his long and winding racing road. He opened an off-road shop in San Juan Capistrano. “Our new Baja HQ is a dream for us to open.” He added, “Baja HQ is an off-road aftermarket build store and a tire and wheel location. We cater to people looking for bolt-on additions to their trucks, vans, Jeeps and other off-road vehicles. We do lifts, shocks, suspension kits, lighting, two-way radios, bed racking systems and of course we do wheel and tire for any vehicle. We link ourselves to the off-road world and Baja because that's where our heart is and we love to set up vehicles for people looking to make some dust off-road.”
On a personal note … I knew Cameron years ago when I was an announcer for ESPN. I did announcing for the Mickey Thompson Off Road Stadium Series as well as the World Body Boarding circuit. Cameron Steele was a class act then, and he’s a class act now. He’s done San Clemente proud.