Whittie earns national auto racing title

Bailey Arango

Cameron Benner '13 prepares for a race. Photo contributed by Benner.

Cameron Benner, a Whitman sophomore, hits 145 miles per hour on the same Fontana, Calif. racetrack that has claimed the lives of several drivers and has been navigated by racing legends like Dale Earnhardt and Jeff Gordon when his motor explodes. As coolant fluid covers his windshield, completely obscuring his vision, Cameron is faced with two seconds of blindness, and, as Benner put it, “when you’re going that fast, two seconds is an eternity.”

Benner’s engine mishap, which he escaped without a scratch, could hardly have come at a worse time for his racing season; by the time the Redline Time Attack, the auto racing circuit Benner competes on, hit its late-November Fontana races, Benner was in position to lock up the Time Attack championship for 2010. Instead, Benner and his racing team found themselves without a working engine less than a day before their next run. Benner, renowned in the racing community for poise well beyond his years, didn’t skip a beat.

“At Fontana, we were going for the track record when we lost our motor, and I just said, ‘Okay guys, can we do this? Can we rebuild this motor in ten hours and have it running the next day?’ And we all just said, yeah, we can do it. So we made some phone calls and got working, and we had the motor back in that car in less than 12 hours.”

Although Benner and his COBB Tuning motorsports team did not win at Fontana, their strong showing was enough to lock up Benner’s first championship, a feat he credits to his crew.

“Coming back like that at Fontana was a testament to what committed drivers and engineers are able to accomplish. I attribute most of my success to the people that I brought down to work with me, to build my car, to help at the track.”

Yet after winning his tour’s highest honor at the age of 21, Benner’s next move may be his most surprising: faced with juggling his schoolwork and his burgeoning racing career, Benner chose textbooks over tight turns.

“This last semester it was really hard to balance both racing and Whitman. What I’m really interested in is science, and at the point where racing is really taking away from that, and then the pursuit of academics is taking away from racing, the activities were so discordant that I realized you couldn’t do them together.”

For his first time as a Whittie, Cameron Benner won’t spend his weekends flying to races, but will instead spend the school year focusing on his schoolwork, staying in the racing world only as an instructor to less-experienced drivers.

“I do want to do racing, I’m good at it, but as I’m going to be an instructor. I’m going to be able to keep those ties and learn the business aspect of it without the intense traveling.”

And so it is that Benner, a professional auto racing champion barely into his second year of college, is getting prepared to tackle his hardest challenge yet.

“Really, I’m just getting ready to figure out what my major is.”