Ferré Using Strong Work Ethic To Forge Career In Top Fuel

While overcoming an estranged relationship with his family, trying to compete in questionable equipment, and healing from ghastly facial burns, little did NHRA professional nitro-class racer Terry Haddock know he would be a mentor in the sport.

But he is today, with Road to the Future Award candidate Cameron Ferré driving his Top Fuel dragster. And one of his prime pieces of advice has been especially inspiring.

“When I first started driving for him, he would strap me in, and he would say, ‘You know, Cameron, regardless of what everybody says or does, you’re strapping into a Top Fuel dragster, and there’s about 30,000 people in the stands who wish they were in your seat right now. And you can say you’re one of only about 50 people in the world doing this right now. And that’s pretty cool.’

Photos by Chris Sears

“And when you think about it,” Ferré said, “that’s pretty cool. We may not win every round, but we’re out here doing it.”

It’s not the only amazing thing Ferré has done. The day before the Summit Racing Equipment Nationals kicked off at Norwalk, Ohio, he worked his shift as marketing manager at Racepak Data in Southern California, buzzed over to Compton College to teach his Auto Body and Collision Repair students, dashed home to Huntington Beach to grab his suitcase and kiss wife Angelina (production department at McLeod Clutches and daughter of longtime racer Tim Boychuk) and baby son Jett goodbye for three days, and caught the red-eye flight to Cleveland. He landed at 10 a.m. that Friday, drove an hour to the racetrack, dived elbow-deep into his dragster, and grabbed the provisional No. 15 spot in the first qualifying session by dinner-time. He ended up missing the cut that weekend. But it certainly isn’t because he didn’t give 100-percent effort.

“I’m not afraid of hard work. If I was afraid of hard work, I would have given up a long time ago,” he said.

I’m very grateful to have to opportunities I’ve had. I don’t want to stop until I become a successful drag racer. That’s what I set out to do when I was eight years old. Now we’re here, and I can at least say I’m living it. – Cameron Ferre

Ferré worked full-time while attending Cal State Fullerton and in 2013, which he said “seems like an eternity ago,” earned a Bachelor’s degree in communications and marketing.

But even that’s not the only amazing thing Ferré has done. The 33-year-old has a podcast with Top Sportsman racer Don O’Neal titled “Racers In Rental Cars.” O’Neal, who raced for 12 of his 27 years in the sportsman ranks while serving in the U.S. Army, is, like Ferré, a marketing specialist, whose Evansville, Ind.-headquartered company identifies, develops, and executes B2B and B2C programs. So the two of them have teamed for more than 30 episodes devoted to motorsports business and marketing.

Their podcast partnership was born not in the pits but rather in corporate communications. Although they already were friends through racing, their paths converged in their 9-to-5 lives, as well, for O’Neal was one of Racepak’s strongest distributors. And the match has been a popular one, for the weekly show “has been going really, really well,” Ferré said. “We kind of thought it was a joke at first. We look at the numbers every week, and we’re just flabbergasted at how many people listen and how many people are interested. Every race I’ve been to this year, a handful of people come up and say, ‘Wow. I listen to your podcast.’ And I think, ‘Oh my gosh – you listen to that?’ It’s crazy to think.”

“We talk about motorsports business, marketing, and yes, we reference what’s going on in the industry. It’s heavy drag racing, but we also talk about drifting, Monster Trucks, NASCAR, whatever, as long as it’s business-related,” he said. “I think people like that. There’s a lot of other awesome podcasts out there. We didn’t want to copy. So we went with a different angle, and people seem to like it.”

Those aren’t the only amazing feats of Cameron Ferré. To help fund his racing habit that started with a Jr. Dragster and has moved through the Super Comp, nitro nostalgia Funny Car, and Top Alcohol Dragster classes up to Top Fuel, he was an actor. His credits include the role of Pudge in the 1998 film “Jack Frost” that starred Michael Keaton and Kelly Preston and as a World War II re-enactor in “Saints and Soldiers” (2003). So he’s a bit of a modern-day “TV Tommy” Ivo – with dynamic ideas and energy to match.

But Ferré is like Haddock, in that he doesn’t come from a racing family. His family, notably dad Brian and brother Travis, could relate to Funny Car journeyman Jeff Diehl – they’re surfers.

“My family has been in the auto-body industry forever. My dad does it, and I fell into it,” Ferré said. “My dad never raced anything. He was always the guy who fixed everything. He has a custom graphics business. He has always painted helmets, hot rods, racecars, and all that stuff. He was always a huge drag racing fan. We raced motorcycles when I was a kid, but he never had a racecar.

“We were at Pomona Raceway, delivering a helmet he had painted, when I saw the Jr. Dragsters on display. And I said, ‘Dad! I want to do that!’ I was always one of those kids who was always into something faster. My parents (including mom Tammy) are some of the coolest people you’ll ever meet. They always said, ‘Chase your dreams. Pursue what you want to pursue.’ My dad was able to get the best of both worlds. He got to surf around the world with my brother, and he gets to travel the country with me and race when he’s available.” Sister Taylor is a physical therapist, who’s standing by in case she needs to repair the bodies that Dad can’t restore.

Maybe most amazing is the position Ferré is in to help the sport grow.

He’s one of the fresh faces in the Top Fuel class, along with Austin Prock, Jordan Vandergriff, and Audrey Worm. Hoping to join them full-time soon are Justin Ashley, Jasmine Salinas, Ashley Sanford, and Brandon Welch.

“There’s quite a little contingent of ‘kids’ coming in now, which is really cool.  When you look at drag racing as a whole, there are a ton of bracket racers, a ton of Jr. Dragster kids. We get jaded – we look at Top Fuel or Funny Car and say, ‘Oh, there’s no young people.’ But there really are. They just don’t always choose to go the Top Fuel – Funny Car route. And there’s nothing wrong with that. But with Austin and Jordan and Ashley and all of us, there’s a contingent of kids and they want to do it. We’re going to keep the generation alive. They all seem super-cool and have really good heads on their shoulders. Hopefully all of us will be here to stay. As long as we can keep the marketing world flowing in the drag racing world, we can stay out there. Hopefully with this pool of talent, we can continue,” Ferré said. “It’s not just for old [folks]. There’s a handful of us who are wanting to change that.

And credit goes to Haddock for that.

“He has done more for me in the past 12 races than a lot of people have. He has put himself out there and given me an opportunity,” Ferré said. “He’s out there doing it. There’s a lot of people who talk about it, and Terry’s a guy who’s out there doing it. I give him major props for that.

“As we know, these things are super-expensive, and a lot of it is money-money-money. And he looked at me with his heart and said, ‘Hey, man, I want to help you get an opportunity.’ And I’m super-grateful to him for that. I can try to do the same. Not coming from a motorsports background or a racing family, it’s a little tougher.

“But if Terry had the amount of money as he does heart, he’d be John Force 10 times over,” Ferré said.

“I’m very grateful to have to opportunities I’ve had. I don’t want to stop until I become a successful drag racer. That’s what I set out to do when I was eight years old. Now we’re here, and I can at least say I’m living it,” he said.

Haddock is happy Ferré drives his dragster, because that allows him to concentrate on his Funny Car, his favorite of the two. Haddock was the 2008 IHRA Funny Car champion.

“That’s kind of what we do. The funding that I’m able to bring or I’m trying to work on getting kind of helps him run the Funny Car, Ferré said. “So he’s helping me, and I’m helping him a little bit. As we acquire more funding, we can make more qualifying laps in both cars and put on a better show. We work on stuff together.”

I’m not afraid of hard work. If I was afraid of hard work, I would have given up a long time ago. – Cameron Ferre

It’s not exactly John Force-Austin Coil redux, but sometimes it seems that way. After all, Coil knew cars and Force knew marketing. Haddock never has mastered marketing, although he has remained on the professional drag-racing scene for more than 20 seasons by his doggedness and friendship-forging. And he always remembers the advice Force gave him when he was beginning to learn that being prepared always trumps racing on a shoestring and hoping people recognize your passion.

Today he’s a bit chagrined that he operated on the latter practice, looking back at times when his Funny Car often caught fire. “I was in a car I shouldn’t have been in,” Haddock said. “It wasn’t safe, but you think, ‘It’ll never happen to me.’ I wanted to drive so bad that I’d drive anything. At the time, I thought people would see me, see how hard I was working to make it. I didn’t realize that Corporate America doesn’t work that way. Being in any old car makes you look bad.”

So he has provided Ferré and others cars that will keep them safe. But in the meantime, he has held onto the advice Force gave him: “You see all this stuff? Someday you’ll have all of it, because you have the heart to work hard for it.” Haddock said, “As a kid, I used to watch drag racing on TV and decided that someday I wanted to drive a nitro car. Of course, when you’re 10 you have a lot of dreams that never amount to much. But I held on to that dream.”

Haddock said of Force, “He knows how stupid I am. I’m not smart enough to quit. He told me his stories, and I realized I’m not the only one who did dumb things just to race — you know, things like not paying my rent one month because I needed the money for the car. I thought I was the only one who did stupid stuff like that. I’m a guy who started out with nothing. I didn’t come from a privileged background.”

He shared that, asking for neither pity nor praise, but just a fair shot.

And that’s what Haddock is giving Ferré.

Sounding a bit like The Original John Force, Ferré said he hasn’t thought ahead to 2020: “I’m just trying to get to Epping” [for the July 5-7 national event at New England Dragway]. But he knows Haddock’s route will be his, too: hard work, victories in small increments, but ultimately success.

“We’re doing the best we can,” he said. “The goal is to do this full-time on a professional, make-a-living-at-it basis. That’s my end goal. But you’ve got to walk before you can run, and I understand that. I’m doing everything I possibly can to make that all come to fruition one of these days.”

And that might be the most amazing thing Cameron Ferré will say he did.

About the author

Susan Wade

Celebrating her 45th year in sports journalism, Susan Wade has emerged as one of the leading drag-racing writers with 20 seasons at the racetrack. She was the first non-NASCAR recipient of the prestigious Russ Catlin Award and has covered the sport for the Chicago Tribune, Newark Star-Ledger, St. Petersburg Times, and Seattle Times. Growing up in Indianapolis, motorsports is part of her DNA. She contributes to Power Automedia as a freelancer writer.
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