When it came to racing motorcycles, Cam Petersen didn’t really have a choice. “I’ve been riding bikes since I was four years old,” he says. “My dad and his three brothers raced all around the world, and I can’t remember a time when I wasn’t around bikes. Racing was inevitable.”
So when Petersen won the Stock 1000 championship earlier in October, the casual observer might think the victory was effortless for the 25-year-old from South Africa. In reality, it was the result of years of hard work and perseverance in the face of many hardships that would have overwhelmed others.
“My first bike was a hand-me-down Yamaha PW50 from my sister,” recalls Petersen. “It was pink and white.” He spent his youth and teens racing dirt bikes in Zimbabwe, never really showing an interest in road racing. But after suffering 16—yes, 16!—concussions, it became time to change. “Mum said no more!” he says. In 2004, the family moved from Zimbabwe to Johannesburg, South Africa. “I had a lot of support in South Africa, and thanks to my dad’s connections, I started road racing a Honda CVR 150.”
Petersen moved up through the ranks in 2010, racing a Honda 600 and turned pro in 2011. “That was my first full year competing with the big guys at the national level, and in 2013, I won the championship. After that, I started looking around for rides.” In 2015, he found a place with Road Race Factory, based in Fort Collins, Colorado. “My dad and I flew from Johannesburg to Washington, D.C. When we landed, it was -17 degrees Fahrenheit and I’d never seen snow. I was wearing shorts and a tank top. I remember wondering what I’d gotten myself into!”
Petersen struggled for the first few races of the season, but he notched a podium finish and a few top-five finishes toward the end of the season. “That season was a shock to the system,” he says. “In South Africa I was always very strong, but the competition here was on a whole other level. I was running two seconds slower, and I’d never been that slow in my life.” Despite showing flashes of success, Petersen decided to call it quits in 2017. “My dad had spent so much money and my whole family had made such huge sacrifices for me. I wanted them to enjoy the life they deserved.”
Petersen stayed in the racing scene, teaching and training. Then, in a scene straight out of the movies, Honda came calling. “I opened the letter offering me a ride with the Honda factory team for 2018 on Christmas morning,” he relates. “My whole family started crying!” The joy was short-lived, however, and Petersen’s hopes soon came crashing back to reality. “The bike was having terrible electric problems,” he says. “I managed a few top fives but overall it was so bad that Honda and the team pulled out after the 2018 season.”
It looked like 2019 would be a lost season when Petersen got a ride with the Omega Yamaha team. “It was a last-minute deal, and this was the team’s first season in Superbike. Unfortunately, they just didn’t have the budget, and we had DNF after DNF. It was the hardest season of my life.”
Hagerty first witnessed Cam race at Road America in 2019 and of it, a sponsorship was born for Petersen and the Omega Moto team. “Cam maintained a great attitude despite multiple mechanical issues with the bike throughout 2019,” says Kyle Bowen, motorcycle program manager for Hagerty.
Petersen found it impossible to get a ride for 2020. “I spoke to everybody I could, but nobody wanted me to ride for them.” Now living in Corona, California, Petersen went to a Supercross race in San Diego in February of this year. Father and son found themselves sitting in front of Chris Ulrich, who happened to own Team Hammer, one of the teams competing that day. “He started talking to my dad about what I was doing and within 30 minutes, he was on the phone to George Nassaney, the owner of Altus Motorsports. The next day, George called me. We got the ball rolling and the next thing you know, I had a ride lined up for 2020.”
For the 2020 season, Hagerty continued its support of Petersen as well as his new team, Altus Motorsports. Riding a Suzuki in the Stock 1000 class of MotoAmerica, Petersen had an incredible season, winning nine out of 13 races and only missed the podium once. The season ended with Petersen clinching the Stock 1000 championship at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway on October 10, 2020. “I was surrounded with great people, but I especially owe much of my success to my mechanic, Melissa Paris. What she did for me was incredible. Things weren’t too good at the beginning of the season, but she really busted her butt to make things happen and we improved every race. Her passion and dedication were amazing.”
In addition to winning the Stock 1000, Petersen raced his Suzuki 1000 in the Superbike class. “The difference between my bike and the Superbike class is about forty horsepower and $150,000 in equipment,” he notes. “I was actually pretty competitive, and I won the Superbike Cup, which is awarded to the first-place stock bike in the Superbike class.”
Petersen is grateful for his 2020 season and is looking forward to 2021. “I’ve been talking to some factory teams and I’ve got some pretty good opportunities,” he says. “I realize this year was difficult for a lot of people, and they are in my thoughts. On the track, this season was a lot of fun for me and I can’t wait to show people what I can do next year.”