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After climbing out of his greasy NASCAR Camping World Truck Series hot rod on a Friday afternoon, Camden Murphy soon straps into an even more fearful beast… a Monster Jam monster truck to flatten trash cars and race around a packed arena with fans on all sides.
Murphy may only be 20 years old, but he is the definition of a childhood dream.
After making his fourth career Truck Series start two weeks ago at Kansas Speedway, the Chicago native was given another opportunity to broaden his racing resume that already included NASCAR XFINITY, Monster Jam, endurance racing, road courses, short tracks, driver coaching and more.
Murphy sat down with Frontstretch to discuss his experience with Monster Jam and NASCAR, the struggle of his early years and how he earns his spot in motor racing.
Zach Catanzareti: Let’s begin with when it all started for you in racing. I don’t know if you grew up in a racing family. Many get started when they’re very young. How did it start for you?
Camden Murphy: I actually didn’t have the normal start. My family was not in racing at all in any way. I always just loved the sport and cars, really. And one day, my dad and I just thought, ‘Huh, maybe we should look into this go-karting thing people are talking about.’ So, we did. We went to the karting track, checked it out, and my dad didn’t really get the right vibe that day, there were parents yelling at their kids and stuff like that. My dad wasn’t a fan of that.
We put it on hold. Then went to a big car show in Chicago where I’m from, and we saw these cars called Mini Cup cars. We looked more into them, my dad liked how there was a roll cage around me. It was history from there. We decided, ‘Yeah, this is what we want to do.’
I kind of started late for nowadays, started 9 or 10 years old around 2006. From there, I was fortunate to have a lot of success.
Catanzareti: What did you watch growing up? Were you a NASCAR fan, Monster Jam fan?
Murphy: Absolutely, I watched both of them. I went to the Allstate Arena which is the arena by me and watched Monster Jam and the awesome shows they put on. I was a big Jeff Gordon fan, he was my favorite and I loved watching them both.
Catanzareti: Did you see those as career paths you really wanted to go down? A lot of us want to become that growing up, but you actually chased it.
Murphy: At first, it wasn’t. I just loved it and had the addiction for it. It was probably three years into my racing career, which again is not that long into it. But it took me until 12 or 13 to finally realize, ‘Wow, something is really happening here.’ At 12 years old, I got asked to drive a full-sized truck in the Midwest Truck Series. I ran a Legends car at just 12 years old.
I got asked to do these things, so I had to take a step back and at a young age ask, ‘I guess I am not that bad at this, I’m doing OK.’ Probably by the time I was 15 was when I was like, ‘Alright, dad, I think I want to pursue this.’ I did understand that the funding and all that was the challenge we were facing. We have some local partners who helped us out. We did a lot of it ourselves mechanically just learning as we go.
As you know, the sport takes a lot of knowledge. If your stuff isn’t good, then you’re not going to be good. I got help along the way and we were fortunate enough to be fairly successful.
Catanzareti: During this time, 12,13 years old, and even now, you’re balancing school. As a kid, what was it like having to be marketable while balancing school? It affects drivers differently.
Murphy: It was definitely tough. I was an average student, I wasn’t a genius. My dad always said that school came first and that if you don’t stay on the honor roll, then we’re not going racing. You have to stick with school.
And we were very adamant about it. Both my sisters are really smart, so I had something to follow up on (laughs). School is definitely really important but as far as the business side, I was told at a very young age, a gentleman walked up to me, who I’m still very good friends with today, and he said, ‘Any track you go to, you have to be presentable. Wear a polo, wear nice jeans. Look approachable, look marketable and speak very fluently and professionally because people look for stuff like that.’
Being mature at a young age is really important as you know in this sport.
Catanzareti: One thing I’ve noticed from you is your YouTube vlogs. So, you have more front-of-the-camera experience. How are you having fun with that? It must be cool to get your story out there to the watchers.
Murphy: Absolutely. My story is… I feel so much different than a lot of the others who are in the sport today. I grew up in Chicago, which is not a racing-rich town. Back to the school thing, I was kind of laughed at [because of] what I was doing. Nobody really believed in me, so it was definitely a challenge to have the support to do it.
I always had a different career, grew up on the job sites with my dad, so I didn’t grow up with a steering wheel in my hand and with all that racing knowledge. I had to learn a lot of it on my own just by watching. I paid a lot of attention to Carl Edwards, trying to see what they could do to try and be presentable. Let’s share that story.
I actually had a production company out of Winston-Salem, North Carolina, and they wanted to do a reality show on my whole life. I not only work in the shop, I just drove down from Birmingham, Alabama, yesterday and just came down to Morrisville to be here for a couple days.
I do driving coaching in road course racing, circle track, do driving schools, everything and anything you can think of. I lead such an interesting life. I do so many different things trying to make things happen, open more doors for me. When that production company approached me about doing that show, unfortunately certain rights with NASCAR were a bit of a challenge. So, I thought, ‘Well, lets do a vlog.’ That’s how it started.
Now, we are somewhat started to get rolling. There was a pause in there because of the beginning of the whole Monster Jam season. We are really going to start pushing them out and sharing my interesting story and interesting life.
Catanzareti: Go back to your school, you said you were laughed at. Does it make you really appreciate right now and being able to look back and say, ‘I guess it all worked out’?
Murphy: Yeah, definitely. It was a challenge. Actually, it’s quite coincidental, a very close middle school teacher of mine just passed away yesterday and he was a big supporter of mine. I am probably going to drive home here tomorrow just to get out there and go to the wake. I had very few teachers, even, who were supportive and he was one of them.
Whenever I had to leave school, mainly high school, was the time when I really was traveling. If I had to leave and miss a day or two of school, my high school was quite a bit of a challenge. They weren’t supportive of it.
My middle school wasn’t either, I have to be honest there. If you’re leaving for baseball, football, something like that for a tournament, ah, it’s OK. It was no problem, get it done when you can. But racing was just something that was a laughing stock for lack of better terms. At that time when I’m like, ‘Yeah, I’m going to pursue this as a career’ a lot of people were like, ‘Yeah. Sure. Whatever you say, Cam.’ Nobody ever believed in me.
I believe in proving people wrong. When somebody tells me that I can’t do something, I want to know that I can and prove them wrong. So far, I am fortunate enough to be able to do that today.
Catanzareti: You made your NASCAR debut at Martinsville in 2014 in the Truck Series. You said you started a bit late, when it came to putting that deal together. Was it a long effort or was it pretty quick?
Murphy: A long story short, I drove for a gentleman out of Nashville, Tennessee. When I was 13 or 14 — he used to be a crew chief for Bobby Dotter — he opened his doors for me and said, ‘Once we come to age and if you can track down the funding, then the doors are put for you.’
That was the little catch, the funding part. As always, for everyone. When I was 17, at the time you had to be 18. And as soon as I turned 18, they changed it to 16. But I saw that I had an open slot at Martinsville, lets try to put something together. We were fortunate enough to track down funding from friends, fellow racers and the sponsors I’ve had for the past 11 years. They all helped us out to make the debut.
It was just a stay-out-of-trouble kind of race. I wasn’t going for a stellar finish or anything. It was just to make my debut and open the door for myself and bring my name to the NASCAR world. Coming home clean condition, 21st on the lead lap at Martinsville for my debut, I was pretty proud of that.
Catanzareti: When you joined NASCAR for the first time, this whole marketing deal, did it really hit you? In NASCAR, it’s such a big deal.
Murphy: I kind of knew how important it was since I was already running off a shoe-string budget. Its tough for everyone. If it was easy, everyone would be doing it. Coming from the Chicagoland area, with people not understanding what it was all about. That’s the toughest part, selling it. Once it is sold, then they understand the whole value. Getting exposed is the tough part.
I didn’t understand it until after that, I would say. Where, OK more doors are open for me, now let’s try to track down funding. It was obviously a lot harder than I expected. I knew it would be tough but you better be ready to hear a lot of no’s. It takes a lot of those before you get one yes. Most of that time it’s more than that! It took me until a little after that before I realized how important it truly was and how difficult it was. I learned a lot, that’s for sure.
Catanzareti: When it comes to learning, you’re a couple weeks removed from your first 1.5-mile Truck Series race at Kansas Speedway. You said it was a late deal, when it came to the learning curve. How was that weekend for you? It’s been a while since you’ve been in a truck.
Murphy: Yeah, it’s definitely been a while and it was a huge learning curve. I have actually, since the end of 2014, I have been working on trying to track down the funding to run 1.5-milers. I have been trying to put together three-race deals, where I go to Chicago, Iowa and another track. Chicago is really my showpiece. If I can track down a company from Chicagoland, it’s a hometown race, mile-and-a-half, it works out perfectly for me.
Unfortunately, the Chicagoland company isn’t really interested. It was tough. I kept grinding and grinding. I had some deals come up that weren’t requiring funding and, of course, drivers with funding came along and took the rides. You’d bee surprised how many opportunities I’ve had since 2014 that I haven’t been able to take, or that I’ve had and then someone with funding comes along and takes it. I just had one a few weeks ago that happened, too.
It is what it is. But it was a big deal for a mile-and-a-half. it helps my approval process in NASCAR process with Brett Bodine and approving myself to go to more mile-and-a-halves, my XFINITY license approval process and helping me get that much closer to the superspeedways in Trucks. It was a huge deal. It was a ton of fun, unfortunately ended early due to an electrical issue. I can’t thank Copp Motorsports enough for the opportunity, last-minute deal to go out and ride around.
Catanzareti: When it comes to things like that, do you feel you have to be more selfish. I’ve spoken to drivers about deals like that and they say that have to be more focused on themselves. Do you look at it that way or if your mindset a little different?
Murphy: I had a very different childhood. I was taught to be kind to everyone and to give as much as you can and to not make any enemies. I want to be friends with everyone and I want to help everyone as much as I can. Being selfish is something that hasn’t be instilled in me, but unfortunately in this sport, you have to be in a way. I’m really trying not to be. And it’s tough and I’m sure I’m losing out on certain things by doing that.
Whenever I come down here to SS Green Light Racing, I donate all my time. It’s about building those relationships down here because that’s where you have to be. Paying my dues and hopefully getting more opportunities in return.
Catanzareti: As we talked about, you do so much in racing. You seem to be doing everything. How important is it to be varying, not to just show up and be a driver?
Murphy: It’s super, super valuable. That same person who told me to be presentable at the track is the same person who told me to work on my own stuff. That’s all we did for the longest time, my dad and I just worked on our own stuff.
With my dad not having any background information, we just learned while we went. We made a lot of mistakes along the way but we learned from those mistakes. I was always told I would be a better driver if you work on your own stuff. If you have a vibration, you may have a better idea of what that vibration might be. It’s that much more value to the team if you know the in’s and out’s of the racecar.
Catanzareti: Your NASCAR career hit its peak at Bristol last August. From all accounts, that is quite the badass track to race on. For you to make your debut at the World’s fastest Half-Mile, what was that like for you?
Murphy: That was surreal. That was, again, another last-minute deal. I got a call on the Monday or Tuesday before the race and it was an opportunity I obviously couldn’t pass up. I was very fortunate that some funding was provided for me for that one, so that was awesome.
It was amazing. My goal there was just to stay out of trouble and finish the race clean. Things can happen just as fast at Bristol as Martinsville. You’re doing 140 mph into the turn, barely letting off the gas and getting right back into it, getting spit right back out into the next corner.
I was talking to BJ McLeod right before the race and he said, ‘You have to learn how to breathe here.’ And I’m like, ‘OK… I got it. I got it.’ Of course, I appreciate and value every piece of information they give me.
Well, unfortunately, we didn’t have much practice. We couldn’t get the car fired until the last 10-15 minutes into the first practice. I got out there, did a few laps and the car needed a ton of work. And the second practice was rained out. So, we were going into qualifying winging it and she was ample.
I didn’t have much laps so I didn’t really understand the breathing just yet. So, as soon as we got out there and started racing, I started holding my breath. And I was like, ‘Ah! They were not lying! This is pretty tough!’
If you watch my vlog there, at the very end you’ll realize my camera is looking up at me. That’s because I couldn’t hold my arms up, I was out of breath. I lost that beat, and as soon as I lost it, I would hold my breath and not get it back. It was non-stop.
Murphy: In each and every race I’ve been involved in, there have bene “wow” moments. I just look back and see how fortunate I am to be doing what I’m doing. It hit me the very first race I did and that was during the National Anthem. It may be the picture that’s on my fan page, I’m not sure, it’s a picture of me standing next to the No. 08 truck, and that’s the moment it hit me and made me realize what I was doing and who I was acing against.
The whole thing just dumped on me on that moment. I had that same moment at Bristol, it was just a wow moment of, ‘Wow, I’m doing what I set out to do.’ Now, I haven’t achieved the full goal I have set, I’m on my way there, but who would’ve thought I’d be racing at Bristol with some amazing names.
Catanzareti: You’ve done one Truck race in each of the last four seasons including this one. Do you have any plans in NASCAR? You talk about being a late entry a lot of the time. Is anything ever set in stone?
Murphy: Unfortunately, with my funding situation — my parents aren’t wealthy, so I haven’t bought my way into the sport. A lot of it is just hard work and determination. I’m always trying to track down the partners. NASCAR themselves had a tough time racking down a primary corporate sponsor and these big teams have tough times. It just makes it more difficult for the little guys. I can’t afford to pay a marketing company like a lot of the young drives coming up, so I have to do it myself.
There are always plans to have stuff set in stone. I’ve had some stuff there and partners had to back out because they didn’t think they could afford to do it. I have had opportunities set, contract up and everything and they had to pull out. It’s tough when you’re a one-man band.
Catanzareti: Is it the same on the Monster Jam side? From the outside it seems different, but from the inside, is it really different?
Murphy: Absolutely. It’s actually all owned by Feld Entertainment. They also won the Ringling Brothers, who unfortunately held their last show last night after 146 years. They also do Disney On Ice, Marvel Universe, a few others. And you get hired as a driver. Driving is a part of it, but the fans are everything. If it wasn’t for the fans, we wouldn’t be able to do what we do.
It’s a completely different thing. I participate in the Monster Jam Triple Threat Series, I was part of the third installment. You go through an audition process to get into what is called Monster Jam University. You go there and basically start to audition and do some training and you’re essentially chosen out of a very large group. They train you even more and you’re put on the tour.
Catanzareti: Was that a main reason why you wanted to join? Did you see that as an opportunity you feel you could really chase?
Murphy: I’ve always loved Monster Jam. I’ve had the same love for NASCAR and Monster Jam and I’ve always wanted to do it, but I never knew how to get involved. Right now, I’m chasing other forms of motorsports, too. This weekend, I was coaching at Barber Motorsports Park in a Porsche GT4. I’ve done some endurance racing with him.
Did I see it as a different avenue? Potentially. I’ve dedicated my whole life to NASCAR. Would I love to do both at the same time? Absolutely. At some point, I will have to make a decision.
I love Monster Jam, it’s so much fun. Meeting fans, going to each city, I’m stoked and honored to be a part of Monster Jam. It’s an amazing and family-friendly company and it’s incredible to see what they can do and to bring an amazing show to thousands of fans. They are all about the fans and that’s what I love about it.
NASCAR is about the fans but not like Monster Jam. In Monster Jam, we have pit parties before the show where you come meet the drivers, see the trucks up close, meet and touch everything, take pictures with us. And we have autograph sessions after the race, too.
So, they are so about the fans and I love that about Monster Jam.
— Camden Murphy (@CamdenMurphy) April 24, 2017
Catanzareti: In NASCAR, you’re with small teams, so the fans are not as much on your back. But in Monster Jam, you’re the Pirate’s Curse, you are the guy who’s driving that awesome truck. Kids see that and love to see the driver. When it comes to fan engagement, how has that been different with Monster Jam?
Murphy: It’s so different. Like I was saying, every once in a while, we have autograph sessions at the races with NASCAR. And a lot of the times you have to set up your own PR stuff. But again, being a little guy, it’s tough to do that because I don’t have these connections.
I feel Monster Jam does it so much better than NASCAR. They make us so accessible. The kids are amazing, they look up at us and they want to be us. It’s such a humbling feeling. I love the pit parties. We have displays we travel around with, people come through the pit party and say, ‘I saw you on the news, it was awesome! Let’s get a picture!’
It’s such a humbling feeling. All these people are treating me like I’m a superstar and it’s awesome because I want to set a great example for these kids and anyone watching Monster Jam. That’s what I think Monster Jam does differently, they are just all about the fans and they do a great job. It’s so awesome to work for them.
Catanzareti: Where can NASCAR learn from Monster Jam?
Murphy: That’s a good question. I don’t know. Basically, what I said is what I think. Monster Jam does it so well and makes us so accessible and its incredible. Monster Jam World Finals, it’s something you have to go to in Las Vegas. I experienced it for the first time this year and it’s incredible.
The things they provide for the fans, the accessibility, I know I keep using that word, but it’s so true. They make us so accessible. They have more than 100 trucks on display, all sorts of games for fans to do, interact, walk the track, it’s amazing. Three days filled with tons of activities. I never realized until I went and saw it.
Basically, everything I said before. Fan interaction. Monster Jam does it so, so well.
Catanzareti: A little scenario here: if you were given a full-time NASCAR ride, how do you think that will affect your Monster Jam career? Would you be able to balance both?
Murphy: Well, that’s a really good question. And I couldn’t tell you. I love Monster Jam but I’ve also set my whole career around NASCAR. Like I said earlier, Id have to approach it when it gets here. Monster Jam, it’s so much fun, I get to travel the country to put on this show for Monster Jam fans, meet all these wonderful people. It’s humbling.
In the NASCAR world, it’s tough because you’re always battling for the funding. It gets really stressful and it beats you up a lot. With Monster Jam, I get to have so much fun and get to see all these great places. I’d have to approach it when it gets here but I don’t know.
Catanzareti: So many young kids dream of growing up to be a racecar driver. Then, there are many who dream about growing up to be a monster truck driver. Here you are, you’re 20 and you’re doing both. You’re the definition of a childhood dream, really. What is that like for you?
Murphy: It’s amazing. I did a post the other day on Facebook, I had one of those moments when it hit me again. And I realized how fortunate I was to do what I do. I’m so fortunate. I always tell people, never give up. Obviously, a lot of people say that and say, ‘ Never give up on your dreams. Never give up on this, that.’ Well, yeah, of course. Look at it as a goal. Set that goal and you’re going to do whatever it takes to achieve that goal.
I’ve traveled thousands and thousands of miles and I just look for an opportunity. I drove all the way to Alabama to help someone out, to hopefully meet more people. Then, I drove up to North Carolina to meet more people, build more relationships. I’m going to be going to Watkins Glen in the coming weeks. I’ll be driving 4,000 to 5,000 miles in the next few weeks and that is all to pursue my career to do what I do.
It’s amazing to see what I’m able to do at my young age. I’ve wanted to drive in as many things as I possibly can. I wanted to be as unique as anyone out there, that’s one thing in this sport you have to be. If you want to stand out, you have to do things differently. If I can get involved in as many different forms of motorsports as I can, that will help me in the long run. Not only that, but it makes me unique, different. You have to have your own niche.
I see a lot of the kids nowadays coming up and they don’t really have a whole lot of personality. They don’t have a lot of their voice, they have one single tone. I’ve always been taught not to do that. I want to experiment and look at any form of motorsport I can. To meet the people and know the people I know, I never thought I’d be at this point at just 20 years old. I’m so so fortunate for it. I can’t thank anyone who has helped me enough. it means so much.
I’m not done yet. I have a long way to go. I’m not letting anyone stop me, not letting anyone get in my way because I’m not stopping until I get there. And I’m not going to let anyone tell me ‘no.’