The urge to go fast arrived long after Martin Truex, Jr., felt the satisfaction of life going slow. By the time he was in his teen years and began tinkering with go-karts and racing them at a track in central New Jersey, Truex was a veteran of the outdoors – an avid fisherman and hunter who had been on the water and in the woods most of his life.
“I can remember as a young kid my dad and his buddies going out fishing, taking me along,” Truex says. “I can remember sitting with him in a box blind when I was 5 years old – freezing my butt off. I’m so grateful he did that for me. Because it’s something I just fell in love with.”
The passion for fishing and hunting continues today for Truex, although his full-time job keeps interfering with his outdoor excursions.
In 2017, for the first time in his 15-year NASCAR career, Truex won the wildly popular Monster Energy Series, which is not only the premier car racing circuit in the U.S., but also one of the most demanding competitions in the sports world. The NASCAR season consists of 36 races in 17 states across the U.S. and lasts 280 days from the first to last race. That does not include prep time. A short off-season doesn’t leave a lot of time for hobbies, no matter how passionate Truex is about them.
“During the season, I don’t get out enough,” Truex says. “I probably get about three weeks during the winter time when it’s deer season and a few other times in the racing off-season, but I don’t know. Maybe I get 15 days a year hunting. I get to fish a bit more because there are some lakes on the circuit that I like to hit when I get a chance. Sometimes on a Saturday after practice, I go out for a couple of hours. And when I’m home in North Carolina, sometimes early in the week on a Monday or Tuesday, I get out. But it’s a long schedule.”
Genes and environment are partially responsible for the affinity Truex has with the outdoors. He was part of a huge Truex clan raised in Mayetta, N.J., a tiny unincorporated community within Stafford Township about 40 miles north of Atlantic City. His grandparents started the family history in Mayetta by having five children, which eventually led to 17 grandchildren, 21 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren. With so many relatives around and so much land and water to explore, the area was “a great place to grow up,” Truex says.
Adam Sherer became friends with Truex in grade school in large part because of their shared passion for the outdoors.
“It’s easy for a child or a young adult from this area to get involved in outdoors because it is a way of life,” says Sherer, who still lives in Stafford Township, where he is a police officer. “There are so many people around here who do it and there are so many opportunities. If you’re from the inner city in New York or Philadelphia, it’s difficult to get on your bike and go fishing after school or on the weekends. And if you don’t have transportation, you can’t go hunting. This area affords that. I grew up where I could just walk right down the street and catch bluefish or striper anytime I wanted. After school, if I wanted to go duck hunting, I hopped in a canoe and went out there and did it. Being from this area is definitely conducive to that sort of lifestyle.”
Truex’s father, Martin Truex, Sr., owned a commercial fishing business and was an avid outdoorsman, which helped endear his son to the outdoor lifestyle. “I just grew up around it with my dad and my family,” Truex says. “It was something that I was exposed to at a very early age, and I loved it right away, especially fishing. I don’t know what it was, but I loved catching fish. So I would get on my bike, go to the lake and fish every chance I got.”
Truex’ father also had a major impact on his son’s racing career. Martin Sr. competed in two NASCAR minor series – the Busch Series and Craftsman Truck Series – but as a part-time driver. In seven years, he competed in only 15 races. “He had a business to run and a family to take care of,” Martin Jr., says. “He raced because he loved to do it. His knowledge of racing and what it takes to succeed helped to guide me. When I was 20 years old, I wasn’t worried about how I was going to get to the Monster Energy Series. I just wanted to race. But he saw the talent level and kind of guided me and helped me learn lessons that got me to where I am today.”
There is little in common between the experience of racing a car and fishing and hunting. When Truex is rocketing around the race track, his No. 78 Toyota can hit speeds of 200 miles per hours. When he is in a boat, there are days when he might get two bites in an hour. But as different as his profession and hobbies are, there is one part of his makeup that doesn’t change.
“The great thing about fishing is the relaxation part of it,” he says. “Getting out where your phone doesn’t work and just enjoying God’s great outdoors. That’s a huge part of it for me. There’s nothing more peaceful and relaxing than going out fishing. But at the same time, if I’m going to do something, I’m always going to give it all I have to be good at it. So I take it pretty seriously.”
After admitting that, Truex laughs. Searing competitiveness is a fundamental part of a NASCAR driver’s personality. It takes incredible drive and determination to race 400 or 500 miles around a 2.5 mile oval at speeds twice as fast as any highway in the country with only inches separating cars that weigh more than 3,000 pounds. Whatever that trait is called, NASCAR drivers have it in abundance. So even though a trip to a local lake is supposed to be fun, there is an urge to be the one who catches the most fish the fastest. It’s not exactly like being the No. 1 NASCAR driver, which Truex was in 2017, but it is rewarding.
“I get just as excited and the feeling of accomplishment is definitely there when I have a milestone in the outdoors,” Truex says. “It’s not really the same because it’s not a career achievement or a life-changing event. It’s more about personal satisfaction. The seriousness of my outdoor side is getting satisfaction from catching a giant fish or the first kill on property I own or things like that. That’s personal satisfaction. That’s not for anybody else to care about or talk about. That’s just for me. That’s part of the special thing about hunting and fishing. And enjoying the outdoors is the personal satisfaction. I don’t care what anybody else thinks about that deer. I know what it took and I know what it means to me and that’s what’s so special about it.”
If the average fan of any sport understands the feeling Truex describes, it is the racing fan. In a 2016 consumer survey commissioned by NASCAR, 54 percent of people who describe themselves as racing fans said they enjoyed outdoor activities. That was 40 percent higher than any other sport. NASCAR fans also are 50 percent more likely to own fishing and hunting equipment, 55 percent more likely to own a boat, 90 percent more likely to own an ATV and two and a half times more likely to read fishing, hunting and outdoor recreation magazines.
“NASCAR fans are outdoor people and vice versa,” Truex says. “Without a doubt, there is a connection. I don’t know what it is about our personalities, but we all definitely seem to have an interest in doing the same things.”
During a race, that racing-outdoors connection is no farther away than the hood of Truex’ car. One of his strongest sponsors is Bass Pro Shops and their logo adorns the hood of the No. 78 Camry. To wit, Bass Pro Shops proudly displays his clothing line.
So how could a kid from Jersey dream that he one day would have his own line of merchandise and apparel – and not just hats, but t-shirts, sweatshirts and jackets for men, women and kids? For those so inclined, Martin Truex, Jr., official merchandise includes earrings, Christmas ornaments and baby bibs.
His favorite apparel items, however, are the ones that are camouflage green – always fashionable in the woods or on the lake – and he says he may add some outdoor-related merchandise in the future.
“Anything with camo is cool for me,” Truex says. “To have Bass Pro sponsor me and be part of that, have camo on my fire suits and on the racecar, has been really fun because that’s just me. It’s who I am and who I’m about – being real and promoting things I actually like. I’ve been so lucky to be able to do that.”
Although his popularity is increasing (his Twitter followers increased from 250,000 three years ago to 438,000 at press time) he still embraces his New Jersey roots, which includes spending time with his grade school buddy, Adam Sherer.
“We have pretty busy schedules,” Sherer says, “but we still get together several times out of the year to go fishing or hunting. We met up last year in Cape Cod and he caught some tuna with me and a bunch of striped bass. We get in a couple of deer hunts or duck hunts somewhere along the line. We just kind of hang out but we don’t talk about racing. We talk about fishing, fishing gear, archery, guns, different types of bow hunting – pretty much everything else. When he goes to autograph sessions or just meets people, all they want to talk about is racing. I feel like he gets tired of it, so we always about other stuff.”
Talking about other stuff is a product of winning, which Truex embraces because the climb to the top was a slow one. In his first 11 years in the top series, which has changed sponsors several times but is now known as the Monster Energy Series, Truex never made the top 10. He broke through in 2015 when he finished fourth, but fell back to 11th in 2016 before winning it last year at age 37. He had a slow start in 2018, finishing outside the top 10 in his first three races. But then he had a five-race stretch when he finished in the top five with one victory, two fourth and two fifth place finishes. That, of course, thrilled his fan base, which gets larger and larger with each triumph.
“The popularity of NASCAR doesn’t surprise me because I have been a huge fan since I was young,” Truex says. “But to have the popularity I have is something I never expected. I don’t see myself that way. I get to drive a car for a living and I feel lucky to be able to do that. But it doesn’t make me any more special than anyone else. I view myself as a completely normal person.”
And it is precisely that humility that has made Truex so special to NASCAR fans, especially those who share his unabashed enthusiasm for the outdoors.