- Tim Tucker
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After this week, Preston Clark could be considered the John Madden of BASS.
Like the famous football coach-turned-broadcaster whose dislike for flying has him traveling cross country in a motor coach, the Palatka, Fla., pro's similar phobia has prompted him to drive to the Busch Shootout.
And that has posed some interesting challenges since the Shootout is being held on a mystery lake or river the site that the 13 qualifiers will learn when they arrive Thursday. Reminiscent of the early Bassmaster Classic days, the Shootout competitors will be told the exact location of the lucrative specialty event at a press conference in the host city.
So you can see the challenge involved in keeping Clark in the dark, so to speak, as he drives toward the scene of the Shootout after leaving Wednesday around noon.
"I have no idea where I'm going," he admits. "I've had everybody and his brother calling to tell me where they heard the tournament is going. So I don't have a clue."
Clark's vehicle has been outfitted with phone containing a GPS unit so that BASS tournament director Trip Weldon can monitor his progress, as well as a dash-mounted camcorder that will record a video diary of his trip.
"Trip is going to keep track of me and calling me on my cell phone, telling me to take a left or a right," he says. "He will tell me what road to start on and what direction to drive. Then I guess he's going to see where I'm at then tell me when I have a turn coming. I'm not exactly sure how it's going to work."
Weldon offered a hint of where the Shootout will be located when he asked Clark how far he could drive in a day. When the CITGO Bassmaster Elite Series winner replied that 15 hours was his limit, Weldon informed him to plan on a two-day trip.
"I've heard Okeechobee, Logan Martin, Amistad I have no idea," Clark says. "It wouldn't surprise me if it was somewhere in Texas. I don't think we're going to Table Rock again since the Shootout was there last year."
All because of his irrational fear of flying.
"I don't like to fly. I'm scared to death of it. I hate it," Clark insists. "Every time I get off of the ground I think of my wife and kids. I know it's supposed to be safe, but my hands aren't on the wheel.
"So I just asked (BASS officials) if there was any way we could get around it. They've been great working with me. They didn't have a problem with it. I told them that if it was more than a two-day drive that I'd be happy to fly, but if there was any way we could get around it I'd appreciate it."
Clark, who qualified for the Shootout with his Classic catch of 29 pounds, 1 ounce, last flew about six months ago when he went home a few days between tournaments.
"The flight was perfect. I've never been on a bad one. They've all been all right; it's just that my stomach stays up in my throat the whole time we're in the air."
And how he is getting plenty of attention for his Madden-like madness, including his video diary that will be part of the television coverage of the CITGO Bassmasters show on ESPN2.
"It's great how it's turned out. I surely wasn't planning on this. I offered to drive down and pick up a BASS official to ride with me. But they decided to put a (GPS) in my truck instead. It's working out great."
Busch Shootout qualifiers
Preston Clark, CITGO Bassmaster Classic qualifier, 29-01
Joe Conway, BASS Federation Championship, 15-7
Mike McClelland, CITGO Bassmaster Open Championship, 17-12
Ishama Monroe, Lake Amistad, Texas, 34-01
Aaron Martens, Santee Cooper Res., S.C, 32-10
Mike Wurm, Santee Cooper Res., S.C, 32-04
Kevin Wirth, Santee Cooper Res., S.C., 31-15
Jimmy Mize, Lake Amistad, Texas, 31-14
Ken Cook, Lake Amistad, Texas, 31-10
Fred Roumbanis, Lake Amistad, Texas, 28-01
Denny Brauer, Lake Champlain, N.Y., 23-04
Greg Hackney, Lake Sam Rayburn, Texas, 22-02
Michael Iaconelli, Lake Guntersville, Ala., 22-01
Preston Clark's disdain for flying has prompted the Palatka, Fla., pro to road trip to the mystery location of the 2006 Busch Shootout.