Racing to woods and water


Editor's note: To accompany Deer Camp '09, we've asked athletes, prominent figures and outdoorsmen to relate their first deer kill.

NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr's stats indicate 2009 wasn't a great year, but toward the end things started to look up.

For one thing, Truex, 29, got his first top 5 finish of the season in November at the Checker O'Reilly Auto Parts 500 in Phoenix. Also in November, Truex killed his biggest buck ever while bowhunting in west central Illinois.

The 8-pointer weighed 255 pounds and green-scored 150. The cool part is the hunt was filmed, and it's expected to air next year on Mystik's Driven to Hunt on ESPN2, and Realtree's Monster Bucks.

Truex said he enjoys the relaxation that comes from hunting, a stark contrast from the pressures of racing, but it's the anticipation of seeing a buck-of-a-lifetime that makes his engine rev.

However, it's tough to squeeze in a hunt with his hectic schedule, especially a bowhunt, which is his true passion. While it would be nice to have 7 to 10 days, in reality Truex feels lucky to occasionally slip off on Sunday nights and hunt 3 or 4 days before the next race.

Still, he's managed to cram some amazing hunts between weekends at the race track. Last year he knocked down a 1,000-plus pound, 6 x 6 elk while hunting with Realtree's Bill Jordan in New Mexico. He also enjoys hunting turkeys, pheasants and ducks.

While these dream hunts are a thrill, some of Truex's best memories are growing up hunting southern New Jersey's Pine Barrens region with his father and uncles.

Truex describes himself as an outdoor kid who enjoyed playing in the woods with his cousins, building tree forts, riding four-wheelers and hunting and fishing. Video games were only something you did when the sun went down.

His cites the first whitetail he ever bagged as his most memorable hunt. Truex said he was about 13 or 14 years old when he traveled to Texas with his dad, uncles and cousins for his first out-of-state hunt.

While he had seen a fair amount of deer in New Jersey, he was blown away by the parade of deer coming toward his box blind as the sun was popping over the horizon. Truex estimates he saw at least 30 whitetails that day, but it only took one nice buck to make him the happiest kid in the world.

Fishing was also a big deal when Truex was a kid. He grew up doing a lot of salt water and freshwater fishing near his hometown of Mayetta, N.J. When he was older, he spent his days fishing for the family-owned seafood business before he got into racing at age 18.

Now that he lives in North Carolina, he enjoys fishing at nearby Lake Norman in the spring and summer. He's even won a couple of fishing tournaments. He also enjoys spending time on the water with his girlfriend, Sherry, who sometimes joins him for a little fishing and relaxing. Truex also said she shoots a bow well, but he's not sure she would enjoy hunting.

One person Truex may be able to convert is his younger brother Ryan, the latest racing phenom in the Truex clan. Ryan, 17, won NASCAR's Camping World Series East title in September 2009, making it the first championship for Michael Waltrip Racing.

While Ryan followed in his father's and brother's racing footsteps, being 12 years younger than Martin, he missed out on the family hunting and fishing trips. As a result, he's not as avid a sportsman as his older brother. Martin got Ryan a bow to spark his interest, though, and hopes to get him hooked on hunting if they can get away this winter.

However, Martin's mentoring time may be in short supply this year. He recently said goodbye to primary sponsor Bass Pro Shops, crew chief Kevin Manion and other teammates at Earnhardt Ganassi Racing to drive the No. 56 Toyota for Michael Waltrip Racing next season.

As he enters his fifth year of racing in the Sprint Cup Series, he's got a steep learning curve ahead of him. He's optimistic about his future working with new crew chief Pat Tryson but knows the off season will be short as he works to wrap his arms around a new car, new crew and new ways of doing things.

Another passion that keeps Truex busy is the Martin Truex Jr Foundation. Created in 2007, MTJ Foundation strives to help children in need.

Truex said he always dreamed of making it to the big leagues of NASCAR racing. And now that he has, he is committed to giving back by supporting nonprofit charitable organizations with limited budgets but unlimited dedication to helping kids experience the same kind of happy childhood Truex enjoyed.

With the Daytona 500 just a few months away, Truex is working hard to get his ducks in a row. And no doubt hoping he can sneak off to bag a few ducks, too.