Sailing to the Finish
Journalists Al Pearce and Mike Hembree chronicle the journey of NASCAR’s best as they drive their way to that landmark first victory in 50 First Victories. With a combined ninety years of coverage of one of America’s grassroots sports, they bring a wealth of knowledge and experience to the stories of these fast-and-furious heroes, drivers who ran to the ragged edge—and often past it—in pursuit of the checkered flag. In this excerpt from the book, catch a sneak peek at Martin Truex Jr.'s path to victory.
Watching Atlantic Ocean waves roll to increasingly scary heights from the bow of a ninety-six-foot clam boat, Martin Truex Jr. figured the view through the windshield of a race car was fine, indeed.
Because his father owns a seafood business, Truex Jr. grew up on boats. As a teenager, he worked long hours at sea. None of it was fun, he remembers, but one journey stands out.
“We hit a bad storm coming home,” he said. “All the drawers were flying out. All the drawers had come out of all the cabinets in the galley. The refrigerator door had flung open, crap flying everywhere. I remember climbing up the stairs, hanging on to the railing, looking out and saying, ‘Holy hell, this is bad.’ I mean, it was nothing but white as far as you could see. It was like fourteen-foot swells we were in.
“I figured out real quick that I ought to figure out how to be good at this racing thing because I didn’t want to be working on these boats the rest of my life.”
Two-hundred-mile-per-hour laps at Daytona? Five hundred grueling laps at Bristol? A long, sweaty day at Darlington? Bring it on, thought Truex, who had mixed some short-track racing in the Northeast into his time working for his father. He described clam boat work as “dirty, stinky, cold, sweaty” and worked every angle to avoid becoming a clam boat captain. Racing was the answer.
Fast forward to June 4, 2007, and Truex completed the task of turning toward racing and making it work. In his second full season in the Cup Series, driving for Dale Earnhardt Inc., then one of racing’s top teams, he joined the list of Cup winners by dominating the Autism Speaks 400 at Dover, Delaware.
Among those celebrating was his father,
Martin Truex Sr., whose SeaWatch International company has dozens of boats and seven hundred employees. He said his son “fit right in” on his first working boat run. “He had been around it on the docks and all prior to going out,” he said. “He didn’t like it, but it made him a better race car driver. I wanted him to know what work was about. And he did well. Martin has succeeded at anything he’s ever done because he puts one hundred percent into it.”
percent into it.”
When Truex finally won, he left no questions unanswered. He led 216 of the 500 laps, including the final fifty-four, and won by 7.35 seconds over Ryan Newman. It seemed almost easy, but, of course, it wasn’t.
The Dover weekend began with Truex and his team climbing a mountain of sorts.
“In qualifying practice we were way off,” Truex remembered. “I said, ‘We need to change something big.’ We changed a whole bunch of stuff in the front-end geometry, changed the right front spindle, threw a bunch of stuff at it.
“Then when I started the final practice, I thought, ‘Holy crap. This thing is awesome.’”
And it was. On a fast, tough track that tends to eat race cars and makes runaway victories rare, Truex sailed home with few worries.
“It was back in those days when so much about the car [the oddly configured Car of Tomorrow] was new, and you could find something,” he said. “And we did. It was incredible.”
For the son of a fisherman, it seemed entirely appropriate that Truex screamed “Holy mackerel!” into his team radio after crossing the checkered flag.
He had landed the big one.