Martin Truex Jr. has proven...
Martin Truex Jr. has proven to be a valuable find for Dale Earnhardt Jr.and the Chance 2 team.
Martin Truex Jr. was toiling in racing's minor leagues when another racing junior tabbed him to drive for Chance 2, a fledgling Busch Series team. The New Jersey native has responded quite well, winning four of the first dozen Busch races this season. Truex Jr. sat down with Stock Car Racing at California Speedway and discussed his fast ride to racing glory.
SCR: Tell us how you became involved with Dale Earnhardt Jr. Howdid that come about?
TRUEX: Well, it's all due to [DEI Director of Motorsports] RichieGilmore, really. The best man in his wedding was on the pit crew of myBusch North team. Rich is from New Hampshire and so is this other guythat was helping me, Jerry. He had been watching and they were startingthe Busch team and they were looking for some young guy to get in thereand have somebody that could move up in the organization as driver, andRichie mentioned me. There really wasn't too much question about it onJunior's side. He had a lot of faith in Richie's word and they nevertested the drivers or anything. The next thing I knew it was my job, andI didn't have to try to do anything for it.
SCR: So obviously from that you and Junior hit it off right offthe bat?
TRUEX: Yeah, when we talked the first time it was the fall raceat Richmond in 2002. We had taken my dad's car there to test and Juniorwas there testing his Chance2 car for the first race they were going torun. Richie introduced me and we got to talking and sat there shootingbull and seemed to get along pretty good.
SCR: How much input does Junior have into your deal as far asdriving tips, setups, that sort of thing?
TRUEX: Actually, not that much, unless I ask. We don't talk muchabout racing when we're not at the track. We just hang out and have funand do things to keep our mind off it, it seems. He just kind of lets medo my own thing now.
SCR: So, what do you talk about, girls?
TRUEX: Oh yeah, I love that. Whatever's fun, you know girls andwhat we want to do. But we race a lot on the computer together. Justhang out and chill out.
SCR: Yeah, I've heard about the racing on the computer you guysdo; how does that go?
TRUEX: Good, we spend a lot of time on there; obviously I thinkit helps both of us a lot on the race track.
Thirteen years after receiving...
Thirteen years after receiving his first go-kart, Truex Jr. is one ofthe top young drivers in the sport.
TRUEX: Everybody asks that. I always tell them the truth--I beathim most of the time.
SCR: By most, do you mean like 75 percent of the time.
TRUEX: Unless I crash or something.
SCR: Now if we ask him, is he going to say he wins 75 percent ofthe time?
TRUEX: No, he'll tell you I beat him most of the time.
SCR: You two seem like you have a lot in common. Obviously yousaid you hit it off real well, and you both have basically the samepersonality, the same lack of arrogance and both seem to be verypersonable. Do you have a lot in common besides the obvious--that youboth race for a living?
TRUEX: Sure, yeah, everything. We like to do all the same stuffit seems like. He doesn't like to fish too much, but I love to fish.That's about the only thing we don't [have in common]. But we just gotus a bass boat, so I'm going to take it. It's half his and half mine,but he'll never use it, so it'll be all mine.
SCR: So you come from an area where you did a lot of fishing,and your family is involved in the clamming business?
TRUEX: Yeah, we lived right on the shore and I did a lot offishing growing up, in the bay and stuff.
SCR: So the Bass Pro Shop sponsorship really fits your lifestyle?
TRUEX: Yeah, it's cool. It's a pretty cool sponsor for me.
TRUEX: I do a lot, yeah. Junior likes to hunt a little bit,though not as much as me.
SCR: What kind of hunting do you do?
TRUEX: I do a lot of duck hunting and bird hunting and stuff anda bunch of deer hunting at home when I lived there. Been out West a fewtimes [on hunting trips]. Just love to do it.
At Talladega, Truex Jr. verified...
At Talladega, Truex Jr. verified his racing credentials, winning on atrack entirely different from Bristol, where he had notched his firstBusch win just four weeks earlier.
TRUEX: Mule deer, and I've got a few. I've got two mule deer.
SCR: Cool, where at, Colorado?
TRUEX: One in Colorado, one in...no, one in Wyoming and one inMontana.
SCR: Was that in recent years?
TRUEX: Yeah, three years ago was the last time I went out there.
SCR: OK, so you and your dad hunt together.
TRUEX: Yeah, yeah, growing up.
SCR: Talk about that a little; I know your dad was a racer, butwhat kind of influence did he have on you.
TRUEX: Yeah, he's the only reason I started racing, really. Heand my Uncle Barney were racing from the time I can remember. I guessfrom the time I was born. And I just grew up around it and always lovedgoing to the racetrack and watching, and I always knew it was somethingI wanted to do. And when I turned old enough--when I was ten--I startedbegging for a go-kart, and when I was eleven, I finally got one. He wasalways racing so I had my mom who would take me to the track most of thetime, or my aunt would take me because my cousin raced with me. He was ayear younger than me and we would all ride to the airport--I mean therace track--and I would pretty much do everything myself. My dad taughtme a lot about racing and sportsmanship and how races go and how youneed to concentrate on making your cars the best you can and that sortof stuff.
SCR: So basically he was out racing when you were racinggo-karts, so you had to learn it on your own?
TRUEX: Well, yeah, I had to because my mom sure the heck didn'tknow anything [about racing go-karts]. But she got me there and that waspretty cool. Those were some good times.
SCR: So you were the driver and crew chief and the whole nineyards?
SCR: Talk a little about the family clamming business. How muchdid you work in that growing up?
TRUEX: When I was still in high school I would go out onweekends, like most kids go out on weekends and have a good time andeverything. But I would have to wake up at 2 o'clock or 1 o'clock onSunday morning, well, Saturday night. I would go out Sunday and work allday and come home and go to school on Monday. For probably a year or thelast year and a half or so while I was in school, I did that just tomake some money. I would make a couple hundred of dollars just onweekends. Of course, I was building a truck to put on the road when Igot my license, and all that came into it. When I got out of school Iworked a year and a half, I think it was, full-time on
SCR: When did you know that racing was what you wanted to do?
TRUEX: Before I ever worked on one of them boats, I'll tell youthat. It's what I always wanted and kind of what I always worked for. Ithink I got my Modified when I was about 17 and a half and startedgetting it ready, rebuilt it all and got ready to go racing in a realcar.
SCR: So when you were begging for the go-kart you knew thatsomeday you wanted to do what your dad was doing, racing?
TRUEX: Oh yeah, for sure. Yeah.
SCR: Was his racing a hobby or a full-time pursuit?
TRUEX: Well, he had his business and that was pretty much hisliving. Racing was second. He just loved to do it. I think that's whyhis business got so big, because he went racing and knew he had to makemoney.
SCR: What's the name of the business?
TRUEX: Sea Watch International.
SCR: Does he still own the business?
TRUEX: Yes, and it's getting bigger each day it seems.
SCR: You raced four times in 2002 in Busch, is that correct?
SCR: Was that for a family-owned team?
TRUEX: Yeah, it was for my dad's team, in cars we built in ourshop.
SCR: How many races in 2002 and 2003 did you run for the familyteam?
TRUEX: I think we ran three last year with it. Yeah, we ran threelast year with it, along with seven in the Chance2 car. I thought we didpretty good with what we had, with the resources. There were two guysand me working at the shop building cars. I did all the fabricating andpretty much a lot of it. I think our best run last year was when we wentto IRP and qualified 10th and got wrecked real early. But I had a realgood car and I was running fast. That was pretty cool to go build yourown car and everything and run with these guys a little bit and dopretty good.
SCR: So basically you could go to any shop in this sport and workas a fabricator?
TRUEX: Well, yeah, although I'm probably not as good as most ofthem are nowadays, I think I'm pretty good at it.
SCR: So that was your specialty on the family team?
SCR: Talk about your first Busch win at Bristol earlier thisyear?
TRUEX: That was pretty exciting. I kind of knew--well, I can'tsay I knew because you never know if you're ever going to win arace--but I felt like we had had a few opportunities to win, like atHomestead last year, and Rockingham this year, and I kind of let themslip away at the end by mistakes I made. Any time I've ever made amistake in racing I've always been one who thinks about it so much andworries about it so much that it seems to never happen again. I kind oflearn from it. That's what I always try to do. I try to learn from everymistake I make. I think that was part of the reason I won Bristol.
SCR: How about the Talladega win with Junior on your bumper?
TRUEX: Talladega was definitely a shocker. Probably not just tome but to everybody who saw it or watched it or anybody on the team oranything. Everybody knows we had a good car. DEI and Junior have wonfive races with the Chance 2 car at the plate tracks. To keep thatstreak alive with me driving really meant a lot to me. It kind ofshocked me. I'm sitting there with about 20-something to go and leading.I'm like, 'Man, I don't think I want to be leading right now.' You movearound so much and we had run everywhere from 20th to leading that day.Depending on what line you picked or what move you made, it seemed toaffect where you were running. We got a few cautions there at the endthat helped us a little bit. Plus Junior got in behind me pushing mealong and that helped a bunch.
SCR: Let's rewind a little. Do you remember your first win inkarts or at the local level?
TRUEX: Actually the first time I ever raced a go-kart, I think Iwon my heat race the first day and finished second or third in the race.It wasn't long after that that I won my first one; I was probably two orthree races into it.
SCR: You were 11 years old?
SCR: You alluded to this a little already, but what does it meanfor you to strap into a Busch car for DEI [and Chance2]?
TRUEX: It's huge. I mean, it's what every driver works for. Everyyoung guy who has never wanted to do anything but race, that's what theylook for--an opportunity to drive equipment that you know can win andknow you can go out there and kick everybody's butt. To me, it means alot to be associated with the Earnhardt family and all the thingsthey've done. To drive for Dale Earnhardt Jr., who is the biggest namein the sport right now, and to be able to become friends with him and todrive for him and do a good job, that means a lot to me.
SCR: And you've won at tracks that are as different as theypossibly can be, Bristol and Talladega. Obviously you're comfortable atthis level.
TRUEX: I am. Surprisingly, once I got with this team last year,the first time we tested, everything seemed to go good together. I knewsome of the guys working on the team before I ever raced for them. A lotof us came from the same background and had the same attitude, andeverything goes together. We're a true team and we have a lot of fundoing it. We don't worry about little things and we don't have guys onthe team fighting with each other or not liking each other. Everybodylikes each other and we have fun and Bono [Kevin Manion, crew chief]does an incredible job giving me what I need. We've always worked realwell together. That's a big part of it, I think.
SCR: How involved is Teresa Earnhardt in your deal? Do you talkto her often?
TRUEX: I don't get to see her very often. I don't think anybodydoes, but she knows what's going on and she is kind of like in a darkroom there where she can see everybody but you can't see her. She knowseverything that's going on and has a say in everything, but you don'tget to talk to her very often it seems.
SCR: Did you follow NASCAR closely growing up? Say, when you were11, for example, did you know of Dale Earnhardt's place in the sport?
TRUEX: Yeah, I was always watching the races. I didn't know thebehind the scenes stuff that I know now, of course, but I always watchedthe races. I've always loved to sit down on Sundays and watch the race.That's all we would do, is sit there and watch the race all day.
SCR: Who was your favorite Winston Cup driver when you weregrowing up?
TRUEX: Yeah. Crazy, isn't it?
SCR: Things sometimes have a way of working out, it seems.
SCR: How much do you know about this sport's history? Do youknow, for example, who Fireball Roberts was?
TRUEX: Yeah, I know most of the names, but I don't know as muchthat far back, no. The eighties. I know a lot about racing back in theeighties and stuff. That was some cool racing back then and I'm sureit's still like that.
SCR: You mentioned your hobbies already. But are there any otherhobbies you have away from the track. I know you said you like to huntand fish.
TRUEX: Yeah, well, and racing on the computer. I think I alreadytold you about that. I like to race R/C cars. I like to go snowboarding,which I haven't got to do since last winter, but I like to do that.That's about it, really, just hang out and have fun. Do the normalstuff. Go out with your buddies every once in a while and cut loose andstay up all night. Just the normal stuff, really. Nothing too out of theordinary.
SCR: Play any high school sports?
SCR: Too focused on racing?
TRUEX: Yeah. I played sports growing up but never in high school.I gave them all up before then.
SCR: What has been the biggest surprise to you this season, yourfirst full season in Busch?
TRUEX: The biggest surprise? Really it hasn't been surprising, Idon't think. I don't know, I guess I prepared myself last year by racinga little bit here and there with these guys to see what was going on.Probably the biggest surprise was the first time I walked into DEI andgot lost for about the first two weeks when I went in the shop. That wasprobably the biggest surprise.
SCR: But you've found your way around by now, I'm sure.
TRUEX: Well, there are still people I don't even know in there.It's like, 'Wow, who is this guy? I've never seen him before.' And he'sworked there three times as long as I have. Still trying to get aroundand meet everybody.
SCR: How close do you live to DEI?
TRUEX: I live about 15 minutes away.
SCR: Do you go by there often?
TRUEX: Yeah, every day I don't have anything to do, I go thereand hang out most of the day.
SCR: How do you like the area around [Mooresville, NorthCarolina], compared to the Northeast?
TRUEX: It's kind of like home. I've made a lot of new friends,thanks to Josh [Snider, PR representative for the team] here and Juniorand hanging out with them, living right by them and stuff. Know a lot ofnew friends and a lot of good people around there. It's kind of likehome. Not quite as much to do, it seems like it at times, but I kind oflike that.
SCR: What's been the toughest thing to deal with this year?
TRUEX: The toughest thing to deal with is probably traveling allthe time and never being home. You race on Saturday but you really go tothe race track on Wednesday. So you don't have much time at home duringthe week. Then you have appearances and sponsor commitments andautograph sessions and things like that that take up even more of thattime. I guess it's kind of good because it gets your mind off worryingabout what's going on and all. But I stay real busy.
SCR: Been back to Toms River lately?
TRUEX: That's just where I was born. I actually lived inManahawkin, which is about 20 minutes from there. Yeah, I actually wentback there two weeks ago, on our off-weekend, whenever that was, whenthe Cup cars ran Martinsville.
SCR: Was that the first time you had been back lately?
TRUEX: That was actually the first time I had been back since thefirst of the year. It was good to go home to see all my friends andeverything and see how many people are supporting me up there. That waspretty cool. A lot of people recognized me who probably wouldn't havelast year.
SCR: Back to the racing part. What driver out there today do youlike racing against the least?
TRUEX: The least? I can tell you that--that's easy. Robby Gordon.
TRUEX: Well, he's just hard to race with, you know? I mean, realhard to race with. If you're faster and you run him down, then he runsyou down low and blocks you. I don't know, he's just hard to race with.
SCR: Is he aggressive or is he reckless?
TRUEX: (laughs) A little bit of both I think. He's a great guy. Imean, I talk to him off the track and he's great. A perfect example: Wewere at Darlington and it's the end of the race; we kind of struggledwith our car all day and we got it real good at the end of the race andwe're flying up through there. I think I was fifth and he was fourthwhen I get to him, fifth and sixth or something like that. We ended upfourth. But I run him down on the straightaway in about five laps. I getto him and if I run hard, then he would run hard. If I would run low,then he would run low. If I would get a run on him, then he would blockme. So it took me about 10 laps to pass him. It's just hard to race withhim, you know? Usually if somebody is faster, most of these guys won'tgive you too much trouble if you're faster than them. Of course, at theend of the race it's a little different. Then he's a lap down at Bristoland I was hitting him in the bumper trying to get by him and he wouldn'tlet me go. He's a lap down and I was leading. I just rode behind himforever because I couldn't pass him. Then the same thing another time atBristol; I was racing...I think me and Biffle were racing for the leadand I pass Robby Gordon, who was a lap down, get to Biffle and we gotbunched up in some traffic and I went somewhere and he passed me backand wouldn't let me back by him. He's just hard to race with. He alwaysruns hard and doesn't give anybody an inch, which I guess is kind ofwhat you're supposed to do (laughs).
SCR: He takes it to an extreme it sounds like. Sounds like hegets to the reckless side a little too much.
SCR: Where do you see yourself five years from now?
TRUEX: Oooh, that's tough. I don't know. Hopefully Nextel Cupchampion. That's where I want to be and that's what I'm working towardsright now, I suppose. I'm not really too worried about it right now. I'mhaving fun doing what I'm doing and I'm learning a lot and running good.We'll go after this Busch championship; that's my main goal right now.
SCR: Did you envision yourself being in this situation five yearsago?
TRUEX: No. No way. No. You can't ever see something like thishappening. There's another million people out there wanting to do whatI'm doing. There's probably a good part of them that could do what I'mdoing, maybe, and just never get the chance. So you never know whereyou're going to end up.
A spot in DEI's Cup lineup...
A spot in DEI's Cup lineup is inevitable for Truex Jr.
SCR: It was just a happenstance occurrence there when RichieGilmore's best man was a friend of yours.
TRUEX: He just worked on my car with me, you know. I just workedreal hard and never gave up. I felt I was doing a good job with what Iwas doing. But I could have never got any further than I was withoutsomebody picking me up and giving the tools I needed to go farther.
SCR: So you feel like with the family-owned team you had gone asfar as you could go?
TRUEX: Yeah. I mean that was as far as we were going to go,running Busch North races and a few Busch races a year. That's all wecould handle or afford. That was about as far as I could have gonewithout somebody else's help.
SCR: There's been speculation about you climbing into the No. 15NAPA Chevy in the near future; is there a timetable for that, and haveyou and Junior and/or Teresa discussed that move specifically?
TRUEX: (laughs, shakes his head) Well, no. I'm not going anywhereright now. Right now they've got drivers in their Cup cars and JohnAndretti is in the 1 car [formerly campaigned full-time by Steve Park]and they're looking for a sponsor to run John in a few more races thisyear. We've talked about maybe running one or two races at the end ofthe year in the 1 car. But we're going to wait and see how everything islooking. If there's something we're both comfortable with at the end ofthe year, then we'll do it. But right now I'm just focused on the Buschcar and not going anywhere.
SCR: No conversations about the 15 car then?
SCR: And he looked me in the eye when he said that. I'll makenote of that.
SCR: What kind of relationship do you have, if any, with MichaelWaltrip?
TRUEX: I talk to him all the time at the race track. That's aboutit. That's as far as it goes. He's a good guy. If I have a question oran answer, we try and help each other out a little bit. I like to hopethat I can help him a little bit. He's got a lot of experience. He's agood guy and he's been good to me. He's always had good things to sayabout me. He treats me good and I always appreciate people that are likethat. I try to help him as much as I can.
SCR: You dad is here with you, and you've got Junior to turn to,so who do you lean on?
TRUEX: Nobody really. I just kind of do my own thing. A lot ofpeople help me. If I ever have any problems or questions, there's a lotof people around that do a lot for me. I try not to take too much, trynot to ask for too much. I just try to do my thing and let everybodyknow how much I appreciate what they're doing for me. That's about it.
SCR: Last question. Last lap of a race, Junior's leading andyou're on his bumper with a faster car but he won't give up the lead.He's blocking and doing all he can to keep you in second. What do youdo?
TRUEX: It depends on where we're racing. If we're at Bristol orsomewhere, we might knock each other out of the way or something. But ifyou're at Talladega like we were, then we're here to help each other nothurt each other. Like Talladega, if I had been behind him, I would havedone the same thing because if you get out of line they're all going topass you. If we're at a place like Bristol then he probably would haveknocked me out of the way on the last lap if he was faster. It justdepends on where you're racing and how everything is going around you.
SCR: What if it's Rockingham or California?
TRUEX: If it's Rockingham I would probably just take a differentlane and pass him because there's a lot of room there. But it alldepends on where you're at and what's going on.