A winning cause

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Kevin VanDam

Kevin VanDam

In the world of professional bass fishing, Kevin VanDam is at the pinnacle and arguably the best in the world.

My family had a great weekend mingling with other fishermen and NASCAR drivers at Michigan International Speedway (MIS) during the Pure Michigan 400 held near Jackson, Mich.

Prior to the race, I participated in a benefit bass tournament for “MIS Cares,” a charitable arm under the NASCAR Foundation that funds community projects. You can read more about the Fish Your Bass Off tournament and see photos from the event, too.

The fishing tournament paired race drivers and celebrities with fishermen at Wampler’s Lake near the track. Fans paid $35 to watch the weigh-in at Jerry’s Pub on the lake and mingle with anglers and drivers afterwards.

We were assigned to four-man teams mixing anglers with race celebrities. My team, which included NASCAR driver Ryan Newman, won the event, including big bass bragging rights.

Our winnings were something like $400 which we donated back to MIS Cares. It wasn’t about the money for us; it was about raising cash for a good cause and having fun. Of course, it was about the competition, and everyone knows how much I love to compete!

I wasn’t sure how I would do since I had never been on that lake before.

The Bassmasters and Zona’s Awesome Fishing Show TV host Mark Zona, a good friend who co-hosted the weigh-in with me, was another participant and was kind enough to tell me about some docks where some fish could be caught. (He thought we were on the same team but, as it turned out, we weren’t.)

Newman and I fished those docks and caught small fish, then idled across the lake and fished some other docks and caught a few more. I decided to move out to a breakline where no boats were fishing and throw my Strike King Series 5 crankbait. I had Ryan casting a spinnerbait and a 1.5 Series crankbait up on the edge. On my fifth cast I caught a 4 1/2-pounder and Ryan caught a 2 1/2-pounder! We decided to spend the rest of the evening (it was only a three-hour tournament) going back and forth on that break and finished out our limit.

Back at the weigh-in, we combined our best fish with our other teammates and we had nearly 15 pounds. Bassmaster Elite Series pro Ryan Said, also from Michigan, was on the second place team and Zona’s team was third, so the Bassmaster gang did well.

During an auction held after the competition, Zona gave away a smallmouth fishing package and it raised nearly $4,000. I donated a signed jersey that brought $4,700. That blew both us both away, but we were thrilled that we could do something to benefit such a worthy charity. The entire event raised $40,000 – not bad for an evening charity function for fishermen and race car drivers!

Newman gave us the royal treatment at the Sprint Cup race on Sunday, in which he finished fifth. He got our families into the pits and at functions that we wouldn’t normally have gotten to attend.

The more time I spend around NASCAR racers, the more I’ve come to realize they are as big of fans of pro bass fishing as we are of them.

They love any kind of competition and hate to lose.

We share the same motto: It’s all about the attitude!

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