Iaconelli loses rookie stripe at Bristol

Alan McGuckin
Mike Iaconelli watches as Kyle Busch does in interview.

BRISTOL, Tenn. -- It’s a long-standing tradition in racing that rookie drivers sport a yellow stripe on their rear bumper. Supposedly, veteran drivers exercise added caution when approaching a yellow striped driver on the track. Then at the end of the race season, the stripe gets removed in a ceremonial fashion to celebrate a rite of passage to veteran status.

Mike Iaconelli lost his yellow stripe at Bristol Motor Speedway this weekend -- no, not as a driver, but from the standpoint of transitioning from a NASCAR virgin to ‘been there and done that’ status all in a matter of hours.

On Thursday, Ike hitched his bass boat to his Tundra and traveled 500 miles with wife Becky and baby son Vegas to Bristol as a guest of Toyota Racing. Once there, bass fishing’s noisiest pro was relinquished to a pile of very short incomplete sentences filled with exclamation points.

 “Unbelievable. This is insane!” said the 2006 Toyota Tundra Bassmaster Angler of the Year as he walked through the infield of racing’s fastest half mile.

Yes, this was Iaconelli’s first NASCAR race, and thanks to the gracious folks at Toyota, there was nothing he failed to experience. From passionate race fans, a huge majority of which recognized Ike and asked for an autograph, to a handshake from drivers Kyle Busch and David Reutimann moments before the green flag waved, Ike took it all in – mostly with his eyes and ears.

“I can definitely see why this is the hot ticket. You can hear it. You can see it. You can smell it. You can touch it. You can feel it,” Ike said in reference to engines revved from a deafening 650 horsepower and the subsequent goose-bump causing vibrations that follow.

However, even amid Bristol’s stimulus overload, Ike’s passion screamed for fishing. So once done looking at Bristol from atop the Michael Waltrip Racing car hauler, and time spent inside it viewing engineers’ computers and suspension springs bigger than his thighs, Ike sought out driver and friend Martin Truex Jr. to talk about fishing.

The two shook hands, Truex offered Ike extra ear plugs, and then the topic fast turned to smallmouth bass.

“I haven’t had time to fish much this summer, but I did catch a giant smallmouth at Traverse City, Michigan last week. I really like to go up there in June and smash ‘em when they’re spawning,” said  the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry, who obviously has a working knowledge of bass as much as his Camry’s balance.

Talk of fishing just wasn’t enough however, participation was Ike’s goal, so late in the day between autograph signing sessions and a radio control truck race for fun, Ike grabbed a spinning combo from his Tundra and a bucket of Berkley Gulp from his boat, and headed to a stream that sits in the shadow of the track.

While race fans grilled and watched, Ike does what Ike does best. He caught a 13-inch smallmouth, pumped his fist passionately, and caused on-looking fans with a shared love of fast cars and fishing to scream and cheer.

A poetic punctuation mark to a perfect day at Bristol that fast removed Ike’s NASCAR rookie stripe.

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