They make their livings in vastly different arenas, but Bassmaster Elite Series pro Michael Iaconelli and NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Martin Truex Jr. have found common ground. They both grew up in New Jersey, both hate being cut off by competitors and, after a day of hands-on perspective, they now have a better appreciation for the challenges of one another's profession.
It all started with a trip to North Carolina's Charlotte Motor Speedway. Truex, who now resides in nearby Mooresville, N.C., hosted Iaconelli for an instructional session on the track. Ike, a lifetime Garden State resident, reciprocated by taking Truex fishing on Lake Norman.
A member of the Michael Waltrip Racing team, Truex normally drives the No. 56 Napa Auto Parts Toyota Camry, but a morning rain dampened the track just enough to raise safety concerns and force a switch to the track's Toyota Camry pace car. Nevertheless, Truex pulled Ike through the turns at 120 mph, while his rookie driver pushed the 90 mark.
Truex calls Norman his home waters, but an 11-month season with 38 racing weekends, continuous testing and lots of sponsor work affords few opportunities for throwing the white Zara Spook he favors. Iaconelli, who claimed a Bassmaster Top 100 Amateur Division win on Norman in 1994, had not fished the lake for several years. Nevertheless, Ike took a 2 1/2-hour angling session and turned it into a fish patterning clinic that yielded a team limit capped by a last-minute keeper from Truex.
Decked in a custom racing jumper, Iaconelli took four laps around CMS, but not until after Truex had shown him how to run the track — at 120 mph. Drivers run nearly double that in competition, but Ike said he was good with a buck-twenty.
"I was scared to death going that fast!" he grinned. "The car has a little gripper for the passenger to hold on to. You can probably find my fingernails and DNA on that thing. It's kind of intense. I know that 120 is half the speed they normally run, but it's wild — it's crazy going that fast. When I drove, I had it up to a blistering 90 mph, and I was pretty happy."
As we rounded Turn One, the conversation switched to a comparison between drivers fighting for position and "traffic" on a tournament lake. Ike was quick to point out that most pro anglers do their best to avoid intrusions, known as "hole jumping," but such occurrences are the frustrating inevitabilities of high-stakes competition.
"Man, I'd be (ticked)," Truex grumbled. "You're going down a good stretch of bank and here comes some jack wagon running right in on your spot. Dude, I would flip out on him."
The two competitors quickly agreed that the communities within their respective sports tend to police their own. Good sportsmanship and healthy competition are the norm, and when lessons are needed, lessons are given.
Despite living on Lake Norman, Truex said he'd never seen anyone break down the water like his host. Launching form Blythe Landing, the duo stopped first on a hump in about 20 feet, moved to a flat point, and finally started catching fish on residential docks. As Ike noted, only docks with black fenders produced bites, while depth further refined the search.
"If the boat was in 10 to 20 feet, we could not get bit, but if we were in 4 to 6 feet on one of those docks with black floats, we would get a bite," he said. "That's a great example of how you can go out and pattern them on docks. On a lake like Norman that has two million docks, (anglers) may get intimidated, but once you get that pattern going, you can take a lake that's this big and narrow down the window and figure out what the fish are doing."
Iaconelli and Truex caught most of their fish on 3/16-ounce shaky heads with Berkley finesse worms in watermelon and Berkley Shaky worms in green pumpkin/blue flake. Ike also added a keeper on a 3/8-ounce green pumpkin Berkley Gripper Jig with a green pumpkin Chigger Craw trailer. Admitting to a sleepless night in anticipation of fishing with a BASS pro, Truex said Ike delivered.
"Not everybody just goes out and catches them," he said. "This is a tough deal and you have to work at it. Guys like him who go to new lakes all the time have to figure it out, and that's what wins tournaments. That gave me a lot of confidence to just come out here and start fishing."