Creating my new ‘Tundra Suite’


Courtesy of Brandon Palaniuk

Those of us on the Elite Series often refer to our boats as our “offices.” That’s an accurate description, but it also kind of overshadows how much time we spend in our tow vehicles. There’s a lot of driving involved in this career, and since I have a longer trip than anyone to most of the venues – except for the Japanese pros who fly across the ocean – it’s particularly important to me that I enjoy my time behind the windshield.

I thought about that as I picked up my third Toyota Tundra recently – and also about how much has changed in my driving situation.

I bought my first Tundra when I was only 22 years old, parlaying my $20,000 check from winning an FLW event as a co-angler into a down payment. I didn’t have a credit card at the time, had zero credit and didn’t want a co-signer, so I financed the rest of the truck at the horrible rate of 13.9 percent. Ouch. It still hurts just to think about it.

That’s the truck that I used for my first two years on tour. We nicknamed it the “Tundra Suites” because since I was still pretty much broke I spent more than a few nights sleeping in it, both between events and at the tournaments themselves. It wasn’t fancy, but I did add a leveling kit, some aftermarket wheels and tires and a canopy, into which I built a bed of two-by-fours to sleep on. It was mechanically flawless, but after a ton of miles it was time to buy another.

My second Tundra came at just about the same time that I signed a deal with Rigid Industries. That gave me the ability to take it to another level. It started off as a standard double cab with a 6 1/2-foot bed, but it quickly got a facelift. I added a BDS Suspension kit, 20-inch TIS wheels, 35-inch Toyo AT tires and new bumpers. At that point it looked pretty mean.

Then I went a little crazy with the Rigid lights. My setup included a 54-inch radius light, two 40-inch E-Series, a 30-inch single row, eight A-Series to light up the wheel wells and the ground, as well as six A-Series under the A.R.E. canopy. If those weren’t enough, I added a Surco Rack on top with four D2s and a 50-inch light bar plus two 10-inch E-Series and two D2s on the back. Even without the wrap it stood out, but once the wrap went on it was a magnet for attention.

That attention was a good thing because it gave me an opportunity to expand my sponsors’ marketing footprint and explain what I do for a living. At the same time, it meant that I couldn’t hide. Not only was every gas stop a series of question-and-answer sessions, but I couldn’t sleep in the corner of a Wal-Mart parking lot because people would drive by all night taking pictures. Fortunately no one broke in as I feared was going to happen every time the flash went off or a car door slammed.

Over the course of my ownership of that second Tundra, I continued to add to it. Last year, I installed a decked storage drawer to organize my gear and then a Topper EZ Lift, which allows me to extend the height of my A.R.E. shell with the touch of a button. I’m a pretty short guy, and when it’s fully extended I’m just about able to stand up inside.

Now it’s time for Tundra number three, which presented the issue of how to improve upon the last two, or at least make it stand out more. I’ve never had any mechanical problems with the other two, so I wasn’t worried about that aspect, but I wanted this one to capture even more attention and simultaneously be even more functional.

For the last two years, my girlfriend has traveled with me on tour, which requires a little more room. I wanted to move up from the double cab to the Crew Max, but I preferred the 6 1/2 foot bed that came with the former over the 5 1/2 footer that came with the latter. I mentioned this to the guys at Parker Toyota in Idaho and they stated that it’s possible to have the best of both worlds. I bought a Crew Max from them and then took it to in Salt Lake City to have a full bed conversion.

Simple, right? Well, not so much. I had my A.R.E. camper shell ready to install, but the angle of the windows on the back of the double cab are different from those on the back of the Crew Max. The lines didn’t match up, so I took it to Northwest Auto Body in Coeur d'Alene. They did any incredible job of fiberglass work and now it fits and looks like it came directly from the factory.

At that point, you might think that my truck was fairly complete. You might also think that I’m a little obsessive. I wasn’t done. On my last Tundra I had a local audio shop, Jeffy’s Mobile Electronics, install a custom mini iPad mount in the dash. I’m doing that again. I also need my sound system to be great for those long drives. The stock speakers in the Tundra are pretty good, and if you go up in the packages they get even better. Of course I buy the base SR5 package because I’m going to rip everything out. He not only installed new speakers, he also made a custom Line-X covered box that goes under the back seat for my subwoofer. He’s also doing all of the wiring for my extensive set-up of Rigids.

After that I’ll take it to Jay’s Fine Line Rigs, a shop right down the road from the place in Tyler, Texas, where I always get my boat and truck wrapped. I met Jason from the shop at SEMA a few years ago, and we’ve kept in touch. Now he’s going to change out the wheels, the tires and lift it a little bit higher than the last one. He’ll also install custom bumpers, steps and racks on top from Addictive Desert Designs (ADD). Finally, there will be ARE Rod Pods on top for all of the rods I need to carry from coast to coast.

When it’s all done, it’s going to look like a monster truck went on a date with a spaceship and had a baby! I’m not sure how I’m going to improve upon it when it’s time for a new one.

In case you can’t tell, customizing my vehicles to be fisherman-friendly has become something of an obsession for me. In order to help other anglers experience the same vehicular dreams that I’m living, Dave Davis (formerly at Rigid) and I are starting up a new business called Crossed Industries. As the name suggests, it’s going to be an e-commerce site where we will sell aftermarket automotive gear aimed toward fishermen. You may not spend as much time in your truck as I do – I’m not sure that any people other than long-haul truckers and UPS drivers do – but we’ll give you the tools to make your office every bit as meaningful to you as mine is to me.