NASCAR driver Biffle races to fish

Greg Biffle finds it exciting to see the cross between racing and fishing.

CHARLOTTE, N.C. — It's Greg Biffle's nature to go into things full-speed ahead. It's how he approaches racing, and it's how he approaches bass fishing, too.

After taking part in the first of two celebrity BASS tournaments a couple of years ago in Florida, the NASCAR driver immediately saw the light. It was his bassing initiation.

The very next day, after purchasing a trolling motor for his pontoon boat and all the necessary angling accessories, he was out on Lake Norman near his home in Mooresville, N.C.

"In 20 minutes I caught a fish on a topwater plug," Biffle said. "And I was so jacked up. It was like, 'I'm hooked. This is the worst drug I've ever had in my life.' And I've not caught another one since."

Biffle's dry spell will soon be remedied, at least if Kevin VanDam and Kelly Jordon have anything to do with it. After overhearing Biffle's story, the BASS pros, in Charlotte to fish in this week's CITGO Bassmaster Classic, promise to put him onto more bass.

After all, these guys are kindred spirits. Their interests — like those of many more-average joes — cross over from fishing to racing, and vice versa. Biffle is making inroads to the bassing world, and he has a very receptive audience. Indeed, pro anglers are NASCAR fans.

"When I first started BASS, I was not a big race fan at all. But since I've gotten to know Greg, I'm head over heels as a NASCAR fan," said VanDam, winner of the 2001 Classic.

"I've seen the demographics and there is a lot of crossover. A lot of people who love NASCAR love to hunt and fish, and a lot of people who love to hunt and fish are going to be watching NASCAR, too."

And, hey, if Biffle is fishing with the BASS pros, turnabout is fair play, according to Jordon.

"We need a bass fisherman who drives racecars," Jordon said.

Biffle was invited to Charlotte by the Bass Anglers Sportsman Society, or BASS, which operates the world championship of bass fishing known as the Classic and is an associate sponsor of Biffle's Roush Racing car — No. 16 on the NASCAR circuit.

Biffle appreciates the link between racing and fishing, and he can't help but notice it on the racing tour.

"It's exciting to see the cross between our sports," he said. That revelation hit home recently after he mentioned in a television interview that he had fished with his good friend and BASS pro Gerald Swindle on North Carolina's Lake Wylie, site of the 2004 Bassmaster Classic.

"You wouldn't believe the amount of people (who were stoked about it)," Biffle said.

"The guy at the store where I stop for coffee every morning was like a little kid waiting for me to come in the door when he heard about it. He said, 'Where did you fish at? You got to go with Gerald? I'd kill to go with one of those professional anglers.' The guy was going nuts."

Imagine that, an acquaintance of Greg Biffle more interested in talking fishing than racing!

While Biffle is new to bass fishing, he grew up targeting trout, steelhead, salmon and sturgeon in Vancouver, Wash.

"I love to bass fish, but I'm not much of a bass fisherman," Biffle said.

But VanDam begs to differ, after watching Biffle win the second BASS celebrity tourney he took part in.

"The same thing that makes him a good driver is what makes a good fisherman: competitiveness," VanDam said. "We hate to lose; we burn to win. And that's Greg Biffle. He wants to win the bass tournament the same as he wants to win the race. He's a competitor. I can see it in his eyes and I know how he is."

And the parallels between anglers and racers extend to the track, too, according to VanDam.

"Greg's had a couple of tough breaks this year where he hasn't finished because his engine's blown up," VanDam said. "He's leading the race, and I feel his pain. We have the same things happen to us sometimes, where things totally fall apart or a pattern goes away and you go from hero to zero in one day. There are similarities there."

While it may be some time before Biffle gets the type of reception on the water that he has come to expect on the track, there is no question that he and Enumclaw, Wash., rookie sensation Kasey Kahne have helped to grow racing's fan base in their native Northwest, where there is serious talk of building a NASCAR track.

"It's exciting. We feel like we have our own fans," said Biffle, who is looking forward to "going home" to race.

He anticipates a Northwest venue to be on the NASCAR circuit within three years. "And I think it's going to be a lot bigger than NASCAR expects it to be," Biffle said. "I think it's going to be huge. It's a huge market."

"I've flown commercial a lot of years, and when the race is in Vegas or Phoenix and you get on an airplane in Portland, the whole, entire airplane is full of race fans going to the race," he said. "Just pick a passenger — every one of them is going to the race.

"I've flown from Charlotte to a race and from Detroit and from here and there and everywhere, but I've never seen any other plane full of race fans."