KVD Hooked on NASCAR

KVD found himself surrounded by tires in the pits. (Alan McGuckin)

Bassmaster legend finds similarities, friends in racing business

JOLIET, Ill. -- Kevin VanDam travels 30,000 miles a year in his Toyota Tundra. The radio is always on – but rarely does music play. Instead, VanDam is almost constantly tuned to the NASCAR channel on SiriusXM.

“Yep, right here, channel 90, dude,” says KVD in kid-like fashion as he proudly points to the digital display while driving to Chicagoland Speedway.

By no means is this his first trip to a track. VanDam’s addiction to a sport with many shared qualities of his own began about 12 years ago when he was invited to attend an event at Disney World in Florida.

“I met Jeff Burton there, he took me around the track and sort of showed me the science and strategy of turning a fast lap, but most of all, he befriended my family and I,” VanDam said.

VanDam’s relationship with Bass Pro Shops and their involvement in racing has created consistent exposure to various drivers – many of whom love to hunt and fish when they’re not busy turning left at 190 mph.

“Martin Truex Jr., Johnny Morris and myself had an incredible day one June in Traverse City, Mich. – the big smallmouth moved shallow to spawn, they were eating mayflies, and they were eating just about anything we casted at them,” remembers the seven-time Toyota Bassmaster Angler of the Year.

That was several years ago, but like VanDam, the memories of that day stay fresh in Truex’s mind too, and that’s much the reason the driver of the No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry was quick to approach KVD in the garage area this past Sunday.

Nope, Truex wasn’t seeking sympathy for the broken bones he suffered in his hand during Bristol’s night race a few weeks ago, but instead, to find healing through conversation with KVD about drop-shot rigs and giant smallmouth.

Mutual admiration is the common thread between KVD and the handful of NASCAR drivers he calls friends. They know fishing isn’t luck, beer and bobbers. And he knows they don’t just drive in circles.

“There’s so much to it. So much science, engineering and driver talent - not to mention the business and sponsorship side of racing,” VanDam said. “Plus, we share a very similar fan base.”

Count VanDam among the most avid of NASCAR’s fan base. To the point that when offered a chance to leave the deafening roar of engines and smell of exhaust near the pits, for a cozy spot in Toyota’s suite, he politely declined.

“Thanks, but I’d rather stay down here in the middle of the action,” said the always polite four-time Bassmaster Classic Champion with a grin.

VanDam’s time at Chicagoland Speedway marks the fifth track he’s attended a race at during the past decade.

“I have to admit, the very first time I went to a race, I was absolutely hooked,” he said.

It’s a sure bet this won’t be his last engagement with NASCAR. And you can wager he’ll be listening to NASCAR on SiriusXM throughout the many miles he’ll spend driving between now and the next one.

Click the image to see photos of Kevin VanDam at the Chicagoland Speedway

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