STAFFORD TOWNSHIP - Martin Truex Jr. looked out at the lake next to Manahawkin Lake Park and immediately thought of fishing.

On a day away from a drama-filled NASCAR career - especially the last few weeks - Truex was glad to be back in his hometown mingling with residents and fans.

"I keep looking at the lake. I haven't fished in that lake in about 10 years," said Truex, a graduate of Southern Regional High School. "I really wish I brought a fishing rod and boat, to be honest with you."

The Martin Truex Jr. Foundation held its annual Fan Event for the first time at the park on Wednesday. In previous years it was held in a hotel as a sit-down dinner event.

"I'm definitely excited to be here and see so many familiar faces already," Truex said. "The support of the fans around here and the local people is just amazing."

Having the event at the park allowed fans and Truex to temporarily forget about the race manipulation scandal that shook NASCAR the past two weeks. Truex's team, Michael Waltrip Racing, was found to have deliberately manipulated the finish of the Richmond race to get Truex into the Chase for the Sprint Cup championship.

NASCAR came down hard on MWR with harsh sanctions that included knocking Truex out of the Chase. In response, Truex sponsor NAPA Auto Parts said it's ending its association with the team at the end of the year.

Truex said Wednesday he was grateful to just get away from it all.

"(The support) really helps me, especially in times like this," Truex said. "The last couple of weeks have been difficult for me personally.

"You know, my racing career has kind of been like, 'What the heck has just happened?' These kind of days, things like this really makes you appreciate what you have. It keeps you grounded and obviously I'm glad to see all the support here in the local home town."

The weather was perfect for the outdoor event which had turnout of about 500 people. And most importantly, it was free event to anyone who wanted to show up and enjoy the music, food and family friendly events.

"Mother Nature loves helping kids," said Sandy Plemmons, the executive director of the foundation. "Marsha, (Martin's sister), came up with the idea that we've got to do something family oriented, fun, less expensive - something that could really bring people together. So, we brainstormed this idea and Stafford Township stepped up and was willing to help us."

Fans were excited at the opportunity to meet Truex, especially Annie Beattie from Browns Mills. Wearing a No. 56 Philadelphia Eagles jersey with "Truex Jr" on the back, Beattie took off from work so she could attend the event.

"Because of the area that it's in, and it's a beautiful day, it helps lighten the mood and hopefully we can get past everything that's happened this past week and weeks before and I'm pulling for him in whatever decision he makes," Beattie said in reference to Truex's troubles.

Norman Miles of Howell and Rob Tomko of Englishtown were also very pleased with the event.

"I think it's great. It's great for the community, it's great for the fans," Miles said. "A lot of people came out to have a great time and obviously he's a great race car driver."

Tomko, who made his first trip to Stafford, added that the smaller crowd made the event nicer as opposed to larger events held at race tracks such as Dover International Speedway in Delaware where the next Cup race will be this Sunday.

"It's nice to see one of the racers in person," Tomko said. "(The weather) is just perfect too. You got the music going on, all the events for the kids. It's a good thing, especially for my little one. She's been all over the place."

Earlier in the day, Truex and the foundation visited Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin to open up the Martin Truex Jr. Pediatric Wing. It was the latest donation the Truex Foundation made in its efforts to give back to the community Truex grew up in.

"I remember when I was a kid going in there with a fishing hook in my hand or a broken leg," Truex said. "You went and sat in the waiting room with all the other people - a kid sitting there with adults. Kids don't like to sit around when they're hurt.

"And this is going to give them the care they need. It's bigger and better than we've anticipated five years ago when we started talking about it. ... I'm very proud to have our name on it and help give those kids better care in the area that I grew up."

Contact John Russo:

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