One trip out on the Atlantic Ocean on a clam boat was enough for Martin Truex Jr. to decide his future was racing cars.
Martin Truex Sr. wanted his oldest son, a teenager at the time, to learn the family trade. The father owns a successful seafood business headquartered in Eagleswood Township, Ocean County.
“His dad told him to get to work in the ocean,” recalls Jim Ridgway, 45, of Tuckerton, who has worked for the Truex operation for about 25 years.
“Martin didn’t particularly care for that.”
Instead, Truex, 29, a native of the Mayetta section of Stafford Township and a veteran NASCAR driver, hopes to ride his No. 56 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota Camry to victory today in the Daytona 500 in Daytona Beach, Fla., the opener of the NASCAR season.
His journey from would-be fisherman to NASCAR veteran doesn’t surprise his friends, who say he was a local boy with a penchant for motors and going fast.
Like most boys growing up in southern Ocean County, he spent his time hunting and fishing, and as he got older he snowboarded with his friends in the Pocono Mountains.
But it was clear he loved engines, too. As a young boy, he was tinkering with machines, from remote-controlled cars to go-carts and quads.
He built his own Jeep from scratch around the same time he got his driver’s license.
“He was very hands-on,” Ridgway said, sitting in an office next to the shop on Route 9 where the young Truex first got his hands greasy. “You need to know all the aspects of a car from the ground up, and that’s probably helped him.”
He took that passion to Southern Regional High School, where in his junior and senior years he spent 21/2 hours of each school day at Ocean County Vocational Technical School learning how to weld.
Jerry Salvatore, a retired engine-rebuilding instructor, never had Truex in his class, but Truex would always wander into his workshop to see what was going on.
As the president of the teacher’s association, Salvatore also talked with Truex’s teachers and found that the aspiring driver was a good student, dedicated to the craft, but also just a regular boy who liked cars.
“He didn’t have a halo over his head, but he didn’t have horns either,” Salvatore said. “He was the kind of student that we liked to have, just because he came to school and did what he had to do and paid attention and he learned.”
Salvatore said Truex easily could have gotten a job welding coming out of the OCVTS program, but he was aware Truex wanted more than to put parts together.
And it seemed everyone knew he wasn’t enthusiastic for life on the sea.
“He knew himself,” Salvatore said. “He didn’t like (commercial) fishing.”
It wasn’t long after graduating in 1998 that Truex finally started building the career he imagined, fascinated as a young kid watching his dad speed around the track at Wall Stadium and other area racetracks for nine seasons in the NASCAR developmental series.
Truex Jr.’s first race was in an open-wheeled car shortly after graduating, and the rest is a rapid history that led him to where he is now, with a new team and trying to become a bigger name in the NASCAR circuit.
These days he has little time to make it back to his hometown, usually only visiting for big holidays. His friends say he is just trying to balance his career and the demands on his life.
When he does come home, he tends to keep to himself, hanging out at his parents’ home in the Mayetta section or with his close friend from grade school Adam Sherer, who owns Sherer’s Boat Basin in Barnegat Township.
“He probably doesn’t make it back as much as he’d like to,” said Truex Jr.’s younger cousin Troy Truex, who owns Trick Racing Inc., on the same property where the Truex family business is located. “But he’s getting pulled in a hundred directions.”
Contact Lee Procida: