Our man in Mayetta
STAFFORD TOWNSHIP — Martin Truex Jr.’s hometown is roughly the size of the 1.5-mile track he’ll be zooming around Sunday at Homestead-Miami International Speedway in Florida.
In fact, it is so small, there’s some debate as to whether Mayetta really exists.
There are no “Welcome to Mayetta” signs on Route 9. It’s only about four or five streets long. The section of Stafford Township in southern Ocean County is tucked into a woodsy area between Main Street and Mayetta Landing Road, the only reference to the neighborhood.
Considering its population, it might as well be called Truextown.
“Actually, I think it’s officially West Creek,” Ryan Truex, Martin’s younger brother, said with a laugh. “There are probably four streets that are considered Mayetta. And I’ll bet you 80 percent of the people who live there are either my cousins or related to me in some way.”
Whatever it’s called, it’s the hometown of NASCAR’s best driver this season.
Truex Jr. enters Sunday’s Ford EcoBoost 400 as the most dominant driver in NASCAR’s top racing series. Truex landed a spot in the Monster Energy Cup Championship 4 — along with Kyle Busch, Kevin Harvick and Brad Keselowski — by earning a series-best seven victories this year, including three in the playoffs. He’s also posted 17 top-five and 24 top-10 finishes, all of which are career bests.
“We won seven, and we easily could have won 10,” Truex said. “Our team is really working well together.”
The Truex family tree was planted in Mayetta decades ago. Its roots remain thick and strong, and its branches ever growing.
Martin’s paternal grandparents, the late Roberta and Leroy Truex, grew up there. So did their five children: Leroy (Barney), Martin Sr., Curtis, Robin and Kyle. Martin and Ryan are among 17 grandchildren. There are also 21 great-grandchildren and two great-great-grandchildren.
Almost all of them live somewhere in Stafford Township.
And they are big fans of Truex Jr.
“I used to hang a checkered flag out front,” said Dawn Cahill, a cousin who owns the Shear Heaven Salon and Day Spa on Route 9. “His sister (Marcia McVey) gave me a nicer one that I leave up all the time to support him.”
Those who lived in Mayetta and nearby Cedar Run were raised with an appreciation of the outdoors. The woods and Barnegat Bay offered opportunities to hunt and fish. And to explore.
“It was a great place to grow up,” Martin Jr. said. “We had a lot of land, so we had plenty of room to play. My cousins and I grew up hunting and fishing.”
Martin Sr. and Barney parlayed their fishing background into a lucrative business. They own Sea Watch International, which is one of the world’s top suppliers of clams and clam products.
Truex Jr. worked on one of the boats during his junior and senior years at Southern Regional High School. He did it just long enough to realize he wanted to drive racecars for a career.
“Honestly, it was a lot of fun,” Truex Jr. said in an earlier interview. “My cousin, Jason Meyers, and me were the only two people on the deck. We were two kids doing grown-up work and getting paid very well for it. But it’s tough work. I wouldn’t have minded doing it if my racing career didn’t work out, but I’d much rather be racing for a living.”
Auto racing is also part of the culture.
Martin Sr., 69, and uncle Barney, 75, raced in the 1980s and ‘90s. Truex Jr. climbed into a Go-Kart at New Egypt Speedway at age 11 and has been behind the wheel ever since. He started racing modifieds at Wall Stadium in 1998, won back-to-back NASCAR Busch Series titles in 2004-05 and has been racing in NASCAR’s top circuit since 2006. He’s in his fourth season of racing for Denver-based Furniture Row Racing.
“I played baseball and football until I started driving,” Truex Jr. said. “Once I started driving, I realized how much fun it was and that it was something I wanted to do for a living.”
As Martin rose up the ranks, his fans grew.
Before he died in 2015, Cedar Run resident Bob Gajewski used to ride around with a Truex Jr. flag attached to his car. Bob’s daughters, Barbette Lovas and Dani Jinks, have kept the tradition alive.
Jinks’s racing background extends to the 1980s, when she was crowned Miss Wall Stadium at the Monmouth County speedway in 1987.
“We all grew up and hung out with the Truexes, and I lost a bet with one of their friends, Jim Burton, who was also a driver,” Jinks said with a laugh. “If I had won the bet, he would have had to take me out to dinner. But I lost, so I had to run for Miss Wall Stadium — and I wound up winning $500 and free admission to the races. I think I still have the crown and the sash somewhere.”
Lovas first got to know Truex Jr., a 1998 Southern Regional graduate, when he was a student in her seventh-grade math class. She remembered him as driven and dedicated to becoming a successful racer.
“He wasn’t the best student, but he did what he needed to do to get through school so he could fulfill his dream,” Lovas said. “The last time I saw him, I asked him why cars run out of gas and asked about an equation involving miles per gallon. He turned to me and said, ‘It’s not seventh-grade math.’ And then he laughed.”
Leanne Carney, a former health and physical education teacher, also had fond memories of her former student, but she has also admired him for his contributions to the community after leaving high school.
Truex donated truckloads of supplies to the area after Hurricane Sandy in 2012. His foundation also was responsible for opening the Martin Truex Jr. Pediatric Care Center at Southern Ocean Medical Center in Manahawkin.
“Martin has never forgotten his roots,” Carney said. “He’s an even better person than he is a driver. He’s having a great year and deserves everything he’s been able to achieve.”
Martin now lives in the NASCAR hotbed of Charlotte, North Carolina, but he still finds time to get back to the area a couple of times a year.
When he does, he usually goes hunting, fishing or golfing with boyhood friend Adam Sherer, a Stafford Township police officer who has known Truex for more than 25 years.
“When we get together, we don’t even talk about racing,” Sherer said. “To be honest, I don’t follow NASCAR at all. I went to a few Busch Series races to watch him a few years ago, and to me, it’s like watching paint dry. I do know he’s having a great year, though.”
Sherer and Cahill will join the Truex family at Homestead on Sunday to see Truex try to cap his amazing season by winning a championship.
Afterward, the group will head to Barney’s house in the Florida Keys for Thanksgiving. Truex will likely be back in Stafford over Christmas.
“Mayetta has always been a special place for me,” he said. “I miss it.”