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VanDam comes to the race track to relax

Dave Ongie • Aug 20, 2016 at 7:27 PM

BRISTOL — When the weekend rolls around, a lot of folks hit the lake and head for their favorite fishing holes to unwind.

But for Kevin VanDam, the most decorated professional fisherman in the history of the Bassmaster Series, fishing is about as relaxing as 500 laps of racing at Bristol Motor Speedway is for the stars of the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.

“Fishing to a lot of people is a way of relaxation,” VanDam said. “For me it’s not relaxing. I go out there and give it everything I can. It’s a science that’s far from exact. We get a small window to practice, and then we get a four-day competition to put it all together.”

VanDam, or KVD if you’re into the whole brevity thing, was at BMS on Saturday making an appearance for his sponsors Toyota and Bass Pro Shops. Bass Pro Shops is the title sponsor of the Bristol Night Race, an event VanDam said was on his bucket list. The seven-time Toyota Angler of the Year and four-time Bassmaster Classic winner was on his first journey to Thunder Valley and obviously came away impressed.

“Richmond was my favorite track before I came here, but here, you see everything,” VanDam said. “To see the bottom groove and the top groove, I think it’s going to be a very good race tonight.”

VanDam is no stranger to NASCAR. Aside from being an avid fan of the sport, he also has a lot of friends in the garage area. As a matter of fact, VanDam has gone fishing with quite a few Sprint Cup stars over the years, but he hesitated to tell which of them are all hat and no tackle when it comes to hauling fish into the boat.

“I don’t want to make any of them mad by saying who’s better than the other, but Martin Truex Jr. is a very talented bass fisherman,” VanDam said. “He’s a natural outdoorsman, he’s a good hunter. But Ryan Newman is also another guy. I’d take either of those guys in a team event.”

Even though catching fish and driving a race car require completely different skill sets, VanDam said the time he’s spent around NASCAR drivers has taught him that the two professions have their similarities.

Both seasons start around the same time, and they each begin with the biggest event of the year. While the NASCAR world kicks things off with the Daytona 500, VanDam and his fellow anglers are gearing up for the Bassmaster Classic. Anglers and racers also travel coast-to-coast chasing points, which help put them in position to win championships.

But the biggest tie that binds VanDam to NASCAR is that both sports thrive on sponsorship deals, and the overlapping of those has allowed VanDam to cultivate good relationships with drivers like Newman, Truex and Tony Stewart.

“Sponsors want to be associated with a driver because of their popularity and fishing is the same way,” VanDam said. “It’s not like the NFL where the player is paid by the team. The people I work for are the fans of the companies that support me, and it’s the same in NASCAR in that sense.

“I have just a tremendous respect for them. I know how hard it is week in and week out, how much pressure is on them to just make the Chase and what it means for them if they get in.”