News & Media

Truex fuels his speed rush on the water as well

May 30, 2012, Mark Aumann,

MWR driver has found love and success with remote-controlled power boats

Martin Truex Jr. likes to play with toy boats. If you can call a radio controlled wood and metal projectile with sponsons, carrying a nitrous-oxide burning engine that can reach speeds above 100 miles an hour, a toy.

On the weekends when he's not at the race track, Truex can be found at International Model Power Boat Association events, like the one in April at Brahan Spring Park near Huntsville, Ala. Truex got hooked on the hobby five years ago -- and not surprisingly, his competitive nature soon got the better of him.

"It's something that I enjoy doing. Really, since I started driving race cars for a living, my hands don't get dirty as often and I really miss the challenge of building stuff and going fast with it. "


"I had always had [radio controlled] cars and trucks, and raced with my buddies back home," Truex said. "I've been building them since I was a little kid. And when I moved to Lake Norman, I thought, 'Man, I need to get a boat.'

"So I bought one from a guy. But it wasn't fast and it just wasn't anything special. So I did some research into them and started building my own."

Calling himself an "amateur machinist," Truex began doing much of the design work himself. But unlike a scaled-down version of the off-shore racing powerboats -- or even the saucer-shaped, winged unlimited hydroplanes -- Truex's "boats" look more like mechanical waterbugs, designed to barely skim along the surface at high speed.

You probably wouldn't want to ride in one, if you could build one to scale. One, there's no place to sit, since the engine basically takes up the entire interior. And two, the craft isn't particularly fond of choppy conditions. Seasickness pills would be mandatory.

"There's really not a real boat that's like them," Truex said. "They're kind of like Formula 1 cars. They're pretty radical."

They look fast -- and they are. And Truex is fast becoming one of the top contenders in the classes he enters. At the Huntsville meet in April, Truex added another world oval course record to the three he previously captured.

His Class B nitro-powered boat turned a lap of the three-buoy, quarter-mile course in just more than 15 seconds, at an average speed of 59.042 mph. He already held the Class D quarter-mile oval record of 60.492 mph, which he set last fall on the same course -- plus records in the same classifications at the one-third mile distance.

Now his goal is to break the 100 mph barrier on a straightline course. Truex believes his 3.5 cc engine has the capability of propelling his boat at speeds close to 105 mph.

The similarities between nitro boat racing and NASCAR are striking. Just like Bill France's organization, the IMPBA began in 1949, when a group of model boat enthusiasts decided to get together to see which boat was the fastest.

In the days before radio controls, the boats were tethered by a specific length of rope to a center pole in the middle of the lake, fired up and hand-launched with the rope taut. Once the boat was at full speed, the timers would record the fastest four laps.

These days, model boat racing is a much more technical enterprise. There's a rule book, pre-race technical inspection and computerized scoring.

Truex said racing nitro boats is a lot like qualifying in NASCAR, where you're trying to lay down the best lap, because "the fastest guy wins, that's all it is." And you don't have much time to do that. The fuel tanks hold between nine and 14 ounces of fuel -- a mixture of nitrous oxide, oil and methanol -- which equates to about four or five minutes of running time, or about 10 laps.

There is one big difference between Truex's day job and his hobby, however. Instead of having the ability to control his vehicle from inside the cockpit, like he would on a race weekend, Truex has to use a three-channel radio to control the craft from a vantage point on the shoreline.

"It has a wheel for steering, a throttle and then a mixture control on the third channel, so you can control the fuel mixture," Truex said.

Truex said he gets the same thrill from racing his boats that he does from taking the checkered flag first at the track. And maybe even more so, given that his boats are hand-crafted. He's the one who puts in the time and energy doing the design work and construction.

"It's something that I enjoy doing," Truex said. "Really, since I started driving race cars for a living, my hands don't get dirty as often and I really miss the challenge of building stuff and going fast with it.

"I miss coming home on Saturday night and going in the garage and saying, 'OK, I got my butt whupped, how am I going to turn the tables next Saturday?' So, that's kind of why I enjoy doing the boats."