0

For the love of wheels and reels

By Anthony Rhoads

Atlanta Motor Speedway president and general manager Ed Clark is passionate about two things -- racing and fishing.

As much as he loves racing, fishing is an activity that takes him away from the fast-paced world of motorsports.

Whether he's taking a fishing trip to Canada or just fishing in a local private pond or lake, he always enjoys getting out on the water.

It also helps that he lives on the shores of Lake Peachtree in Peachtree City.

"It's always been something I can do where I don't have to think about anything else," he said. "I can go fishing and tune everything else out. It totally changes your mood; you don't have to catch big ones every time to get the value of it."

Clark has been fishing nearly all his life and was first introduced to the sport while growing up in Virginia.

"I grew up out in the country and we had a pond," he said.

As Clark grew up, he not only fished but participated in other sports as well, mainly basketball and baseball. He played both sports while attending Prince Edward Academy in Virginia and had several offers from small colleges to play basketball.

But Clark wanted to go to a big school and wound up going to Virginia Tech, where his brother had also attended.

It was at Virginia Tech, where he became familiar with his all-time favorite fishing spot, the New River. Even though it's not reflected in the name, the New River is the second-oldest river in the world and its snakes its way through the mountains of North Carolina, Virginia and West Virginia.

The New River has long been regarded as one of the best small-mouth bass fishing sites in the country and Clark was immediately hooked on fishing there.

Now, Clark tries to fish as much as possible and at one time, went out as many as 40-50 times a year but has cut back to about 25 trips a year.

Just because he has cut back on the number of trips he takes each year, that doesn't mean he's less passionate about the sport.

"Fishing is a totally recreational thing and it is challenging," he said. "There are so many things to learn when you fish but when things click, you catch more fish."

One of the highlights over the years was competing at a Bassmasters tournament as an amateur at Lake Eufala in Alabama two years ago.

He finished 50th and actually got a check for his efforts.

"It was a real opportunity for me," he said. "It's always good to got out with these guys and catch a fish yourself."

Clark has also done some fishing shows, including one with Bassmasters angler Hank Parker Jr. three years ago.

He also recently went out with Steve Grissom and Bobby Allison in Griffin for a taping of a NASCAR fishing show that will be airing on the Outdoor Life Network.

He also went on a fly-fishing trip with Bill Elliott in the north Georgia mountains.

"I didn't know Bill Elliott fished but he enjoys it," he said.

But as passionate as he is about fishing, Clark is really beginning to get into racing as a participant. After years as a racing executive, Clark is now getting behind the wheel competing at Thursday Thunder in the Masters Division.

"Racing is the new deal; everyone needs something need to be interested in," he said. "Racing is one of the most difficult things I've done."

Clark's best finish at Thursday Thunder was a fifth-place showing in last year's season finale.

"I enjoy the challenge; it's difficult and challenging," Clark said. "I'm competing against some guys who have years of experience and who race several times a week. You can't beat experience of being behind the wheel. There are some good drivers in the division -- Skip Nichols, Dwight Pilgram, Mark Wallace, Brian Weimer and Randy Thornton. They're a really good group of drivers."

Even though it's competitive and the drivers take it seriously, there is a tremendous amount of camaraderie among the guys on Thursday nights.

Last year, Clark had some problems out on the track during a heat race but when he came back into the garages, several of the Masters Division drivers helped him get his car back in shape for the main feature race.

"That's one of the reasons I like racing in the Masters Division," Clark said. "Those guys will do everything they can to beat you on the track but they will help you any way they can."