|Credit: Chris Graythen/Getty Images for Stewart-Haas Racing|
“We’re darned excited, this is like a dream come true.” Johnny Morris, Bass Pro Shops founder
Friday at Talladega Superspeedway, 2011 Sprint Cup Champion Tony Stewart announced Stewart Haas Racing’s new partnership with Bass Pro Shops. Sitting beside the Springfield, Missouri based company's founder, Johnny Morris, Stewart said “The best part is that it’s not a new partnership, it’s a friendship.”
That decades-long friendship with Morris led to personal services contracts with Stewart, to sponsoring his late model team, to what Morris described as “a dream come true” with the announcement of Bass Pro Shops as primary sponsor for 18 Sprint Cup races.
Stewart’s partnership with Office Depot ended this year, but Mobil 1 continues with a primary role for 11 races. The No. 14 team still has 9 races available for a primary sponsor.
Morris said, “We love being here at this place (Talladega). We were introduced to it by Dale Earnhardt Sr. and our friend Richard Childress.” Earnhardt and Childress also demonstrated to the company how valuable an investment in NASCAR sponsorship could be. Morris said that in a 30-day period after that 1998 race Bass Pro Shops sold over 10 million dollars of caps, die casts and t-shirts. He credited Earnhardt’s enormous popularity, but said that the company recognized how many NASCAR fans hunt and fish, so while NASCAR isn't cheap, he said it helped build their brand so the company looks at it as a long-term investment.
Bass Pro Shops sponsored Missouri native Jamie McMurray’s No. 1 Earnhardt-Ganassi Chevy since the 2010 season, but that deal ended this year. Morris expressed interest in continued involvement with McMurray, and said he has the “highest regard for Jamie McMurray and Chip Ganassi,” but viewed the opportunity to “do something with Tony” as a “once-in-a-lifetime opportunity.”
Morris also said that Bass Pro Shops plans to continue their relationship with Richard Childress and his grandsons, Austin and Ty Dillon.
Stewart emphasized that SHR did not go to Bass Pro Shops with the intention of “stealing someone else’s sponsor,” but let Morris know that SHR had availability should the chance arise. When asked how long it took to make the deal, Morris said “It didn’t take us too long to shake hands.” He declined to name the length of the agreement, saying “we don’t want our bankers to know how long.”
“Tony wakes up every day with the desire to be the best race car driver possible.” Morris said. “How do you put a price tag on that? We’re really on Cloud 9.”
Both Stewart and Morris expressed respect and admiration for McMurray and Chip Ganassi. Stewart raced with McMurray in go-karts, and “Chip is someone who will bounce back quickly. Jamie is a good sell.” Morris agreed that “the future is bright for Jamie.”
When pressed for a hunting or fishing story, Stewart related that Morris bought a fishing trip after a race at Texas Motor Speedway and invited Stewart along. They visited a bass hatchery and then went fishing. Stewart was at the back of the boat, working a top-water lure when what turned out to be a 12 lb. large-mouth bass, the largest he’s ever caught, pulled on the line. Stewart said he was afraid he was going to have to pull Morris into the boat as well. “I missed it three times with the net,” Morris said. “I wanted that fish as bad as he did.”