Ranger announced that David Fritts, Dion Hibdon, Pete Gluszek and Sandy Melvin are the members of the new NASCAR/Ranger Pro Fishing Team, which has the potential to be one of the highest-profile teams pro fishing has yet seen.

The reasons for that include the demographic overlap between NASCAR's 75 million fans and bass fishing's 35-50 million participants (depending on which number you accept), the fact that NASCAR is the U.S.'s hottest sport, and that NASCAR pro team members might be appearing at NASCAR events.

"The NASCAR/Ranger partnership presents a great opportunity to cross-promote the professional sports of fishing and stock car racing in ways that haven't been done before," said Bart Schad, VP of sales and marketing for Ranger Boats. "The pro fishing team is enhancing that effort on a more direct level. It's all about sharing the passion that so many of us have for these two sports."

"A national survey showed us that NASCAR fans are nearly twice as likely as non-fans to have gone boating or fishing in the past 12 months, and are twice as likely to own fishing equipment," said Steve Boguski, NASCAR's VP of strategic marketing and licensing. "The NASCAR pro fishing team is just a great addition to the promotional effort that has resulted from our partnership with Ranger."

Why These Guys

Obviously Ranger gave a lot of thought to selecting this pro team. Here's what Schad had to say about that.

"It seemed like these four people just jumped out at us as being good fits for this program," he said. "Dion and David are two of only three people to have won championships in FLW and B.A.S.S. I thought it was really unique that both guys did that, and that they would make great representatives for somebody. And as high-profile as this (team) will be, I thought we had to have high-profile people representing this team."

Gluszek joined Ranger this season. "I've gotten to know Pete over the last year or so," Schad said. "Pete is very bright and 'gets it' on the promotion side better than most (anglers). He will work really hard from a promotion standpoint.

"Also, the fact that he's from the Northeast (New Jersey) is a good fit. When I worked with NASCAR (Schad worked for NASCAR in licensing and marketing before joining Ranger), we were always working to overcome the perception that NASCAR was just a Southeastern regional sport. It was and is a national sport.

"The same thing is true of fishing -- it's a national sport. So I think it's great with Pete's talents as an up-and-comer that we will have that geographical representation (on the NASCAR Team)."

This year on the FLW Tour, Florida's Sandy Melvin ran a Ranger sponsored by NASCAR Winston Cup Scene and NASCAR Winston Cup Illustrated, both of which are owned by Street & Smith and published under license with NASCAR. Schad said that in Melvin "there was the opportunity to leverage this, to promote this team and fishing to race fans.

Photo: BassFan.com

Sandy Melvin's deal with two NASCAR-licensed publications helped him get on the team.

"That was one of the goals when we got involved with Sandy: How can we really combine both sports and talk to people who have a natural interest in both sports?" For that reason, Melvin was a natural fit.

Melvin said that Scene and Illustrated will support the NASCAR/Ranger team, and that another angler might be running the Scene/Illustrated boat next season. "Obviously it's a great team to be on," he said of his new gig. "Being on a team with David and Dion and a winner like Pete, I certainly hope it elevates my fishing. I still have a lot to learn, and being with a group of guys like that, I'm hoping to shorten that learning curve. It's a great opportunity for me, obviously, and I'm very proud to have the opportunity."

What Will They Do?

Beyond running the new NASCAR-edition Rangers at tournaments (the boats aren't on the trails yet), right now it's undecided exactly how the team will be used.

"It's like we have this awesome, huge tool chest with all these great tools, and we're figuring out what want to build with it," Schad said. "We will definitely use this opportunity to gain exposure for the sport. We think this team can bring new people into our sport or get them to look at it differently than they have in the past.

"Putting my NASCAR hat back on, when I was at NASCAR it became more mainstream in a lot of ways. The sport hadn't changed. It just got over a stigma that people had of it being a redneck-type thing. We (bass fishing) is past that and we all know that, but do other people know it? This gives us an opportunity to reach more of mainstream America with the message that fishing is cool. That's one of the main things we want to do."

Other possibilities Schad listed were cross-promotions with NASCAR drivers, leveraging other Ranger- and NASCAR-shared affiliations (e.g., Kellogg's) and a possible retail sweepstakes.

More Info

Fritts' Comments
"I feel fortunate to be on this team. I only live about a mile and half from Richard Childers racing. NASCAR is all around me. I think bringing in extra exposure will help our industry as well as theirs, and it will give Ranger some well-deserved publicity. I'm really excited about it."

Gluszek's Comments
"It's a huge sponsorship and a tremendous opportunity. I'm representing the sport with the biggest fanbase in the country. From a promotional standpoint, you can't beat that. It also makes me feel good because it says that Ranger holds me in pretty high regard, and that's a positive thing too."

The Deal
The multi-year agreement between Ranger and NASCAR was first announced on July 4, two days prior to the Pepsi 400 NASCAR race at Daytona. As part of the announcement, NASCAR drivers and avid outdoor enthusiasts Ward Burton and Bobby Labonte were named as spokesmen for the new Ranger/NASCAR limited-series boats.

The Boats
The NASCAR boats come in two models and two color packages. Anglers have the option to "dress out" in NASCAR style either the 2003 19-foot 519VX or 21-foot 521VX bass boats. The boats include a performance component package complete with foot throttle and hydraulic engine lift.

Each boat will have custom paint schemes, and exterior decal and design options. These options include custom seats (both bench and pedestal), a Ranger/NASCAR logo carpet inlay, console emblems, side decals and trailer fairings. Every boat will also include a plaque bearing the name of the purchaser.