Bass Pro Shops celebrated its 50th anniversary during the World’s Fishing Fair in Springfield, Missouri, on March 30–April 3. The one-of-a-kind showcase at Bass Pro Shops national headquarters featured seminars, meet-and-greets, concerts, and more from stars across the worlds of fishing, hunting, conservation, country music, and NASCAR.
And Outsider was there to cover the golden anniversary. We sat down for interviews with Bass Pro Shops founder Johnny Morris, fishing legends Bill Dance, Jimmy Houston, and Roland Martin, as well as NASCAR’s Richard Childress, Austin Dillon, Martin Truex Jr., Noah Gragson, and more.
The best part of the five-day event: 100 percent of the proceeds ($1.5 million) from admission tickets supported conservation. For the past decade, Bass Pro Shops has invested an average of 10 percent of annual earnings to support conservation. And that’s not lost on the NASCAR team that Bass Pro Shops sponsors, including Noah Gragson, who drives the No. 9 Chevy for JR Motorsports in the NASCAR Xfinity Series.
Outsider chatted with 23-year-old Noah about his relationship with Bass Pro Shops, fishing, the “race” that got away, and more.
1. How did your relationship with Bass Pro Shops start?
Noah Gragson: So, I race the No. 9 Camaro with [sponsors] Bass Pro Shops, TrueTimber Camo, Black Rifle Coffee. And our partnership really started off in 2020 with a three-race deal, and our first race being Daytona to start our season off. And it was like a perfect storm. We got to meet everybody, Johnny Morris and JP [Morris], before the race. And then we went out there and won the race. That was my first career win, and our first win with Bass Pro Shops. And just that perfect storm. That turned into a full season, and now we’ve been partnered together for about three years. So, really special to be able to carry the Bass Pro Shop colors on the car and on myself. It’s just a fun company. It doesn’t get much better than Bass Pro Shops.
2. Did you fish much growing up in Nevada?
Noah Gragson: There’s not a lot. There’s not a lot. But when I was 18 years old, I moved out to North Carolina from Las Vegas and turned professional in NASCAR. And there’s a lot of fishing out there on Lake Norman and in different areas. Been down fishing with Rusty Sellers [CEO] TrueTimber Camouflage, and caught some fish with him. I just enjoy it. It’s fun to get out during the week and get a little peace and quiet, and relax, and be able to catch some fish.
It’s so hectic, our NASCAR schedules. We’re always going all over the place. We’re in a different place every week. Last weekend we were in Texas, this weekend we’re in Virginia, and all throughout the United States. So if I can get a little downtime throughout the week and cast some lines, that’s where I like to have a little fun. It’s great to just be able to relax, and with our schedule just being so busy, it’s nice to just get that peace and quiet.
3. Have you gotten into some big fish yet?
Noah Gragson: So the first big fish that I caught was deep-sea fishing off the coast of Alabama. And we were out there with a group—we were racing back in 2015 off the panhandle of Florida and Alabama. And they were fishing for mackerel, and the guys who were on their boat, they’re like, “Oh, man, we don’t know if you’re going to catch very many, and we’ll be lucky if we see one or catch one.”
We cast out and caught one, and then it just seemed like they were biting left and right. And I think we brought in 15 or 16 throughout the day. After the second or third one came in, the captain of the boat and everybody was just, they were losing their minds about how they were biting. They didn’t think that we’d even catch one, and then we caught so many. It was a great day.
4. What does it mean to you to be a part of Bass Pro Shops 50th anniversary celebration?
Noah Gragson: It’s great. I mean, 50 years of Bass Pro Shops? It’s unbelievable to think what the Morris family has been able to create. It’s truly a dynasty and it’s very humbling to be able to be a small part of Bass Pro Shops and carry their brand each and every day. So this store, the Springfield store, this is like the mac daddy of them all. This place is huge. It has everything and anything you want. I’m like a kid in a candy store today, roaming through here, just eyes super wide and have a smile on my face. So I don’t know if it gets much better than this.
5. Instead of the fish that got away, tell me about the race that got away?
Noah Gragson: Oh, there’s been a few. There was one at Homestead [Speedway] in Miami, Florida, where we dominated the [2021 Contender Boats 250]. We had like a 10-second lead, which is a big lead in NASCAR, and dominated the race. And a lap car—I was passing a lapper—and he blew a tire. And it came up right in front of us with two laps to go in the race. We were so close to winning it, and that was a big heart-breaker. But we’ll go back there again this year and try again.