By Dee DePass •

ATV maker Arctic Cat zipped into the racing arena in a big way last month with a new business partnership with NASCAR star Robby Gordon and racing designer Todd Romano.

Gordon and Romano's Speed RMG will develop racing power sports accessories, products and future events with Arctic Cat under the new Speed brand.

The first Speed vehicle accessories are designed for Arctic Cat's Wildcat "side by side" ATVs and will be in stores this month. They include high-backed suspension seats, multipoint harnesses, radial tires, stylish aluminum wheels, contoured steering wheels, high-strength suspension and shocks and a host of new garments and caps.

The Speed line, recently introduced at Arctic Cat's annual wheeled dealer show in Orlando, is meant to help people deck out their side-by-sides like professional racers. More products and events are to come.

"We are not the first to come out with customizing products. But these are unique because they are racing-inspired," said Arctic Cat CEO Chris Metz. "This is very different. This [type of partnership] has never been done before."

Gordon, who is also a big off-road racer, met Metz for lunch this spring at the St. Paul Hotel and now Arctic Cat is investing "multimillions of dollars" in their new partnership. Metz expects Speed to introduce tens of thousands of racing enthusiasts to Arctic Cat for the first time, and produce some handsome profits in time.

"Robby Gordon owns the brand Speed and is creating a lifestyle brand. We are the sole licensee for [its] high performance accessories for the [entire] power sports industry," Metz said. "The benefit for Arctic Cat is we get an established brand with strong recognition and growing reach. It also allows us to partner with both Arctic Cat and non Arctic Cat dealers."

Gordon's effort to turn Speed into a lifestyle brand could eventually emulate the approach taken by Tommy Bahama, which "started out as a clothing line, but now it's furniture and drinks and fabrics. It's a lifestyle brand now," Metz said.

If successful, Speed's first leap into racing accessories will boost Arctic Cat's $114 million parts, garments and accessories (PGA) division. The unit has grown nearly 6 percent since 2012. Accessories, new vehicles and the launch of Speed are part of the company's overall plan to increase revenue by 50 percent to $1.05 billion by 2020.

"We are leveraging Robby's 30-plus years of successful racing experience, and Todd's creativity and innovation, to bring new top-of-the-line aftermarket products to our customers," said Tracy Crocker, Arctic Cat vice president and general manager of ATVs and the PGA division.

Gordon's clout stems from his NASCAR racing days and his winning of seven international "off-road" class championships, two stadium obstacle courses and three Baja 500 races.

Romano become a household name in the power sports business after founding DragonFire Racing and Finish Line Marketing and developing events and racing accessories for the off-road four-wheeler industry.

To showcase its own racing prowess, Arctic Cat this month is launching the Arctic Cat Stadium Side-by-Side Races. The company's top dealers and customers will be invited to race against each other, Gordon and other celebrities. Ten vehicles will race at a time.

"There are just so many opportunities to create fun with this," Metz said. "It creates excitement at our dealers" and gives dealers a venue reason to activate sales.

The first race is set for Friday to Sunday at the Sands Sports Super Show in Costa Mesa, Calif.

The racing contests will serve as the warm-up act to Robby Gordon's Stadium Super Truck races. The events, featuring massive trucks flying off ramps and dare-devil driving, started in 2013 and now take place around the United States, Canada and Australia, drawing crowds of 20,000. Arctic Cat Chief Marketing Officer Greg Williamson said the new Speed accessories and races are a direct result of Gordon's influence "and our efforts to solidify Arctic Cat as a major sponsor of racing."

The codeveloped efforts hit the market just as Arctic Cat unleashed its 2016 models three weeks ago in Florida. The 2016 lineup features seven new off-road ATV and side-by-side vehicles, four limited-edition models, a new Prowler utility vehicle and an all-new Alterra ATV with a more powerful engine.

Company officials said such innovations should spur growth at the company, which has struggled in recent years. Arctic Cat is vigorously discounting and clearing out old ATV inventories at dealerships to make way for a slew of new products.

"These new 2016 side-by-sides and ATV models are just the beginning of the innovation that we intend to bring to market as we strive to create 'the ultimate off-road riding experience,' " said Metz, who liked the expression so much, he had it printed right into the headquarters conference room table.

Dee DePass • 612-673-7725