NASCAR artist and 2012 Model Car Hall of Fame Inductee Sam Bass passed away on February 16. If his name doesn’t immediately ring a bell, his artwork certainly should. As NASCAR’s “First Officially Licensed Artist,” he created dozens, if not hundreds of works of stock car related art for posters, t-shirts, and other merchandising.
That distinction of being “licensed” by the racing organization meant he could render the cars with correct sponsor logos, adding a realism to his work to which others did not have had access. And his work was for sale at tracks around the country every week.
He also helped design the graphics on the real cars for Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jimmie Johnson, Tony Stewart, and other drivers. The Rainbow Warrior scheme for Jeff Gordon’s DuPont Chevy was probably his most famous design. When you consider how many of his designs have been translated to diecast models, it’s easy to see why he was one of the early inductees into the Model Car Hall of Fame in the “Automotive Legends” category.
Among this work, he was best known for his montage-style tributes to the drivers and their cars that graced race day programs and other publications. His first big break was illustrating the cover for the Charlotte Motor Speedway World 600 in 1985, which led to him doing just about every other cover for Charlotte races since.
Bass developed a close association with NASCAR family and culture. During the pre-race broadcast of the Daytona 500 on February 17 of this year, the crew at Fox paid him tribute. Many drivers Tweeted condolences as well. NASCAR officials issued a tribute as well, saying, “Though he may have never turned a lap or a wrench, few captured the essence of our sport through his work more than Sam Bass. He was a consistent presence in the NASCAR garage, and his ever-present smile and endearing personality welcomed all. Though we have lost a member of the NASCAR family, his legend will continue in his art – all of which illustrated the greatness of our sport and the talent of a true friend.”