Hopewell native leaving his mark on NASCAR
By JACOB VAUGHAN, Sports Editor
Jul 13, 2013, 16:00
Hopewell native Sam Bass (right), the first officially licensed NASCAR artist, stands alongside Daytona International Speedway President Joie Chitwood III (left) and singer Sheryl Crow (center) prior to a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race last Saturday in Daytona Beach, Fla. (NASCAR via Getty Images/Chris Graythen).
When NASCAR drivers talk about trading paint, they’re often speaking of Hopewell native Sam Bass’ handiwork.
Bass – who as a child was awestruck by the colorful cars at Southside Speedway in Midlothian – is now a full-time artist and the driving creative force behind some of the most recognizable paint schemes in all of motorsports.
He estimates that his designs have graced as many as 400 cars driven by as many as 60 drivers in NASCAR’s three major series.
“When I was a little kid, I used to paint up my hot wheels and matchbox cars,” said Bass, who in 1997 became NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist. “It sure was cool to paint them up and make them my own.
“I’m doing the same thing today, only the cars are much, much bigger.”
An illustration by Sam Bass depicts Dale Earnhardt Jr. in NASCAR Sprint Cup action (contributed photo).
Bass has designed schemes for a slew of former Sprint Cup champions, including four-time titleholder Jeff Gordon, whose rides have doubled as Bass’ canvases for the last 21 years.
But Hopewell High School’s 1980 class president boasts a portfolio that is far from limited to sheet metal. Since first displaying his artwork at the Richmond Fairgrounds Raceway in 1981, Bass has made a living producing original paintings, guitars, trophies and driver uniforms.
The Concord, N.C. resident also has created the cover art for the last 73 Sprint Cup races at Charlotte Motor Speedway. It all amounts to a dream job for the Virginia Commonwealth University alumnus who grew up a die-hard Bobby Allison fan.
“I tell everybody that I’m a fan first who happens to be an artist,” Bass said. “I paint and draw from a fan’s perspective because I feel like if I work on something that really excites me as a race fan, then hopefully that’s going to excite the other race fans that are out there.”
Even the most casual of NASCAR enthusiasts would be excited to meet many of the drivers Bass has worked for and with over the last 32 years.
His list of current and former clients reads like a virtual roll call of NASCAR greats, including Allison, Dale Earnhardt, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Gordon, Jimmie Johnson, Bobby and Terry Labonte and Richard Petty.
“I’ve gotten to literally meet my heroes over the years,” Bass said. “That’s a great part of the job, and to do charity events with them and call them my friends is something that’s very special to me.”
So is music. Bass has designed upwards of 80 custom guitars, some of which were strummed in pre-race concerts by the likes of Lenny Kravitz, Brad Paisely, Travis Tritt, Keith Urban, and most recently Sheryl Crow, among others.
Most of the instruments-turned-artwork are on display at the Sam Bass Gallery, which is located across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway and houses more than 500 original works.
The artist himself also spends most of his days in the building that bears his name. “I spend a lot of time here doing my painting, drawing and designing, usually from Monday through Thursday,” Bass said. “Then I usually fly out to one of the race tracks about 20 times a year.”
Included in that tally are the two Sprint Cup races at Richmond International Raceway for which Bass now designs the trophies.
“It’s really a special thing to go to Richmond,” Bass said. “They always treat me great, and that’s the track I really got started at as far as displaying my work and everything else. I’ve done a lot of program cover art for them over the years.
“It’s a special thing to come home.”
Bass, 51 and a father of two, said he returns to Hopewell several times each year to visit family and friends. He credits the art programs at Hopewell High School and VCU for equipping him with the skills and knowledge required to pursue his dreams at full throttle.
“I’m one of those very blessed people who have known all along what I wanted to do,” Bass said. “Thankfully, it’s worked out really well. I come into work every day and do paintings, drawings and designs of race cars.
“There’s no other job on the planet that I would rather have.”