Sam Bass captures the soul of NASCAR

NASCAR is a sport filled with emotion. From the fans who cheer their beloved driver from the stands each week to the drivers vying for position on the track, tempers usually boil just under the surface and the thrill of a victory is sometimes only a few car lengths away.

Situated in the shadow of the 1.5 mile Charlotte Motor Speedway sits the Sam Bass Gallery, which opened in 2000, home of the first officially licensed artist of NASCAR - a place that is full of raw emotion and painstakingly crafted work. In a world of million-dollar sponsorships and larger than life superstars, a man who became a fan of racing at the age of seven knows all about the emotion and he’s not afraid to admit it.

Favorites showcased in the gallery include a breathtaking image known as “Fade to Black.” “Fade to Black” showcases the intensity of Dale Earnhardt by picturing the legend leaning against his iconic No. 3 Goodwrench Chevy, arms crossed in typical Intimidator fashion. The piece starts with lighter colors of purple on the bottom where the car sits on the track and progressively gets darker as it fades up into total darkness. Speaking of the image which hangs near the entrance, Bass remarked, “It’s one of my all-time favorites, and I know it was one of Dale’s...a lot of people don’t realize, but when they look into the black they’re staring right into his eyes.”

Sam stops to sign autographs during the
2012 All-Star weekend at CMS
Bass, who isn’t shy about his love for fans, is popular at meet and greets, taking time from his commitments as an artist to speak with fans in whom his work evokes a wide range of emotions. He's easily one of the most accessible men in the NASCAR world and is ready to sign autographs at a moment's notice. As Bass said, "without the fans you are just someone drawing for yourself" so it's really important to meet with those who allow him to do this for a living and not as a hobby.

Another love in Bass’ life is his passion for music which can be heard in speaking with him and seeing the array of guitars present in the gallery. Lining the hallway leading from the main meeting area to the private employee and shipping area in the back, these guitars include one which was presented to country music star Keith Urban, and later played in concert that same day.

You might think being an artist who has the opportunity to work in the motorsports industry is an easy job with little pressure but because of the time it takes to complete many of the works, Bass usually has several irons in the fire at the same time. Bass recently worked to design a unique trophy for the Aaron’s 499 at Talladega Superspeeedway. The uniqueness of the project wasn’t so much in the design, but in the way it was carried out. Bass began the piece commemorating the win of Brad Keselowski while in victory lane and would later finish it in his studio back in Charlotte. Conceptually the piece sounded easy but proved to be a challenge. Bass said, “It’s probably the hardest race track in the world to go into it and say it’s probably going to be these six or eight drivers. Talladega is 43 drivers in both races (Bass also did a similar piece for the NNS event the same weekend) I had to literally start 86 drawings before I arrived. It was great though. I actually got Miller Lite sprayed on the drawing.”

Bass says that on average it takes roughly 80 to 120 hours to complete a piece, but that larger pieces like “Rusty’s Last Call” take up to 300 hours because of all the intricate details.

The pressure Bass faces isn't limited to the time demands, but includes the significance of the paint schemes Bass designs. These schemes become synonymous with the personalities and are emblazoned on apparel, diecasts, and other memorabilia. Imagine being the man who has designed Jeff Gordon’s paint schemes for the entirety of his tenure driving the DuPont car. Imagine wondering how fans would react to the change of a now legendary paint scheme in favor of a more modern, less “rainbow” theme? That’s exactly how Bass felt several years ago when he was asked to update the No 24 scheme.

“I’ve designed for Gordon for 20 years. I met Jeff Gordon when he had a mullet and a mustache. I’ve been very fortunate to be a part of that whole experience through my design work. Jeff has remained unchanged through all of that. He’s a dear friend and I really love working with him. When you’re talking about my favorite things, that DuPont car has to be one of my favorite things I’ve ever done. When I designed the original Rainbow Warrior car, that thing became such an icon and lasted nine years before we changed it to the fire and flames car. And then that car became such an icon. If you look at that car when I did it in 2001 and how many paint schemes after it became flame paint schemes, it had an impact. So every time I’ve changed it there’s been so much pressure on me because I don’t wanna be known as the guy that ruined the DuPont paint scheme. I want it to continue and the reaction has been great to that car.”

Openly admitting that he’s a fan first and a NASCAR artist second, Bass concluded by saying, “I’ve got a really nice toolbox and it’s all filled with office supplies. I’m not mechanically inclined. I can draw almost anything mechanical but if I can’t get the bolt off when I’m changing the oil, I’m throwing wrenches and get discouraged. I have a deep appreciation for the drivers and the mechanics for their mechanical abilities and the only way I can interconnect and engage with them is through my artwork.”

As you can tell, Sam Bass is a life-long fan who gets the chance to work in an industry he loves and interact with some of the biggest names in the sport on a daily basis. He might not pump the pump the jack or carry the gas can, but his contribution to the sport is invaluable.

If you are in the Charlotte area for a race or just passing through stop by the Sam Bass Art Gallery. You'll find a wide array of designs spanning the entirety of his career, many that will remind you of that emotion you felt the first time you saw your favorite car on the track or got your first autograph.

Follow Sam on Twitter (@sambassartist) and on Facebook.

Photos provided by Sam Bass.

A NASCAR fan for nearly 20 years, Katy Lindamood is the founder of Skirts and Scuffs. While most teenagers were drooling over the latest teen heart throb, Katy was perched on the couch crunching numbers and taking notes on what was going on in the world of racing. Today Katy leads a team of more than two dozen female writers and photographers with the goal of giving female fans a voice and debunking the stereotypes she's dealt with since the age of 12. Katy can be contacted via Twitter or email.
Sam Bass captures the soul of NASCAR Sam Bass captures the soul of NASCAR Reviewed by Katy Lindamood on Saturday, May 19, 2012 Rating: 5