DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. — Sam Bass, whose images earned acclaim as the first officially licensed artist of NASCAR, died Saturday. He was 57.
Denise Bass, his wife, confirmed the artist’s passing. Bass had been battling kidney failure and was in search of a transplant.
“It is with a sad heart that our family shares the news of our loss with the NASCAR community,” Denise Bass wrote. “Sam Bass, a loving husband, father, and inspiration to us all, passed away earlier today. Thank you for your prayers during this very difficult time.”
The sanctioning body of NASCAR said of Bass in a statement: “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.”
Bass’ work was seen by many at high speed on NASCAR’s circuits, as his designs adorned cars driven by several of the sport’s most prominent drivers. Among those paint schemes was the iconic “Rainbow Warrior” colors that rode with Jeff Gordon’s No. 24 Chevrolet early in his career. Other paint schemes for Gordon’s rides followed.
“One of the things I have enjoyed the most about my career over the years is the people interaction,” Bass said as he provided a medical update in 2017.
Following his NASCAR Xfinity Series team’s win at Daytona by driver Michael Annett, Dale Earnhardt Jr. talked about Bass and the person he was.
“We worked real hard over the last year or so trying to help Sam,” Earnhardt Jr. said. “It’s just difficult to know that somebody, they’re here one day and they’re not here anymore. It’s so hard to understand. Everybody knows how Sam was, how great he was, how amazing. There’s not many people that you meet in your life that are so happy to see you every time they see you, and he was that way. And so he set such a great example for all of us on how to treat people and how to maintain relationships. He just seemed so grateful for everything that ever happened to him. I hope that he’s celebrated because he meant a lot to this sport.”
Bass’ work was also prominent on race-day programs, adorning the cover of Charlotte Motor Speedway’s publications since 1985.
In a statement, Speedway Motorsports, Inc. President and CEO Marcus Smith said: “Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today. Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history. He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years. His work provided our fans a keepsake to treasure, and that was so appropriate, because Sam was always such a fan of our sport and he was such a treasure to the entire NASCAR family. His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever. We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”
Drivers and teams reacted to the sad news.
Rest In Peace @sambassartist
He was a positive influence on @NASCAR as an artist. A friend to everyone he met. The nicest person, always smiling, always thrilled to see you again.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) February 16, 2019
I still have this original painting @sambassartist did in my shop. What a treasure and honor it was when Sam gave it to me.
Thank you Sam pic.twitter.com/KHaphugHVO
— Brad Keselowski (@keselowski) February 16, 2019
Very sad to hear. Such an amazing talent, great man, and a huge race fan. Never forget the first time I saw one of my cars on the program for a race he made. RIP. 🙏 https://t.co/pFthisq1X9
— Clint Bowyer (@ClintBowyer) February 16, 2019
Sam and his family are some of my family’s dearest friends. From our early beginnings with my dad as kids, to painting us a family portrait for my dad for Christmas 2000, a sweet newborn pen drawing of Karsyn, he has blessed us so much. He and his smile will be sorely missed. https://t.co/aXkPTVgwGq
— Kelley Earnhardt (@EarnhardtKelley) February 16, 2019
Really sad to hear about the passing of Sam Bass. He was so much more than ‘just’ an artist. He made art that helped make the sport and he will be missed by so many.
— Wood Brothers Racing (@woodbrothers21) February 16, 2019