Saturday Spotlight: Artistic programs take checkered flag

by: Sarah Lively, web producer Updated:

CONCORD - Sam Bass is a familiar name around Charlotte Motor Speedway. He has been designing race programs for the track since May 1985, beginning with the first Coca Cola 600. 

Bass learned early in life that he had a passion for the cars on the track.

“I went to my first NASCAR race when I was 7 years old, just loved it, and prior to that I had been interested in drawing and coloring and everything,” Bass said. “I started doing portraits of drivers and drawings of the race cars. And literally from that first race this is all I’ve ever wanted to do.”

He grew up in Richmond and attended that first race at Southside Speedway in Richmond.

In 1981 Bass began creating pieces of art. At the time he worked for the federal government in Richmond, and every weekend he traveled to races to meet people and network.

Bass stopped by Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1984 with his portfolio in hand, asking if someone would look at his artwork. He met with track President Humpy Wheeler that afternoon. In spring of 1985 he was given his chance to design programs for the speedway.

“It was overwhelming. I was so excited to see the fans buying the programs and looking at them in the stands and everything,” Bass said.

He opened his own shop in 1987 and moved to Concord in 1990.

Bass became the first officially licensed NASCAR artist in 1996. Almost 30 years after designing his first program for the Coca Cola 600, Bass has designed his 75th and 76th consecutive programs for the Charlotte May races.

“I am a fan first who happens to be an artist. It’s very important for me to always paint for the fans, to always keep the fans in mind,” he said.

A health scare earlier this year had track officials wondering if he’d be able to make this year’s programs. Bass is a severe diabetic and earlier this year he developed a blood infection. He was in the intensive care unit for almost three weeks and had to stay home for three weeks of recovery from the four surgeries he had while in the hospital.

“It was a really eye-opening experience. I’ve very rarely been sick, I’ve probably never missed six weeks of work collectively in my 33 years,” Bass said.

He described the Sprint All-Star Race and Coca Cola 600 as his comeback races. The All-Star Race last weekend was the first race he’s been able to attend since he was in the hospital.

The speedway approached him with a blockbuster theme idea for this year’s races. Last year, Bass combined both the Sprint All-Star and Coca Cola 600 themes by putting the covers together to create one piece of artwork. He decided to take the same approach this year.

“By splitting the driver in half with the moon, it made for a great transition. Each half holds that race’s trophy. Behind them is the history of Charlotte Motor Speedway is on filmstrips,” Bass said.

According to Bass, the programs represent over 10,000 hours he has spent working for Charlotte Motor Speedway alone.

He has had the opportunity to work on other unique art projects, too. He designed a NASCAR board for Monopoly, creating 64 separate pieces of art. He has done pieces on guitars, which has allowed him to pursue his other passion of music.  Bass has designed guitars for Train, Keith Urban, Brad Paisley, Lenny Kravitz and Kiss.

Bass also designed all the fictional costumes and props for “Talladega Nights,” some of which can be seen in his Concord store.

He estimates he’s done a couple thousand pieces of art. His favorite is “Sundown Showdown” from May 1993, which was the first Coca Cola 600 race that transitioned from day to night. He created emphasis on the drivers’ helmets, which reference the famous Davey Allison and Kyle Petty wreck from the previous Winston race.

“The real joy in what I do comes from sharing,” Bass said.

His shop will be opened on Sunday from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. and on Memorial Day from 10 a.m. to 2 p.m.

It is located at 6104 Performance Drive in Concord, across from the Speedway.

Click here to visit his website, which features pieces of artwork that Bass has done.