CONCORD, N.C. -- Sam Bass remembers getting Matchbox and Hot
Wheels race cars as birthday presents when he was young. Before he
played with them, he worked on the toy cars with his paint and
Now that he's all grown up, Bass hasn't changed much.
For 20 years, he has been drawing everybody who's anybody in
Winston Cup racing. With a degree in fine arts from Virginia
Commonwealth, his artwork can be found on race cars, helmets,
transporters and uniforms.
Bass struggled as an artist in the early 1980s. Now, at 40, he
is perhaps the country's most successful motorsports artist, with
his work appearing on everything from Jeff Gordon's No. 24 car to
the latest version of Monopoly with a NASCAR theme.
He points to 1981 as the start of his career as a painter when
he asked racing great Bobby Allison to autograph some of his
paintings. The driver asked to buy some of them.
The prices vary depending on how much detail and reworking is
involved, said Susan Russo, a vice president at Sam Bass
Illustration & Design, Inc.
His client list at Sam Bass Illustration & Design includes such
Fortune 500 companies as Anheuser-Busch, General Mills, Coca-Cola,
Home Depot, DuPont and Pepsico.
One of his latest projects is a NASCAR Collector's Edition of
the famous Monopoly board game, which replaced an earlier
racing-inspired one that used still photographs of Winston Cup
His signature also can be found on Christmas ornaments, cereal
boxes, camping gear -- even some limited edition Gibson Les Paul
"From Gibson's vantage point, we were able to provide Sam with
a unique canvas to illustrate motor sports,'' said Gibson's Don
Pitts. "He's passionate about music and guitars. We already
consider most of our guitars a work of art, so having this is
A Dale Earnhardt model originally sold for $3,000, though Russo
said they now fetch as much as $4,500 because of their popularity
and limited supply.
Pitts expects more Sam Bass artwork to show up on Gibson
"We talked about a Richard Petty one and the Dale Earnhardt
guitar is probably the Holy Grail,'' he said. "And we're talking
to two or three other drivers.''
Bass is humble but confident he can deliver value to his
"The best way I can put it is that I want to be the Wal-Mart of
NASCAR artwork,'' he said. "When I started, there were these
people who would design the paint scheme for the cars and other
people who designed the uniforms. Another group would do the design
for the helmets.
Like Wal-Mart, "I can be a one-stop place for people who want
anything or everything, from helmets to car transporters to
uniforms,'' he said. "I put this all together and this is what
Bass said he treats each new project from a fan's viewpoint.
"I get just as excited when I see one of my paintings on a
cereal box as I do when I see one hanging in an art gallery,'' said
Bass, whose paintings are on display at the Levine Museum of the
New South in Charlotte. "It's all about connecting to the fans.''
Bass produces an astounding number of paintings and prints with
a distinctive NASCAR theme. He regularly puts in 16-hour days in
His paintings and prints are on display at the
10,000-square-foot Sam Bass Gallery, which opened in 2000 across
the street from Lowe's Motor Speedway. The building, which also
contains Bass' studio, is close enough to the track to hear the
750-horsepower race cars roaring down the front stretch.
The gallery also contains some of Bass' other creations,
including a limited edition Dale Earnhardt tool box that Bass
designed for Snap-on Tools Inc. Despite the selling price of
$10,000, all 4,200 of the custom tool boxes are gone.
Snap-on liked the project enough to sign Bass to do a second one
with Dale Earnhardt Jr. They also sold out. A third tool box will
feature driver Kevin Harvick, who took over at Richard Childress
Racing following Dale Earnhardt's death.
"Sam's art has a different feel from your everyday stuff,''
said Bob Velisek, director of marketing for tool storage for
Snap-on Tools. "It also didn't hurt that the buyer got a signed
Sam Bass lithograph, which tend to appreciate in value over time.''