If you’ve attended more than a handful of NASCAR races in your lifetime, you’ve seen the work of Sam Bass.
The prolific NASCAR artist is well-known for his work on program covers for NASCAR events — and for the ornate guitars he paints as trophies and as mementos for special occasions.
Bass has been the artist of record for Charlotte Motor Speedway for three decades. His most recent cover featured “Jeff’s Last Ride,” a tribute to four-time NASCAR Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon, who is leaving the No. 24 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet at the end of the season to embark on a television career in the Fox Sports broadcast booth.
What many don’t know is that the careers of Gordon and Bass are inexorably intertwined. In fact, it was Bass who designed the hallmark rainbow paint scheme for Gordon’s DuPont Chevrolet, a vision that gave rise to the mystique of Gordon and his “Rainbow Warriors.”
What’s even more interesting is how Bass got the job in the first place.
“In 1992, after the May race (at Charlotte), Ray Evernham (Gordon’s long-time crew chief) came by my studio, which used to be up on the corner above the Simpson Race Products building,” Bass told the NASCAR Wire Service. “He was looking for a gift to give Jeff Gordon for his birthday.
“He picked out a print, and he asked me how much the print was going to cost. I said, ‘It’s not going to cost you anything — I want you to have it. The only thing I ask is… I know you guys just hired Jeff Gordon, and you’re going to be his crew chief, and I would love a chance to design his race car.
“About a month later, he called me up and said, ‘Well, here’s your chance.’”
Bass submitted three designs which were presented at the Wilmington, Delaware, headquarters of DuPont, Gordon’s sponsor, in competition with approximately 40 other designs. The company selected Bass’ rainbow paint scheme.
“Little did I know then how that would change my life,” Bass said. “It was really, really cool. I knew the minute I did it that it was different and unique. To that point, I actually thought it was so different and so unique that the guys in the body shop would never want to touch it.
“There wasn’t a straight line on the car. It ended up being a base-coat white, fluorescent yellow, fluorescent green, fluorescent blue, the middle-tone blue and then neon red. It wasn’t the easiest car to paint, but I remember being over at the shop the day they rolled the car out, and it was such a head-turner. We knew we had something.”
The No. 24 team resurrected the original rainbow paint scheme at Bristol Motor Speedway in August, and Bass was thrilled to see it back on the track.
“That made me so proud,” Bass said. “That’s been a highlight of my whole year.”