Sam Bass, whose artwork has graced the cover of programs at Bristol Motor Speedway, has died, according to his family.
NASCAR’s first and only licensed artist died Saturday morning after a battle with kidney failure. He had been searching for a kidney for a transplant.
“It is with a sad heart that our family shares the news of our loss with the NASCAR community. 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. God Bless,” said Denise Bass, the artist’s wife.
Bass, 57, often visited BMS and produced artwork for the venue.
“Our hearts are saddened today with the passing of Sam Bass,” BMS Executive Vice President and General Manager Jerry Caldwell said. “We’ve been blessed to have had many of Sam’s amazing designs as our program covers over the years that fans have been eager to collect at our races. He’s been a special friend and a one-of-a kind person that will be greatly missed in the NASCAR community. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family and friends.”
The artist attended his first NASCAR race in Richmond, Virginia, at the age of 7, he previously told the Bristol Herald Courier. He was spellbound. Bass launched his career in 1981 and obtained his first official NASCAR license in 1996. He has had a studio in Concord, North Carolina.
“Our deepest sympathies are with Denise and her family today,” said Marcus Smith, president and CEO of Speedway Motorsports, which owns the Bristol speedway and others.
“Sam Bass has been a significant part of NASCAR’s history,” Smith said. “He poured his heart, soul and talent into producing souvenir program covers at many speedways including Charlotte for more than 30 years.”
Smith said the artist’s work provided race fans a keepsake to treasure.
“His body of work will be a legacy that lives forever,” Smith said. “We will miss Sam’s smile and positivity.”
Bass’ work has led to friendships with many current and former drivers, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon and Jimmy Johnson. In early 2017, the drivers donated $50,000 for Bass’ medical expenses.
In late 2017, Bass produced the cover for the Bass Pro Shops NRA Night Race. Bass has produced 17 covers for BMS since his first one in April 1995.
In 2017, Bass presented Earnhardt, who has since retired, the original program design for the Bristol race. It featured Earnhardt’s car and his portrait emblazoned on the track. “The Last,” of the “Last Great Colosseum,” can be seen on the wall.
“Leave a Mark” also featured Earnhardt’s father’s car in the sky, as well as a moon, in recognition of the night race. Dale Earnhardt Sr., who won seven NASCAR championships, died after crashing during the 2001 Daytona 500.
“I wanted to show how he left his mark on Bristol,” Bass said in 2017 of Earnhardt Jr.
Despite his health problems, Bass said at the time that he had no plans to stop working.
One of his greatest pleasures was meeting fans, he said. Many share stories of their homes decorated with his artwork, he added.
Drivers and teams reacted Saturday to the sad news.
“He was a positive influence on NASCAR as an artist,” Earnhardt Jr. wrote on Twitter. “A friend to everyone he met. The nicest person, always smiling, always thrilled to see you again.”