Sam Bass is the first to admit he played only a tiny part in just-retired NASCAR star Jeff Gordon’s meteoric rise.
However, the 54-year-old artist was vital in shaping the public image and presentation of the four-time Sprint Cup champ during his transition to NASCAR in 1992, establishing a partnership lasting Gordon’s whole career.
If not for Bass, Gordon would likely have never been associated with the Rainbow Warriors.
Many fans recognize Bass for his work as an artist and graphic designer, but fewer are aware he was also responsible for several iconic paint schemes in the sport’s history, including those for Dale Earnhardt and Bobby Allison. He is NASCAR’s first licensed artist.
A native Virginian, Bass attended numerous NASCAR events as a child and even painted his own matchbox cars to illustrate what he believed the Winston Cup entries of his formative years should have looked like.
Bass completed a five-year art program in four years at Virginia Commonwealth University and eventually made the trek to Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1984 to pursue his dream: working in NASCAR. After presenting track officials a portfolio of his work, he was allowed to design the cover for the ’84 600 and has been the artist behind the popular track guides ever since.
In May 1991, Ray Evernham stopped by Bass’ studio across the street from Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, North Carolina, to purchase a birthday gift for Gordon. The ensuing conversation gave birth to one of the most recognizable brands in sports.
Rather than charging Evernham for the art he had selected, Bass asked the promising young crew chief and engineer for a favor.
“I said I wanted him to do something for me instead,” Bass recalled. “I told him that I knew he had been hired to be Jeff’s crew chief and I knew they would have the DuPont paint company as a sponsor, and I wanted the chance to design the car.
“He told me that he would see what he could do and call me once he found out. And sure enough, a few months later, he called and said, ‘You’ve got your shot.’ "
Bass designed three different treatments for his vision of what the No. 24 Chevrolet (at the time, No. 46) should look like. Overall, DuPont Automotive Finishes gathered 43 samples from designers across the country, but it was a design Bass developed in the 11th hour that took the prize.
“I actually drew the rainbow car the morning they picked the treatments up,” Bass said. “I had this...
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