Dale Earnhardt Jr. mourns death of NASCAR artist who painted portraits of his dad

Retired NASCAR driver Dale Earnhardt Jr. is mourning the death of famed NASCAR artist Sam Bass, who painted portraits of Earnhardt’s dad and other racing legends while also capturing the action on the track in a more than 30-year career.

“Rest in peace @sambassartist ,” Earnhardt tweeted after Bass’s wife announced on Twitter Saturday morning that her husband had died.

“He was a positive influence on @NASCAR as an artist,” Earnhardt tweeted. “A friend to everyone he met. The nicest person, always smiling, always thrilled to see you again.”

“Along with portraits, he designed paint schemes like Jeff Gordon’s Dupont car, Dale Sr.’s Peter Max car, & many more,” Dale Jr. said in a follow-up tweet that included some of Bass’s paintings. “Look back at a small sample of his incredible work. He will be missed.”

Denise Bass announced her husband’s death Saturday morning, as did NASCAR. He was 57.

“It is with a sad heart that our family shares the news of our loss with the NASCAR community,” Denise Bass posted on her husband’s Twitter account. “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 - Denise Bass.”

Bass was NASCAR’s first officially sanctioned artist with more than 30 years in the sport, according to his Twitter account.

The family did not release the cause of death.

On Thursday, Bass tweeted how he was looking forward to Sunday’s Daytona 500. It was three days away, he tweeted, the same number as the one on Dale Sr.’s famous car.

A lifelong Type 1 diabetic, Bass nearly died in 2014 “after an undetected diabetic-related blood infection turned to septic shock, and he had four surgeries within 2 1/2 weeks,” The Charlotte Observer reported at the time.

“I was honestly just freaking out,” Bass told the Observer at the time. “I’ve been in business 33 years, and in that time, I probably haven’t missed what turned out to be a combined six weeks out of work.”

Bass, whose gallery is near Charlotte Motor Speedway in Concord, created dozens of consecutive program covers for events at the speedway since 1985, the Observer reported in the 2014 article.

He also created the car designs, uniforms and all of the other paraphernalia for the movie, “Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby,” starring Will Ferrell, the Observer reported in 2006.

In the 2014 Charlotte Observer article, Humpy Wheeler, the former president and general manager of the speedway, described Bass as “a superb realist” who mastered the multi-car front straightaway art that had become the cornerstone of a NASCAR artist.

“I know that unbounded by commercial interests, he can produce racing art with a different twist, and perhaps his best work is still ahead of him,” Wheeler told the Observer at the time.

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Joe Marusak has been a reporter for The Charlotte Observer since 1989 covering the people, municipalities and major news events of the region, and was a news bureau editor for the paper. He currently reports on breaking news.