Categories
Commentary

NASCAR Seeks Broader Audience with New Film and Netflix Show

It’s been well documented that over the last few years NASCAR’s TV ratings have been consistently trending downwards. This could loosely be traced back to when Hall of Famer Jeff Gordon retired in 2015.  Since then, a handful of the sport’s superstars have departed from full-time racing and as a result fans are following.

It now appears NASCAR is seeking help in the form of Hollywood entertainment in hopes of drawing in a greater population of race fans.

Television icon and avid NASCAR fan Kevin James is taking his comedic talents to Netflix in 2020 for the new multi-cam sitcom The Crew. The new sitcom will feature James as an old school crew chief who is resistant to the inevitable advancements of modern day technologies. When the team owner steps down and leaves his daughter in charge, these changes are implemented rapidly – and naturally, the two don’t see eye-to-eye.

The Long Island Native will not only be starring in the show, but he will be teaming up with longtime production partner Jeff Sussman to serve as a co-executive producer. NASCAR will also have a hand in crafting the show with a pair of senior executives also producing alongside James and Sussman – Senior Executive of Digital Operations, Tim Clark and Senior Executive of Entertainment Marketing, Matthew Summers.

The only other name attached to the project is sitcom writer Jeff Lowell, who has worked on hit shows such as Two and a Half Men and The Ranch. There is no word on who will be taking on the pivotal roles of the team owner and his daughter (let the Leah Remini rumors commence).

NASCAR may have hit a home run with this pitch, because the potential for success is seemingly enormous. Netflix has been the most dominant company in terms of streaming and entertainment services since 2013 and their success just keeps growing. It was reported that in the second quarter of 2019, there were 151 million subscribers worldwide using Netflix’s streaming services – that’s A LOT of eyes that will likely be tuning into The Crew. But what’s the allure?

For starters, James is a massive comedic TV icon. James broke onto the scene with the wildly successful show, The King of Queens, which aired for an astounding nine years. Sussman served as the producer for all nine seasons with James, so there is a high probability that the duo can recreate some of their chemistry and television magic with The Crew.

It also helps that James is known to be a huge fan of NASCAR who rarely misses a race. This should bring forth an authentic and passion-driven performance from the actor, in addition to his knowledge of the sport. We also have NASCAR’s ties to the show. With a pair of the sport’s senior executives playing a heavy role in the production of the Netflix comedy, this should ensure that  the sport shown in a truthful light.

Lastly, although no other casting news has been confirmed, it would not be out of the ordinary to see some of James’ friends such as Adam Sandler, Rob Schneider and David Spade make a cameo on the show. The group of friends are notorious for making appearances in each other’s projects. And don’t count out driver cameos! The film Logan Lucky which premiered in 2017 showcased the (brief) acting talents of Brad Keselowski, Joey Logano, Ryan Blaney, Kyle Busch, Kyle Larson and Carl Edwards.

Between James’ and Netflix’s popularity and the infinite possibilities stemming from NASCAR’s involvement, the sky seems like the limit for The Crew. The bottom line is, if the show is done right, NASCAR could be seeing a dramatic increase in viewership over the next few years.

The Crew is slated to premiere on Netflix in 2020 with no official release date.

Photo Courtesy of IMDb

Making the jump from the small-screen to the silver screen, Michael Waltrip‘s documentary, Blink of an Eye, premiered in theaters worldwide this week. The documentary is an adaptation from Waltrip’s critically acclaimed and “New York Times Bestseller” book which examines Waltrip and the late Dale Earnhardt’s friendship.

After snapping a 462 race winless streak in the biggest race of the year, Waltrip’s triumphant euphoria comes to a screeching halt within seconds after finding out seven-time champion, team owner and his best friend, Earnhardt, passed away after getting involved a wreck on the final lap of the same event.

For those who have not read the book and do not know the story, Waltrip is able to articulate his damning range of emotions with ease. Seeing how Waltrip’s story translates from writing to the big screen should be nothing short of spectacular, especially with help from Emmy-award winning director Paul Taublieb at the helm.

With the combination of Waltrip and Taublieb’s storytelling coupled with one of the most heartbreaking stories in sports history, audiences should expect a full-on assault of their emotions in theaters. This is a drastic – and much needed – change in direction for how NASCAR had been previously portrayed by Hollywood.

Blink of an Eye should showcase NASCAR in a devastatingly serious manner. Prior to this we’ve only recently seen the sport shown in a comedic and childish light with films such as Talladega Nights: The Ballad of Ricky Bobby, Logan Lucky and Pixar’s Cars trilogy. You would have to turn back the clock 29 years to find the last time NASCAR was shown in a non-comedic light with Days of Thunder.

Not to say there’s anything wrong with the sport being shown in a comedic or youthful light. This is great way to bring in a new generation of viewers and comedy almost always sells (especially in the form of Will Ferrel and John C. Reilly in Talladega Nights). It’s just nice to see the sport being taken seriously instead of one big joke.

People want to watch characters (or athletes) they can relate to. Witnessing and listening to Waltrip’s story through his words offers audiences a raw and honest look into the minds and lives of these athletes and ultimately gives them something they can both sympathize and empathize with.

It will be interesting to see if Waltrip’s documentary can generate enough Oscar’s buzz to be considered a nominee for “Best Documentary” in The 92nd Academy Awards. The story is certainly there and with Taulieb directing, Blink of an Eye could be NASCAR’s broken Cinderella story for the sport.

If the documentary can indeed earn a nomination at the Academy Awards, it could have potential to draw an even broader audience from the cinema community. This could then spark a NASCAR trend in Hollywood and with that the possibilities are infinite.

The popular trend in the film industry is currently reboots and sequels. Whose to say we can’t get a Talladega Nights or Days of Thunder sequel? After all, Tom Cruise is returning for a Top Gun reboot – a film which premiered 33 years ago. So why couldn’t he return as an older and wiser Cole Trickle?

Personally, I’d love to see Waltrip’s story told in a more cinematic way, much like the story of James Hunt and Niki Lauda in Ron Howard’s Rush.

What are your thoughts on NASCAR’s outreach through television and cinema? Would you like to see reboots, sequels or certain stories told through the big screen?

EMAIL COLE AT: colecusumano88@gmail.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: https://twitter.com/Cole_Cusumano_

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management to other contributors. Any links contained in this article should not be considered and endorsement.

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NASCAR Cup Series

Dale & Dale Show: Robert Yates Tried to Hire Dale Earnhardt

Car owner Robert Yates and driver Dale Jarrett were a powerhouse combination in the mid-to-late 1990s, winning the 1999 NASCAR championship, as well as the Daytona 500 in 1996 and 2000, and a pair of Brickyard 400s as well.

Jarrett already has been inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame, and Yates is scheduled to go in next January.

But before Jarrett signed with Yates for the 1995 season, Yates nearly signed another famous Dale – the legendary Dale Earnhardt.

Yates said earlier this week that he spoke with Dale Earnhardt Jr. in 2007 about moving to Hendrick Motorsports, and then he filled in some details on trying to sign Earnhardt Jr.’s father more than a decade earlier.

“If you want the best seat in the house now, Hendrick is the best seat,” Yates said he told Earnhardt Jr. in 2007. “And it was. And if you do your own thing, the fans will hang with you a long time. He did it right.”

Then, this.

“Even his dad wanted to drive for us at times,” Yates said.  “He even signed a contract. Never gave it to us. That’s how close he came to driving (the No. 88 Robert Yates Racing Ford). And I went to Ford and said, ‘I like racing against Dale Earnhardt. Let’s take the other Dale (Dale Jarrett) and beat him.’  And we did.”

Yates said he also suggested that Ford give the Quality Care/Ford Credit sponsorship package that wound up with Jarrett and the No. 88 to another Ford team — Team Penske.

“I said, ‘Please give that sponsorship to Penske,’ because he can handle it,” said Yates. “I didn’t want it. And (Ford) said, ‘We want you to do it.’ And I was like, ‘But I gotta beat the 3 car (Earnhardt) or you don’t win. It don’t matter what you do.

“So I took it, and guess what? Dale (Jarrett) turned in to be … we weren’t sure about it. His confidence wasn’t there yet. But once we shook hands — no contract — he got in the car. He worked hard at it, we worked hard at it.”

And the rest is history.

Categories
NASCAR Cup Series

How Dale Earnhardt Jr. Got His First Big Break

In this year’s Bojangles’ Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, Dale Earnhardt Jr.’s No. 88 Hendrick Motorsports Chevrolet will be clad in blue, similar to the old ACDelco paint scheme he used when he won the NASCAR XFINITY Series championships in 1998 and ’99.

The 1998 season was Earnhardt’s first full-time XFINITY campaign — back then it was known as the NASCAR Busch Series — and he was shocked to get the ride in the No. 3 Dale Earnhardt Inc. Chevrolet Monte Carlo.

Prior to ’98, Earnhardt had posted just one top-10 finish in nine XFINITY starts and had only average results racing late models. Nothing at the end of 1997 seemed to point towards a full-time ride in ’98.

Tuesday at the NASCAR Hall of Fame, Earnhardt talked about how he found out he’d gotten the ride, and it was a pretty funny story.

“I had no idea what to do,” Earnhardt said. “And I walked into the (DEI) shop. It was after New Year’s (January 1998) and the car was sitting there with my name on the roof. And Tony (Eury) Sr. and them were standing there and laughing and grinning.”

That meant Earnhardt thought his dad was pranking him.

“I was like, ‘Man, this is a joke. It’s bull—t.’ That’s not even funny, man,” said Earnhardt. “I thought it was a real joke. There was no way in hell that I thought I had an idea that I would get the opportunity to drive that car.”

Eury Sr. convinced Junior’s father to put him in the seat.

“I told him if he was going to spend his own money, he ought to spend it on his son,” Earnhardt recalled Eury telling him. “Why not? Give him a shot.”

And it worked. In 1998 and ’99 Earnhardt was paired with Eury as his crew chief.  In 63 races, Earnhardt won 13 times, with 34 top fives, 44 top 10s and a pair of series championships in his father’s car.

“Basically, Tony Sr. went to bat for me and told Dad, ‘We’ll take Junior and me and Tony Jr. will make a driver out of him, and that’s what happened.”

Categories
Commentary

Could 2017 Match Historic 1967 as One of Motorsport’s Greatest Years?

Fans that have watched auto racing all their life and have been alive long enough to remember might say 1967 was the most memorable year in motorsports history.

It was the year “The King” Richard Petty won 27 races and his second of seven championships in the NASCAR Grand National Series. That season, the sport consisted of 49 points events, meaning he won 55 percent of the races.

Racing legend Mario Andretti made his presence known in stock car racing by winning the Daytona 500 in the No. 11 Holman-Moody Ford. He started 12th and led 112 laps that day, and his victory is still considered one of the greatest upsets in NASCAR history.

19-22 January, 2009, Concord, North Carolina USA Mario Andretti (c)2009, Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock
Nigel Kinrade, USA Autostock

“At that point, I had not won Indy [500, won it in 1969] yet,” Andretti once said. “I was competitive with a couple of poles but had not won at Indy. So arguably the Daytona 500 win at that time was the biggest event of my career at that time and particularly satisfying to do it somewhere where it wasn’t my specialty.

“Can you imagine the same thing as if one of their drivers — Richard Petty or David Pearson -— had come to Indy and won the Indy 500? It had a special sound to it, and it still does, actually.”

“Super Tex” A.J. Foyt won his third of four career Indianapolis 500s in 1967. He also won the iconic sports car event, the 24 Hours of Le Mans, in France co-driving with Dan Gurney just two weeks later. Foyt went on to win his fifth USAC Champ Car Series title at season’s end.

Now, let’s jump ahead 50 years. Think about what the racing world is like today. It’s a lot different, wouldn’t you say?

2017 NASCAR Cup - Clash at Daytona Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 19 February 2017 Denny Hamlin, FedEx Express Toyota Camry, Daniel Suarez, ARRIS Toyota Camry, Kyle Busch, M&M's Toyota Camry and Matt Kenseth, Interstate Batteries Toyota Camry World Copyright: {Nigel Kinrade}/NKP
Nigel Kinrade / NKP

Today, NASCAR has three national series with its top division sponsored by the increasingly popular Monster Energy drink. The Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series, which it is now called, begins its 36-race season with its most historic race, the Daytona 500, often referred to as “The Great American Race.” Races are also divided into three stages and the final 10 events of the year make up the elimination-style NASCAR playoffs, which started in 2014.

Open-wheel racing has evolved exponentially over the years too. Both the Verizon IndyCar Series and Formula 1 have become exceptionally safer. In the 2013 Ron Howard film Rush, three-time F1 World Champion Niki Lauda says, “Twenty-five drivers start every season in Formula 1, and each year two of us die.”

Although the film took place in 1976, Lauda’s statement emphasizes the danger of being a racecar driver of more than 40 years ago. Deaths of both drivers and spectators were not as unusual as they are today.

In the last six years, two IndyCar drivers have died from accident-related injuries. The 2011 Indy 500 champion Dan Wheldon, who lost his life in a crash at Las Vegas Motor Speedway the same year he won the 500, and Justin Wilson, who was struck in the head by a flying piece of debris from Sage Karam’s wrecked car at Pocono Raceway in 2015.

In 2014, Jules Bianchi died after an accident in the F1 Japanese Grand Prix — the European sport’s most recent death. It’s still three lives too many when you include the two IndyCar drivers, but racecars have been redesigned countless times to enhance safety for each competitor.

In NASCAR, following the death of seven-time Cup champion Dale Earnhardt Sr. on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500, the sanctioning body mandated the use of the Hutchens system, which was the head and neck restraint system required until the end of the 2004 season.

jimmie HANS
Rainier Ehrhardt / NASCAR via Getty Images

In January 2005, NASCAR mandated the use of the HANS Device, which most drivers were already using, as the required safety system because it felt the Hutchens didn’t meet minimum safety standards.

The 2017 racing season is still just beginning, but many storylines could make this year another one for the history books.

The new three-stage format NASCAR created during the offseason made its debut at the 59th running of the Daytona 500. Hendrick Motorsports driver Jimmie Johnson embarks on his quest for a record-breaking eighth championship after winning No. 7 in 2016. And the “Monster” era of NASCAR began with a “Monster” win by 2004 Cup champion Kurt Busch, who is sponsored by the drink, in the “Great American Race.”

2017 NASCAR Monster Energy Cup - Daytona 500 Daytona International Speedway, Daytona Beach, FL USA Sunday 26 February 2017 Kurt Busch celebrates his Daytona 500 Victory World Copyright: Rusty Jarrett/NKP
Rusty Jarrett / NKP

“The more I run this race, the more I’ve learned to throw caution to the wind and let it rip,” Busch, who had previously finished runner-up three times, said. “The performance of the [Stewart-Haas Racing] team has been incredible. My rearview mirror fell off with 30 to go, and I knew I had to drive defensively. I couldn’t even see the cars behind me, just heard my spotter in my ear, once we made that pass.

“It’s just unbelievable to have all this teamwork to get us in victory lane.”

Busch’s victory not only was a triumph for him but also for Tony Gibson, who won the race for the first time as a crew chief, and SHR co-owner Tony Stewart, who ran the race 17 times in his racing career but never won it.

Now being retired from NASCAR racing and having won the 500 as a team owner, Stewart jokingly said, “If I knew all I had to do was retire to get it done, I would have retired a long time ago.”

In IndyCar, Team Penske driver Simon Pagenaud will defend his 2016 title and look to become the first repeat titlist since Dario Franchitti, who claimed three consecutive championships from 2009 to 2011, and the first Penske driver to repeat since Gil de Ferran, who accomplished the feat in 2001.

Lisa Davidson wrote a POPULAR SPEED story about Pagenaud’s approach to the 2017 season in which he says he’ll be in more of an “attack” mode than a defensive one.

“… I would say I really understood better what it all meant last year [his championship year],” Pagenaud said. “It’s about defending. Everything is back to zero. The counts are all back to zero. It’s all reset.

“Now it’s time to attack, attack a new championship, attack a new year. Last year, if I was so successful, it’s because we attacked and we didn’t look in the mirrors. The goal is to do the same thing, not defend, but attack a new season coming up.”

Pagenaud finished second in the season-opener in St. Petersburg behind fellow Frenchman Sebastien Bourdais, who won the race after starting from the back.

Across the pond in F1, a retirement announcement heard around the world shocked the entire auto racing industry. The most recent World Champion Nico Rosberg decided that 2016 would be his final season in the pinnacle of motorsports and left the Mercedes-AMG Petronas Motorsport team. It ended a rivalry — which had the potential to match the likes of Alain Prost and Ayrton Senna in the late 1980s or Lauda and James Hunt in the mid-1970s — with teammate Lewis Hamilton.

skysports.com
Skysports.com

Hamilton, now paired with Valtteri Bottas at Mercedes, will look to be the fifth driver in F1 history to win a fourth title. He’s 32 years old and already has 53 career wins, 104 podiums, and 61 poles. By the end of his career, whenever that is, he’ll likely be considered one of the sport’s greatest, if he isn’t already.

During preseason testing, Hamilton said rather interesting comments about the Scuderia Ferrari team, which last won the championship with Kimi Raikkonen in 2007. Hamilton said, “I think Ferrari are bluffing and that they are a lot quicker than they are showing. They are very close, if not faster.

“It’s difficult right now to say who is quicker.”

If what Hamilton said proves to be true, it will be an intense competition for this year’s championship. Mercedes cars won all but two races in 2016, and Ferrari drivers Sebastian Vettel and Raikkonen won none.

Red Bull Racing won the other two races, once with 19-year-old Max Verstappen in his Red Bull debut at the Grand Prix of Spain after Hamilton and Rosberg wrecked each other on the first lap, and the other at the Malaysia Grand Prix with Daniel Ricciardo after Hamilton suffered a catastrophic engine failure while leading.

The 2017 IndyCar and F1’s campaigns are just getting underway, and there will surely be plenty to pay attention to as their season’s progress. If there’s one thing that holds true about racing, it’s that the unpredictability factor is always predictable.

So my question to you, whether you were around in 1967 or not, can 2017 be just as memorable 50 years from now?

EMAIL JOHN AT john.haverlin@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @The5thJohnHav

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.

Categories
Commentary

Sam Bass Cherishes Relationship with Late Dale Earnhardt

Nothing makes Sam Bass light up more than the name Dale Earnhardt.

Having worked with Earnhardt for 17 years before his untimely passing in February 2001, Bass got to know the seven-time champion as both a friend and client. Today, April 29, would have Earnhardt’s 65th birthday and like most days, Bass will think of him fondly.

After all, Earnhardt appointed him his official artist and it was both a job and relationship Bass never took for granted.

“I was always so aware of how lucky and fortunate I was,” Bass told POPULAR SPEED during a sit-down interview at his gallery, where he laid out some of his Earnhardt work. “I miss him so much. I miss the opportunity to work with him and get his feedback. Even if it wasn’t positive.”

It all began in the 1980s. Bass was doing projects for Wrangler, who was Earnhardt’s sponsor at the time. He designed a bumper sticker which featured a car rendering and portrait of Earnhardt. The company liked it so much they made it into the team’s hauler design. Bass met Earnhardt soon afterward, and things quickly developed to where he was doing work for Richard Childress Racing while forging a close bond with Earnhardt.

From artwork to paint schemes, logos, airplanes and a motor coach design, Bass has many fond memories of Earnhardt. Most of them make him laugh, but there are times the past seems to strikes him hard and he gets lost in the moment.

The Earnhardt Seal of Approval

One of the neatest paint schemes designs Bass said he did was the Wheaties Chevrolet in 1997. Earnhardt ran the car at Charlotte Motor Speedway in the All-Star Race.

It meant as much to Earnhardt to be featured on the box of cereal, as it did to Bass for being a part of it. Plus, it forever answered the question of whether racecar drivers are athletes. But one of the original designs Bass submitted, which had a picture of Earnhardt on the hood, was not the one that would make it to print.

“He said, ‘I’m intimidating enough coming up behind these guys, they don’t need to see my face on the car,’” said Bass with a laugh.

But that was Earnhardt, heavily involved in the final say of what his paint schemes and any other work was going to look like. His son, Dale Earnhardt Jr., does the same today.

“One of the highlights of my career was going to the local Food Lion and standing in the aisle of cereal and seeing all those boxes of Wheaties with my artwork on the front of it,” said Bass. “And to share it with Dale – it was all about him that was the reason I got my artwork on there. I knew he was really proud of it, and I was proud to be a part of it.

“It was overwhelming. I look back on that so fondly because of how much it meant to him.”

Bass encountered the same problem when he designed a logo for the Kannapolis Intimidators, the baseball team Earnhardt owned. It became known as the Earnhardt Face Ball, which everyone loved. Everyone except Earnhardt.

“He loved being the owner of the team, but he didn’t want to force his image on anyone. He was very modest and humble, and that was always so cool,” Bass said. “Me, I wanted to brand the team in his image. The day of the logo unveil we had a nice printout of the logo, but I also gave him the original artwork of the Face Ball and presented that to him.”

Every project Bass worked on made him a nervous wreck as he hoped he would do it right. Or, just hope he got it done at all. When Earnhardt bought a new motorhome, he called Bass to design the outside of it, but it needed to be done immediately. Back and forth they went through email, or with Earnhardt popping into the gallery when he had time during testing that day at Charlotte.

By the end of the day, Earnhardt had signed off on it. Then, he turned to his business manager …

“He goes, ‘That’s pretty amazing isn’t it? You call somebody up in the morning, and you got it all done by 5:00,’” Bass said. “That right there was what it was all about for me.

“The thing about Dale was, he would work you to death, but he knew what he wanted, and it was up to you to get it to him. It was just great because there was nothing like getting his seal of approval and to this day, that is what I miss more than anything in this sport because it was something you worked for, it was something you earned, and you felt so good when you got it.”

Family Ties

Even though Earnhardt Sr. has passed, Bass still has a relationship with the Earnhardt family. He’s designed paint schemes for Kerry Earnhardt, has presented paintings to Dale Earnhardt Jr. and is currently working projects with Kelley Earnhardt Miller.

But when the Earnhardt kids started racing, Bass was recruited to design their cars. The simple idea was to make them different from Dad, so Bass went with numbers that were slated backwards, instead of the forward slanting No. 3.

“Big mistake,” said Bass as he breaks out into another laugh. “I’ll never forget him looking at the drawings and kind of lowering his glasses down and just kind of staring at me going, ‘Why did you slate the numbers backwards?’ I said, well, I wanted to make it different than yours. It’s almost like the kids are blowing the door numbers off the car. They’re running so fast it’s leaning the numbers back.

“He stands up out of his chair, and he goes, ‘Let me ask you something. When you run do you run like this (leaning forward) or do run like that?’ I said the way you showed me. He goes, ‘All right, I don’t ever want to see numbers slanting backwards again.’ And that was priceless. That image is forever in my mind.”

In the late 1990s, NASCAR went international with an exhibition race in Japan. For the 1997 event, Earnhardt Sr. drove an ACDelco Chevrolet, designed by Bass. What made it even more special, however, was that a year later the scheme was passed down to Earnhardt Jr. when he began his Busch Series career in 1998 and 1999.

“That was just incredible because that was such a sense of honor to not only be doing something for Dale Earnhardt going to Japan, but that paint scheme evolved into Dale Jr.’s paint scheme. And he won those championships,” Bass said.

“If you look at the Sam Bass career, one of my top five moments was getting that car design that the father and then the son got to race. That meant a lot. That kind of segued into when (Earnhardt Jr.) went Cup racing I got to do his very first Cup car, the Budweiser car. I’ve been so blessed with the whole Earnhardt relationship that I am just so lucky. I’ve been able to know and work with all their family.”

Personal Property

The relationship between Bass and Earnhardt went further than work.

Eventually, Bass began to outgrow his studio in Concord and knew he needed another place to set up shop. One morning when radio personality Paul Schadt was broadcasting from his building, Bass mentioned his dilemma.

Earnhardt called into the show and live on the air offered to sell Bass the land where his current gallery sits. Bass, of course, didn’t think he would be able to afford it, but a month later he approached Earnhardt to see if the offer was serious.

“He wanted to sell me the property down the street, but I really wanted the corner,” Bass explained. “I’ll always be in his debt because he gave me the property on the corner for the same price as the property down the street. He could have put a hotel here or whatever he wanted to, and I thought it was really incredible he did that for me.”

With Bass settled in to his new space, Earnhardt would occasionally stop by. One of the stories Bass loves to tell is the first time Earnhardt saw the new gallery and went around inspecting how things were done.

“He was here for about an hour and a half and walked around and told me everything I did wrong,” he smiled. “It was so funny, but he was absolutely right on everything he was pointing out. That was just him because he knew what he wanted and he knew how to get it.”

On another visit, Earnhardt got to see Bass in action for the first time. He was working on a painting titled “7&7,” which featured Earnhardt and fellow seven-time champion, Richard Petty.

“He just stood beside me for about 15 minutes while I was doing that and then he just looked at me and goes, ‘People just have no idea what you do, do they?’ I took that as the biggest compliment,” Bass said. “Those type things just stay with me all the time. It was just a really, really neat thing to be a part of his team, so to speak.”

In addition to Earnhardt artwork, the gallery features No. 3 sheet metal, as well as a roof. As far as Bass knows, the only two people to sit under that roof were Earnhardt and his friend, Neil Bonnett.

The Last Project

Dale Earnhardt passed away on the last lap of the 2001 Daytona 500. His 76th and final victory came at the site of this weekend’s Sprint Cup Series race, Talladega Superspeedway, where it’s never difficult to find Earnhardt fans.

As for Bass, he still hopes he makes Earnhardt proud with any project he takes on. And he’ll always remember the last time he saw his friend. It’s a story that can only be told in his words as he stares off and remembers the man who meant so much:

“The Saturday before we lost him, I was working on a toolbox design for Snap-On tools, and I was in the garage area. He came into the garage, and I walked over to show him the rough draft, and we talked about that and he green-lighted the project. I did the painting he had approved in June (after his passing).

“That was the most difficult painting I’ve ever done because it was the last one I ever talked to him about. It had also been up in the air whether (Snap-On) was going to do the toolboxes after we lost him. They decided in June to do it and told me to get going. The whole time I’m working on that painting, I’m thinking about how that will be the last project he and I talked about. So, that was difficult.

“But I find it so ironic that in December the previous year for Christmas, Kelley had called me up and wanted me to do a portrait of all of Dale’s kids and his grandkids. I ended up doing a pencil drawing, and I asked Kelley if she could get me a picture of him opening it on Christmas day. Sure enough, she did, and it means the world to me because the last thing we talked about was that picture.

“We had done all these projects together, all these paintings, all these car design projects, everything; and the last project that I got to talk to him about was his family. It was something non-racing, and it seemed appropriate. That was the last thing I talked to him about, and he told me how much he liked it.

“I said goodbye and left the garage area that night, and I waved at him the next morning when he was standing by the car, but that was the last conversation we ever had. I think it’s just so cool it was about family.”

EMAIL KELLY AT kelly.crandall@popularspeed.com

FOLLOW ON TWITTER: @KellyCrandall

The thoughts and opinions expressed here are those of the author and do not necessarily reflect those of PopularSpeed.com, its owners, management or staff. Any links contained in this article should not be considered an endorsement.