This is one of the last interviews the late Sam Bass gave to a website. It was posted on April 28, 2017. We are re-posting it as a tribute to Sam’s memory.
When I stepped into Sam Bass’ spacious Concord, N.C., studio – and admired the many and various pieces of art – I determined that he needed to know one thing about our approaching interview.
“Sam,” I said as I took a seat in front of his desk, “this is not going to be a ‘poor, pitiful Sam’ interview.”
“Fine,” he said with a smile. “That is exactly what I don’t want.”
It would be easy to feel pity for Bass, a lifetime diabetic. He is recognized as NASCAR’s Officially Licensed Artist whose work over the years has been greatly admired and granted him recognition and respect.
Bass’ work is reflected in posters, portraits, car design, guitars, magazine and poster covers and much more.
But now things have gotten dark.
Because of myriad reasons, Bass is now embroiled in bankruptcy and his health has deteriorated to the point where he requires kidney and pancreas transplants. He has already endured the loss of his lower left leg.
By all accounts it would appear Bass is on the verge of losing his business – and possibly even more.
But don’t expect him to cower in a corner. Bass has no intention of doing anything except to press on with determination and strong will.
“I’m not happy about it,” he said. “It is very frustrating to put 36 years into everything I’ve worked on and then be forced to sell because of a bankruptcy issue and liquidate everything I’ve worked on and created over the years.
“But I am trying my best.”
Bass showed up in NASCAR nearly 40 years ago. He was literally peddling his wares, trying to find a foothold in stock car racing, a sport he loved.
“If you think back I know you can remember me in the old Richmond media center,” Bass said, “and me talking to you about doing a gatefold for NASCAR Illustrated and stuff. You saw my works displayed there. This was back in 1981.”
Since that time Bass’ talent, professional drive and willingness to work extremely hard have made him something decidedly rare – a successful and admired artist.
But it has not been without struggles, many of which continue today.
“It is a combination, almost like the perfect storm,” Bass said. “Medical costs have just absolutely floored me. But it’s the medical costs in conjunction with the downturn of the NASCAR economy over the past eight years in particular.
“I’m in the middle of it, but then Roush used to have five teams and now he has two. Richard Petty had more cars than he has now.
“There are a lot of cars out there that have to have more than one sponsor to survive. It’s not just affecting the teams. It’s affecting everybody in the sport – PR agencies, artists and everything else. It has been like a domino effect.”
While Bass has worked diligently in his bankruptcy issue he chose to be quiet about it.
“We’ve been going through bankruptcy for over a year,” he said. “It’s been very quiet and low key. It’s not something I’m not proud of but we have been trying to address everything and take care of everything that is supposed to be taken care of. We do our best.”
Doing his best means selling off his inventory of handsome and diverse pieces. His work has been, and continues to be, a unique, colorful presentation of NASCAR and its people.
Bass’ other issue, his health, might well be something we know nothing about today. By his own admission he would have liked it that way. But it didn’t happen.
“The whole thing about needing the kidney transplant and the pancreas transplant, well, I had shared that information with a friend.” Bass said. “I wasn’t going to say anything about it.
“But it got posted to social media. All of a sudden my Facebook and my Twitter start blowing up. People were asking me questions about it.
“The last couple of weeks ago, I came out with everything and let people know what is going on.”
What’s going on isn’t pleasant. Bass is hobbled by illness, the type of which might well force others to give up and turn away.
“What I’m going through is very, very hard,” he said. “My kidneys are operating at only 12 or 13 percent. Because they are not filtering right I wake up every morning sick to my stomach. I get fatigued very easily.
“But I’ve got deadlines to meet. I have bills to pay. I have to take care of my employees and everything. I take this very, very seriously. But it is a struggle.
“I come in the office every morning at 6 or 7 and do not leave until 9, 11, 12 … I was here night before last until 3:30 in the morning.
“Although the economy hasn’t been good and there have been a myriad of problems due to health costs, I have never stopped working. I have never stopped trying to do my best to offset all the things that have been coming down the pike.
“But it has just been overwhelming. So here we are.”
Bass added that all his medical problems couldn’t be blamed on diabetes. He tells the tale of how he lost his lower left leg.
“The whole thing started with a blister on my foot in 2005 that I got while I was in Daytona,” he said. “Hindsight being 20/20, if I had laid in bed for a couple of weeks and let that thing heal the way I should have, instead of keeping schedules and doing appearances and making deadlines, that blister would not have become an infection that ended up, over the next three years, costing me four bones in my foot.
“Ultimately it got so bad that it cost me my lower left leg in 2008.
“People say to me all the time that diabetes took my lower left leg. No, stupidity took my leg.”
While it is true that social media made the world aware of Bass’ situation, it has also proven overwhelmingly beneficial, even in ways he could never imagine.
“I have been so blessed and overwhelmed at the efforts of the NASCAR community,” Bass said. “Once they found out what I am going through, they have really stepped up with their support.”
Bass recalled his reaction when Hendrick Motorsports teammates announced a fund that totals thousands of dollars.
“I don’t mind telling you that when I read what Jimmie Johnson, Jeff Gordon and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were doing for me with their donations, I literally cried,” he said. “I have worked so hard with those guys over the years.
“I created their first Cup cars. I’ve done design work for them. I respect them so much. But never in a million years did I expect them to do what they did.”
It was also on social media that Bass discovered something else – something truly remarkable.
“I just briefly scanned my Twitter last week and I had over 40 people offer me a kidney,” he said. “People I don’t even know said to me, ‘Here’s my name. Here’s my address. Here’s my blood type. If I match you, you have my kidney.”
Bass fell silent, as if in contemplation, for a moment.
Although donations and other support will certainly help him, Bass gives the impression that he is going to rectify his problems mostly on his own.
The cards he’s been dealt are not good. But by no means is the game over. He continues to stay in it and force a different outcome.
“I hope that I can get through all of this and in some way, shape or form be helpful to other diabetics,” he said. “I want to create awareness of what I am going through, what I am facing and come out the other side with a positive manner after the kidney transplant and the pancreas transplant.
“Hopefully, I will be a positive influence and inspiration to people on how to deal with this stuff, how to face it and come out in a very positive way.
“That’s what I am hoping for and that’s what I am working for.”
If determination, a strong sense of purpose and the support of so many mean anything, rest assured Sam Bass will indeed come out the other side.
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