Renowned NASCAR artist Sam Bass returns to track after near-fatal health scare

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One of the most talented persons in NASCAR will never win a Sprint Cup championship, let alone win a race.

But Sam Bass, NASCAR’s first officially licensed artist, is coming off the biggest win of his life nonetheless.

After nearly dying twice within a 2 1/2-week period from a rare blood disease earlier this year, the friendly and popular Bass will make his return to the sport and be on hand at Charlotte Motor Speedway during this Saturday’s Sprint All-Star Race and again during the Coca-Cola 600 on May 25, of which he designed the race program covers for both events, marking the 75th and 76th time he has done so in his career.

Bass was preparing to head to Daytona Beach for Speedweeks in early February. But he quickly found himself in the hospital in intensive care when a diabetic-related blood infection morphed into often fatal septic shock.

Bass underwent four surgeries within a span of 2 ½ weeks. And while he has lost some of the strength in his left leg as a result, it’s a lot better than what could have happened, he said in a recent statement.

“It was very touch-and-go there for a bit,” Bass said. “While the recovery process from losing more than 33 percent of the tissue in my left leg has been frustrating at times, for the first time in 90 days I am finally able to walk without crutches. Honestly, I’m just really happy to still be here.”

Bass has spent nearly 30 years as a renowned artist and is particularly known for his portraits of drivers, on-track action, race program covers and pretty much anything NASCAR-related.

Perhaps one of the most notable occurrences in Bass’s career came when Kyle Busch took a Bass-designed and hand-painted Gibson guitar – worth a reported $25,000 – that was the trophy for winning a Nationwide Series race at Nashville Speedway in 2009 and smashed it in the fashion that rock stars are known to do (see video below, starting at 1:40).

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Michael Andretti looking forward to new Australian Supercars venture

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If it seems like Michael Andretti is out to conquer the world, he is – kind of.

The former IndyCar star turned prolific team owner has won three of the last four Indianapolis 500s and five overall, second only to Roger Penske’s 16 Indy 500 triumphs.

Along the way, in addition to expanding his own IndyCar and Indy Lights operation, the son of Mario Andretti and the primary shareholder of Andretti Autosport has also branched out into Global RallyCross and Formula E racing in recent years.

And now, Andretti has further expanded his brand internationally, following Penske to the world down under — as in the world of Australian V8 Supercars.

Andretti has teamed with Supercars team owner Ryan Walkinshaw, along with veteran motorsports marketer and executive director of McLaren Technology Group and United Autosports owner and chairman, Zak Brown.

Together, the three have formed Walkinshaw Andretti United, based in suburban Melbourne, Australia. The new team kicks off the new season with the Adelaide 500 from March 1-4.

“It’s just extending our brand and putting it out there,” Andretti told NBC Sports. “The Supercars are such a great series.

“It all started with Zach Brown calling me and said ‘You have to talk to Ryan Walkinshaw. He’s got something interesting to talk to you about.’

“We talked and literally in like a half-hour, we said, ‘Let’s figure out how we’re going to make this work.’ And then Zack was like, ‘Hey, what about me?’ And then Zack came in as a partner and it’s cool now that we have the Walkinshaw Andretti United team.

“I’m really excited about that program, the guys at the shop are excited about it, we’ve been doing a lot of things to try and help it because it’s such a cool series and the cars are so cool.

“I went down there to Bathurst, which was to me one of the coolest tracks in the world. I wish I could have driven it, I really do. It looks like a blast.

“It’s amazing how big that series is when you go down there. It’s one of the biggest sports in Australia. It was just a great opportunity for us to extend our portfolio.”

Admittedly, Andretti had some extra incentive to want to get involved in the Supercars world: Penske joined forces with legendary Dick Johnson Racing in September 2014.

The organization came together quickly and the rebranded DJR Team Penske went on to win the 2017 V8 Supercars championship.

“Roger was down there the last few years,” Andretti said, adding that fact as incentive to get his own organization into the series. “So it’s cool to go race head-to-head with Roger. That was also in the back of our minds.”

This is no start-up venture for Andretti. The roots of the new venture began in 1990 as the Holden Racing Team, which went on to become one of the most successful organizations in Australian V8 Supercar racing, having won the drivers’ championship six times and the Virgin Australia Supercars Championship’s top race, the Bathurst 1000 (essentially Australia’s version of the Indy 500), seven times.

Last season, Holden Racing team morphed into Triple Eight Race Engineering and was renamed Mobil 1 HSV Racing.

And now the company has been renamed once again for the 2018 campaign under the Walkinshaw Andretti United banner.

The team will be composed of two Holden ZB Commodores with drivers James Courtney and Scott Pye, as well as a Porsche 911 GT3-R in the Australian GT championship.

What’s next for Andretti’s motorsports portfolio? Right now, it’s pretty full, but you can bet running for championships from Australia (Supercars) to globally (GRC) to Indianapolis (Indy 500) to the U.S. (Verizon IndyCar Series) are at the top of this year’s list.