May 11, 2014, 5:18 PM EDT
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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