It was 1960; Kenny Youngblood was fifteen years old, sitting at the kitchen table and drawing his favorite subject: fuel dragsters! His mom walked by and said, “Someday you’ll get paid for doing that”. At the time, recalls Youngblood, ìI thought that was crazy; who would ever pay someone to draw dragsters?
If you’re into motor sports, you’ve probably heard his name; if you’re not, you’ve probably seen his work. Youngblood is not only the most prolific artist in the field, but also its most significant pioneer.
Kenny’s amazing career grew out of his own need for speed. “I’m a racer at heart” says Youngblood, who, in the mid 1960s, built and drove two fuel dragsters of his own. After hand painting the graphics on a friend’s dragster, he was offered a job as a race car sign painter at Dick Olsen’s custom paint shop, in Bellflower, California. Thus began the first phase of Youngblood’s career.
Kenny’s handiwork on Gary Messenger’s dragster got him a full time job lettering race cars (circa 1967).
“I was in the right place at the right time, with the right abilities”, says the Las Vegas, Nevada resident whose artistic talents (inherited from a family of artists) were put to good use during what he calls, “The Great Funny Car Boom Of The Seventies”.
As Youngblood tells it, “It was back then; everything was hand painted and the funny cars needed nice looking graphics as well as airbrushed grills, headlights and taillights”. His eye for what looked good became the standard and his touch was soon in great demand. His list of clients was a virtual ‘Who’s Who’ of racing, with cars like Snake & Mongoose, Jungle Jim and the Blue Max featuring Youngblood’s graphics and hand painted details.
Kenny’s designs could be seen in every major automotive magazine and would be an inspiration to those who would follow in his footsteps. As Youngblood puts it, “The greatest compliment of all is being thanked by someone you’ve never met, who got into the business as the result of seeing your work”.
The second phase of Youngblood’s career moved him from the paint shop to the drawing board as the demand for his artistic paint schemes increased. With introductions made to an even wider audience by Kenny’s mentor and marketing genius Bob Kachler, Youngblood was soon doing graphic designs and proposal renderings for all manner of racing and high performance vehicles.
Two of Youngblood’s most recognizable contributions to the beautification of motorsports would be his graphic designs for the rock group ZZ Top’s Eliminator coupe (and subsequent pattern for its infamous key chain), and Dale Earnhardt’s first NASCAR ride (the “Wrangler Monte Carlo”), which included Kenny’s design for Earnhardt’s iconic number “3” (arguably the most identifiable numeral in the history of mankind!).
The third phase of Youngblood’s career moved him from the drawing board to the easel; ìI knew there were a lot of fans who would hang paintings of race cars on their walls if given the choice, so we gave them that choice.” In 1978, Kenny began publishing his race car paintings to the mass market. In so doing, he was unknowingly the sole pioneer of what would become the billion dollar racing collectibles industry. His dramatic images (reproduced as posters and limited edition prints) were sought by collectors world wide.
When not at the easel, you’ll most likely find Kenny making personal appearances at car shows, racing events and trade shows in various parts of the world, where he gives away personalized samples of his work. “ìI love meeting people and giving them something special to take home”, says Youngblood, whose mom, as it turned out, was right!