Meet Kenny Youngblood: Michelangelo of Motorsports
The Southern California racing scene has always had its own unmistakable character. It’s rebellious, it’s resourceful, it’s never afraid to take risks, and it creates a perfect setting for an artist to use as a muse. In years past, many have.
The golden era of hot rodding proved to be fertile ground for a number of adventurous automotive photographers, who helped capture the intrepid early days of institutions like Hot Rod Magazine and the NHRA. And then there were creative visionaries like George Barris and Ed “Big Daddy” Roth, whose forays into the worlds of film, television and art influenced some of the most-recognizable customs ever made.
It’s always thrilling to see artists and auto enthusiasts keeping this legacy alive, which brings us to the work of Kenny Youngblood. Youngblood is a veteran of California motorsports, going all the way back to the 1960s’ drag racing scene. After starting out as a driver-constructor, his eye-catching paint jobs made him the go-to guy for custom graphics on dragsters and other race cars, earning him many high-profile clients. This kind of work ran the gamut from rock ’n’ roll album covers (ZZ Top’s “Eliminator”, which features a Youngblood-designed hot rod) to NASCAR numbers (Dale Earnhardt’s distinctively drawn No. 3). Youngblood’s sixth sense for detail helped shape the aesthetics of hot rods and racers for decades, and he was inducted into the International Drag Racing Hall of Fame in 2014.
Looking for something a little subtler than a brightly colored hot rod or a souped-up dragster? Then you’re in luck, because Youngblood also makes prints featuring some of the meanest machines in motorsports, including some of his old designs that never got to see the light of day.
Youngblood, who has been dubbed the “Michelangelo of Motorsports” by Hot Rod, says that he started incorporating those designs into paintings in the late 1970s. He noticed that there was an untapped market of car fans in need of something cool to hang on their walls, and it’s been a successful venture ever since. Youngblood sometimes uses a business model that’s not too far off from that of a race car driver, seeking sponsorships from companies whose names and logos appear on the cars he paints.
Youngblood is so prolific that he has even sought to become a spiritual advisor for those seeking guidance, founding a religious counseling service called Always An Answer. It’s hard to imagine where he finds the time. But this artist didn’t leave such an indelible mark on motorsports by taking it slow, so it’s likely that all of his many enterprises will continue to move full speed ahead.
Related: How Architects Have Influenced the World of Car Design
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