Life Is The Pits
January 19, 2003 | 12:19 A.M. EST
Fans who only started following the sport when NBC and FOX took over (I’m told such people exist…more the pity for them) might not have ever heard Baker call a race. When the new networks took over a lot of fans, including myself, were disappointed Buddy wasn’t part of either networks crew. Baker was a lot of fun to listen to as he called a race peppering his delivery with Southern-fried “Buddyisms” such as “That boy’s so high right now he could hunt ducks with a rake.” Even some fans that recall his TV work might not have realized Buddy Baker was once a very successful racer in his own right, one of the toughest competitors ever to turn a wheel on the track, a guy who was “up on the wheel” each and every lap of every race he ever drove. During his career Buddy drove for such legendary car owners as the Pettys, Ray Fox, Harry Ranier, Bud Moore and Nord Krauskopf. His career spanned several decades and allowed Buddy to race the greats of several generations from the “Richard Petty/Cale Yarborough/David Pearson” era right into the “Dale Earnhardt/Bill Elliott Tim Richmond/” period. A nasty head injury that went undiagnosed and eventually almost cost Buddy his life finally ended his driving career, though Baker remains a part of the sport. He was chosen to mentor young Ryan Newman and still test-drives for Penske South, occasionally turning laps faster than either Wallace or Newman during those tests.
This book, subtitled Flat Out and Half Turned Over (Apparently a wordy subtitle is now required for all racing novels) has David Poole of the Charlotte Observer and Thatsracin.com listed as co-author. While doubtless a writer of Poole’s talent was of enormous help to Baker preparing the book this isn’t one of those ghostwritten tomes that the main author signed off on after it was finished. The language and the tales are clearly Baker’s own words, usually delightfully so though some chapters end rather awkwardly. Some of the tales are flat out hilarious particularly Buddy’s story about how a rescue crew tending to him after a hard lick once screwed up by forgetting to secure the rear doors of the ambulance. Baker, strapped to the stretcher, rolled out of the back of the ambulance strapped into a stretcher and down the steep banking of the racetrack in front of a pack of cars roaring out of the pits. Fortunately none of the other drivers hit him but to add insult to injury the stretcher hit a mud puddle and overturned with Baker still bound by straps. Other stories are more heart wrenching but offer valuable insights into an earlier era of the sports history when drivers not only weren’t in the game for money, they tended to lose money racing. Baker was thoroughly initiated in the highs and lows of the sport, at least in one instance in the same day. Baker once won a race at Talladega only to learn his dear friend Tiny Lund had been killed in a savage wreck during the same event. A triumphant Baker only learned that his friend had been killed during the course of the victor’s press conference and fighting back tears ended the chat with the media right then and there.
Tales From Pit Road is about as close as most fans are going to get to sitting across the table at a diner listening to one of NASCAR’s most colorful and humorous personalities telling sidesplitting yarns about his life and times. With the book only 169 pages long even the occasional reader should be able to finish it in a few hours and most will find themselves wishing for more. Tales From Pit Road is a set of stories only Buddy Baker could tell and it’s one of the most entertaining books on stock car racing ever published. I highly recommend it anyone from the long time fan to folks who might not have ever heard Baker call a race.
Tales From Pit Road
By Buddy Baker/David Poole
Sports Publishing-169 pages-$19.95
(I neglected where to purchase the last book I reviewed and several readers asked me. As with any racing book it’s a matter of geography. If you live below the Mason-Dixon line any hip book store should have these books in stock. If you live above the Mason Dixon line you’ll probably have to order them on-line from sources like Jayski’s bookstore or Amazon.com.)
Matt can be reached at Matt@speedfx.com