This is the fourth of a five-part series in advance of the 2020 NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony in Charlotte, N.C., on Friday, Jan. 31. Motor Racing Network – "The Voice of NASCAR" – will have live coverage starting at 8 p.m. (ET) with live streaming at MRN.com.
His nickname was the "Gentle Giant," but there was nothing mild about Buddy Baker when he got behind the wheel of a race car.
On Jan. 31, the late Baker will be enshrined into the NASCAR Hall of Fame in recognition of his many achievements during his career.
Standing 6 feet, 6 feet inches Baker was a dominating presence around the NASCAR world from the minute he burst onto the scene in 1959. He followed in his father Buck Baker’s footsteps and did so to the tune of 19 Cup wins, including victories in some of the sport’s biggest and most prestigious events.
In 1980, Baker won the Daytona 500 with an average race speed of 177.602 mph – a track record that still stands.
"I’ll be honest with you the car was so dominant that I went if you lose this one you won’t get another chance I don’t think," Baker said. " Everything went perfectly through-out the entire race but near the end it was almost like you could hear the grease in the rear end.
"When I did win I went by the start-finish line and like a little school boy I started yelling and I went…nobody can hear you, save it to you get in Winner’s Circle. Then I went down the backstretch and I went wait a minute this is the Daytona 500 I’ll yell if I want to."
Baker became the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega Superspeedway in 1970. Although he didn’t win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway that season, Baker won four times at the track in his career, including three straight.
Baker’s time in NASCAR also included serving as mentor to a number of drivers that would go on to enjoy successful careers of their own including Ryan Newman, who remains grateful for the instruction and guidance he received.
"He was instrumental in my racing career," Newman said. "I’m very appreciative for all the things he taught me. Heck, he always said the more he taught me what not to do then what to do was more important than trying to tell me how to drive the race car. We just have to be thankful for all the time we’ve had him and all that he’s done for me and so many other people in the NASCAR world."
Baker joins Buck in the NASCAR Hall of Fame and remembers the many lessons learned racing against his father.
"I didn’t realize at the time, but you gain so much, and I didn’t realize how smart he was until I got a little bit older and realized what he passed on to me," Baker said in a press conference following his late father’s 2013 induction into the Hall of Fame.
"When I first started racing I’d go to him and sit down, and I’d say, what did you think of the way I was running on this dirt track? He said, well, I’ll tell you, you’ve got some work to do. And I said, in what way, and he laid it out just like if you lived with Arnold Palmer and you were a golfer. He said, you need to get the car set, you don’t need to use as much brake. I mean, he was watching all that, competing at the same time I was."
After hanging up his helmet, Baker became a successful television and radio broadcaster. He worked as a television analyst for both CBS and The Nashville Network before becoming a co-host on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Previous Hall of Fame Inductee Features