TALLADEGA, AL – Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., who was inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame in 1997, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 74 (b. 1-25-41).
At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Buddy Baker was often called the “Gentle Giant,” though the nickname “Leadfoot” was more apropos due to the blistering speeds he often achieved during his 33-year career. Baker, son of Buck Baker, who was part of the International Motorsports Hall of Fame’s inaugural Class in 1990, accumulated 19 wins in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series.
On March 24, 1970, Baker became the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega Superspeedway driving the blue No. 88 winged Dodge Charger Daytona. His speed of 200.447 mph was a world record. Although he didn’t win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway that year, Baker visited Talladega’s Victory Lane four times throughout his stellar career.
In fact, he became the first driver in history to win three consecutive races at NASCAR’s Most Competitive venue, sweeping both NASCAR Sprint Cup Series races in 1975 and following that accomplishment with a win in the spring of 1976. His final trip to Talladega’s Gatorade Victory Lane came in 1980, the same season he began the year with a triumph in the season-opening Daytona 500, while driving his infamous No. 28 “Gray Ghost” paint scheme.
Of the 200-plus mph record, Baker said, “We had the winged cars at that time and the big question was who could get to 200 mph first. Dodge called and asked me if I was interested in going to Talladega to try to accomplish it and I said ‘you bet.’
“The first lap was close to 200 so we got with NASCAR to make sure all the timing and scoring equipment was ready. Bill France (builder of Talladega Superspeedway and President of NASCAR) was there also. I think it was the third lap around the track where we hit 200.447. I came in and said ‘let’s dial this thing up, really set the timing on up, and set a record they will remember.’ The crew said ‘no because the next big criteria would be 300 mph.’ I said ‘put it back on the truck,’” laughed Baker. “It is one of those records no one can take away from you.”
Seventeen years later in 1987, Bill Elliott would set the official qualifying record of 212.809 mph at Talladega, a record that still stands today, but it was Baker who set the precedence. In addition to his four victories at NASCAR’s biggest and baddest track, Baker collected 15 top-five and 20 top-10 results, plus he started from the pole position three times in 43 events at Talladega.
“Many of today’s fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport’s history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR’s biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly.”
A race commentator and radio host during a lengthy and prolific post-racing career, the Charlotte, North Carolina native’s biggest win came in the 1980 Daytona 500. He finished with an average race speed of 177.602 mph – a track record that still stands.
In addition to his wins at Talladega, he recorded a victory in the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway where he lapped the rest of the field. In 1972-73, Baker became the first driver to win consecutive World 600s. He also won the inaugural preseason event now known as the Sprint Unlimited in 1979. In all, he competed in 700 races in NASCAR’s premier division, with 202 top-five finishes and 38 pole positions.
He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998, and in 2014 was first nominated for inclusion into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
After retiring in 1992, Baker made a successful transition to the television booth as a commentator for The Nashville Network and CBS. He most recently served as a radio co-host on “Late Shift” and “Tradin’ Paint” for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.
Please see the information below regarding Buddy Baker’s funeral arrangements.
Tuesday, August 18 at 2:00 p.m.
Avondale Presbyterian Church
2821 Park Road
Burial will follow at Sharon Memorial Park on Monroe Road in Charlotte.
In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to:
Humane Society of Iredell
110 Robinson Road
Mooresville, NC 28117