Monday, August 10, 2015

Remembering Buddy Baker

The Pearly Gates opened a little bit wider than usual this morning, to accommodate the passing of a giant.

1980 Daytona 500 champion Buddy Baker died early today after a brief battle with lung cancer at age 74.
The 6-foot-6 Baker was a part of the racing scene virtually from birth, working as a crewmember and pit road peacemaker for his father, NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker. In an era when Victory Lane ceremonies often included a right-cross to the chin, very few picked fights with Buck Baker.

Fewer still wanted any part of big Buddy.

With a fist the size of a country ham, Baker was more than a match for any aggressor. But it was his heavy right foot and outsized heart that made him a NASCAR legend.

As a driver, Baker was best where the speeds were highest. His all-out, take-no-prisoners style garnered 19 career premier series wins, including four at his beloved Talladega Superspeedway. In 1970, he set the Alabama high banks ablaze, becoming the first man to eclipse 200 mph on a closed course. His 1980 Daytona 500 victory came at a still-record speed of 177.602 mph, and in 1970, he won the prestigious Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway by lapping the entire field.

Every. Single. Car.

Baker was tough on equipment, often pushing the engines, tires and chassis of the day past their breaking point. Hall Of Famer Richard Petty once said that if cars could run as fast as Buddy Baker could drive them, he would have retired undefeated. He remained unapologetic to the end, insisting that “all-out” was the only dignified way to race.

His go-for-broke driving style led to a few crashes along the way, as well, leaving him with lingering neck issues that required surgery and ultimately led to his retirement from the cockpit.

“After the operation, I thought I could still compete,” recalled Baker recently. “But a trusted friend of mine took me aside and said, `Buddy, are you as good as you used to be?’

“I admitted that while I might not be the winner I once was, I could still run up-front if the breaks went my way.

“He looked me straight in the eye and said, `Is that enough for you? Is that how you want to be remembered?’

“I knew instantly that he was right. It was time for me to quit.”

Baker wasted little time transitioning to a broadcast role, conveying the excitement and color of NASCAR racing on The Nashville Network and CBS. In recent years, he became a mainstay on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, alternately co-hosting the midday “Tradin’ Paint” and evening “Late Shift” programs. In marked contrast to his on-track approach, Baker brought an easygoing, gentle style to his radio efforts, displaying a natural storytelling ability that endeared him to legions of listeners.

Despite his accomplishments – both on and off the race track -- he remained an unfailingly humble man. He never quite understood the hero status he held in our eyes, ending every show with a heartfelt “thank you” to his co-host.

“It’s such an honor to work with professionals,” he’d say. “I couldn’t imagine doing this without you.”

Last month, Buddy stunned his audience with news of a massive, inoperable tumor in his lung. Unwilling to compromise his standards, he announced his retirement on the spot, saying, “It’s like I’m in a well, trying to yell up. With the quality that SiriusXM brings, I just wasn’t living up to what (I am) supposed to do.”

Things deteriorated quickly in the last 30 days. A bout of pneumonia laid him low, as cancer continued to take its inexorable toll. An old-school refusal to utilize e-mail or social media isolated us from our friend in his final days, but could not slow the tidal wave of prayers sent up on his behalf.

"I was lucky enough to have a great career as a broadcaster and over 30 years behind the wheel," said Baker recently. "For those that feel sorry for me, hey, I'm 74 years old. I have great friends...and am a blessed person. I'm going to miss the heck out of not being around, but how many people would give anything to live a charmed life like I have?

In typical Buddy Baker style, he was “hammer down” to the finish.

"Do not shed a tear,” said Baker in his final radio appearance last month. “Give a smile when you say my name. I'm not saying goodbye, just `Talk to you later.’"

So long, old friend. You will be missed.


  1. Sad to hear, a favourite on almost everyone's list,he will be truly missed by many.

  2. Thanks, Dave. RIP Buddy, you will be missed.

  3. I began as a NASCAR fan in the early 90's, and fondly remember Buddy's evolution from track to booth, although it was the picture of a smiling Buddy Baker peering out of the window of his No.6 Daytona after his worldly 200 MPH pass at Talladega that mesmerized me the most. After watching his race analysis and commentary for many years, having him on my SIRIUSXM radio since 2007 was a great addition to my daily routine. Listening to his stories, it felt as though he were bench racing in my garage, and I truly believed his presence on the radio and in NASCAR was the much needed bridge between the sports earlier decades and the newest fans who are still learning where NASCAR evolved from to what it is today. I am truly saddened to lose a part of my radio family. RIP Mr. Buddy Baker, you will be missed.

  4. David Hebert1:00 PM

    well said David....R.I.P. Buddy you will be missed down here in Lousisana

  5. Those who saw him on TV or heard him on the radio found it hard to piece together such a soft voice coming from such a large man.

    I still remember him prematurely sticking his arm out the window ,still at speed, as he became overjoyed at winning the Daytona 500 and having the air almost break it off.

    The racers of today need to look to Mr. Baker as an example of how to represent themselves to the sport, sponsors, and the public.

    RIP Sir.

  6. Wayne1:07 PM

    You don't here those stories in these times. The sport and people are not what it used to be. RIP Mr. RACER

  7. I know it is a total part of life, but I so sick of death. Race family, blood family, friends, pets, etc. Buddy was a good guy, remember listening to the MRN broadcasts on a little AM radio as that was all that was available. Although TV is spectacular, radio tells the real story.

  8. Wonderful blog! Cried when I read it. RIP Buddy Baker u will b greatly missed.

  9. Humble to the very end, that's why buddy has always been and will always be a true hero to me. He understood what he had and why he had it. Forever missed.

  10. Anonymous4:48 PM

    Who is he survived by? My deepest condolences to them. He has left a hole at NASCAR radio. His unforgettable voice will always be with us.

  11. Anonymous4:58 PM

    Beautiful story . R.I.P Buddy Baker you will be missed .

    “Life should not be a journey to the grave with the intention of arriving safely in a pretty and well preserved body, but rather to skid in broadside in a cloud of smoke, thoroughly used up, totally worn out, and loudly proclaiming "Wow! What a Ride!”
    Hunter S Thompson

  12. Anonymous6:40 PM

    You just don't run across human beings like Buddy Baker anymore.

    I haven't been able to turn on channel 90 until well after Speedway starts, and I change it well before it's over. The reason is the cross overs. No more Buddy and Jim. No more Buddy and Brad. No more Buddy. But, to honor this great man's last wish, I do smile when I think of him. I smile remembering the stories he told that are lost to future generations, unless we keep his memory alive.

    There just aren't story tellers like Buddy. He blessed us with his on track demeanor, and he blessed us by sharing his memories.

    A charmed life, indeed. Just too damn short.


  13. We loved you, Buddy.

    Ray Fox Dodge #3
    Cotton Owens Dodge #6
    Petty Enterprises Dodge #11
    Nord Krauskopf/Harry Hyde Dodge #71
    Bud Moore Ford #15
    Ranier Racing #28
    Wood Brothers #21

    The mounts of Buddy Bakers wins.

  14. When I first tuned into Sirius xm and realized Buddy was on the air, I told my son, then 10, what a great opportunity to listen and learn about NASCAR. Thank you for the nice tribute @dgodfathermoody

  15. Dwayne in Memphis11:33 PM

    Today's shows are a prime example of what I meant when I talked about my dad in the post when he first announced his cancer. The only - and I mean ONLY - good thing about cancer is that you can see the end coming. We heard story after story of guys saying, "I just talked to Buddy last week..." "I spent 4 hours talking to Buddy the week before Pocono" and Ryan Newman's story of his talks with him. Dale Earnhardt and David Poole are two examples of the sudden and unexpected way it can happen. We all thought we had tomorrow to watch them race, or hear them on the radio...until we didn't. Don't waste the time you're given, folks. If there's someone that means a lot to you, call them and tell them. Just laugh, reminisce, and appreciate whatever time you might have left.

    Thanks for the stories, Buddy. Thank you for all you did for the fans. Thank you for making NASCAR the sport we love. Congrats on the checkers, and we'll see you when we get up there...oh, the stories I hope to hear when I see all of you guys together again!!

  16. Anonymous12:24 AM

    Hey, Heaven! Make way for the Gray Ghost!

  17. Anonymous2:47 PM

    You were a good man Buddy. Lived a good life. We're gonna miss ya. When I first heard I had to reach over and give the air horn two tugs in honor of you. For the rest of us...I bet Buddy's sitting at a bar up there with Earnhardt discussing who had worse luck in the Daytona 500. Justin from Nebraska

  18. Loved listening to Buddy Baker. In the early years he was hard to understand to my "Yankee ears", but I listened to every word. I can't help wondering after the first year or two if he did work with a speech therapist. His enunction and clarity were improved. Whether he did or not, he was great. Driver and commentator.

    RIP Buddy