Buddy Baker, NASCAR’s ‘Gentle Giant,’ dies at 74 – USA TODAY
NASCAR has lost one of its greats.
Buddy Baker, who announced last month he had inoperable lung cancer, died early Monday morning at 74.
Baker, known as NASCAR’s ‘Gentle Giant’ as he towered over most of his competitors at 6-foot-6, won the 1980 Daytona 500, was a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee and was named one of its 50 greatest drivers in 1998.
SiriusXM NASCAR Radio announced his death. Baker left his co-host slot on ”The Late Shift” just last month after telling listeners he had a ”huge tumor” in his lung.
“Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later,” Baker said as he signed off.
VIDEO: Buddy Baker wins the 1980 Daytona 500
Baker followed in the footsteps of his father,Â two-time champion Buck Baker, who was inducted in NASCAR’s Hall of Fame inÂ 2013. The young Baker debuted in NASCAR’s premier Cup series in 1959 at age 18 and competed in 700 races — winning 19 — before retiring fromÂ the sport after the 1992 season.
Among his wins were notable trips to victory lane inÂ the 1980 Daytona 500, the 1970 Southern 500Â and the Coca-Cola 600 (or World 600)Â in 1968, 1972 and 1973.
In a statement, NASCAR chairmanÂ Brian France said:Â âMany of todayâs fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sportâs history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions. But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCARâs biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly.â
VIDEO: Remembering Buddy Baker
Baker enjoyed the superspeedways most, becoming the first driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course – at Talladega Superspeedway in 1970. He won at NASCAR’s largest venue four times and his fearless style at top speeds earned him another moniker: “Leadfoot.”Â He ranks 14th with 38 poles, and also amassed 202 top-fives and 311 top-10s.
Baker raced forÂ Petty Enterprises in 1971 and 1972, notching a win in each season.
Seven-time NASCAR champion and Hall of Famer Richard Petty said in a statement:Â “Buddy was always wide open and that’s the way he raced and lived his life. Â He was always full of energy. Â He was a person you wanted to be around because he always made you feel better. Â He raced with us, shared his stories with us and became our friend. Â Buddy loved the sport and he made a lasting impression on the sport on the track, in the television booth and on the radio. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baker family at this time.”
Michigan International Speedway president Roger Curtis said via release:Â âIâll miss Buddy. Iâll always remember how talented he was as a race car driver, and how he had a wonderful presence at the track. … But he also loved the people. I think thatâs why he told such wonderful stories â because he loved people who loved NASCAR.â
So it seemed natural when Baker’s post-race work took him to the broadcast booth, where he started atÂ The Nashville Network, then moved to CBS and eventually landed at SiriusXM when the NASCAR channel launched in 2007.
The company remembered Baker on Monday as ”one of the anchors of the channel. … He brought a wonderfully engaging personality to the airwaves and his storytelling ability made his show a joy to listen to. Â As one of NASCARâs great competitors, he generously shared a wealth of knowledge â developed over many decades in the sport â with our listeners. Â He is greatly missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.â
During Baker’s final broadcast, which lasted about 40 minutes, he told listeners:Â “I just want to say goodbye to everyone. Thanks for being a friend.”
PHOTOS: Buddy Baker through the years
Contributing: Associated Press
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