I awoke this morning to a great shock when I learned that Buddy Baker had passed on so swiftly. It was only about six weeks ago when I heard Buddy had inoperable cancer and would be leaving his Sirius Satellite Radio program he co-hosted with Brad Gillie. It’s easy for me to say that personally the loss is devastating, but more so to NASCAR. Buddy was unique.
I first met Buddy Baker in the press box at North Carolina Speedway in October of 1996. Buddy was then part of the crew broadcasting the races on the TNT television network. Having been a fan since I was a kid, and listening to the stories he was telling, showed me a side of Buddy that I didn’t know since I had only seen him on television or on the race track. He was one of my favorites from the early 1960’s until he quit driving in 1992.
Somehow, I got the courage to approach him that weekend and shake his hand. It was quite a thrill since I was new to being a “citizen journalist” with the old Compuserve Network’s Motor Racing Forum. What I found was a surprisingly shy man who had tons of stories to tell. I ran into him again later at the same track, but this time he was at the Penske Racing hauler where I lamented that he was no longer doing television.
He commented, “I miss it, too,” and he chatted for a few minutes. Those two meetings were the first of many at tracks like Martinsville or Charlotte. The last time I saw him was during the 2013 Sprint Cup Media Tour at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. I told him I enjoyed his shows with Gillie and Jim Noble and his eye lit up and you could tell he just happy that he could still be a part of the sport he loved.
Buddy may be gone, but the memories remain. Being the first driver to reach 200 mph in a NASCAR stocker, his 1980 Daytona 500 win and the first Busch Clash where “Old Leadfoot” smoked the field are seared in my brain. Over the last few years, other than a chance meeting at Martinsville a couple of years ago, I didn’t see him at a track, but someone’s conversation always turned to Buddy and one of his many stories. It’s sad that the younger generation will never know what it was like to see Buddy race. He was special.
I’m lobbying right now for Buddy to be put in his rightful place in the NASCAR Hall of Fame. When I proposed that in 2013, he almost blushed saying it was just an honor to be included in the nominees. That’s not good enough for me. He belongs in the Hall.