August 10, 2015- Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., the 1980 Daytona 500 champion and famed NASCAR commentator, has died after a battle with cancer. He was 74.
Baker was a two-time champion at Michigan International Speedway, having won a NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in June 1979 and an IROC race in September 1976.
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.
In 1970, Baker became the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega Superspeedway. Although he didn’t win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway that year, Baker visited Talladega Victory Lane four times throughout his stellar career.
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.
Baker, son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker, accumulated 19 wins in the premier series, including 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 pre-season event now known as the Sprint Unlimited in 1979. 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.
Baker spoke very fondly of Michigan International Speedway whenever he interviewed MIS president Roger Curtis for the show. He loved the summers at the racetrack in Brooklyn, Michigan.
“I’ll miss Buddy,” Curtis said. “I’ll always remember how talented he was as a race car driver, and how he had a wonderful presence at the track. He told me he loved coming to Michigan because of how big the track is; he was a genius at the big superspeedways. But he also loved the people. I think that’s why he told such wonderful stories – because he loved people who loved NASCAR.”
From: Brad Kuhbander | Manager of Media Relations | Michigan International Speedway
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