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Buddy Baker, former Petty Dodge driver, 200-mph record setter

by Bill Cawthon on

Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., the NASCAR driver who spent most of the first 12 years of his 33-year stock car racing career behind the wheel of Chryslers, Dodges, and Plymouths, has died of lung cancer.

According to his family, Baker passed away at home on northwest of Charlotte, North Carolina, this morning, at the age of 74.

The six-foot, six-inch-tall Baker was the first NASCAR driver break the 200-mph barrier on a closed course. On March 24, 1970, Baker hit 200.096 during testing of the #88 Dodge Charger Daytona at the then-new Talladega Superspeedway. (Curtis Redgap provided more details about the No. 88 car in an Allpar feature, and this car — at one point altered to #93 — is currently being restored.)

Baker’s comment following the run was, “Gosh, I’m just tickled to death.”

Baker was born in South Carolina in March 1941, but, while he was still in school, the family moved to Charlotte, North Carolina. He was the son of legendary stock-car driver Buck Baker; both Bakers are are n NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers list and are in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame at Talladega.

Over his career, Baker had 212 top-five finishes, including 19 wins. His career earnings totaled $3.6 million.

After retiring from competition, Baker became a commentator for CBS and the Nashville Network. Until recently, he was co-host on “Late Shift” and “Tradin’ Paint” for SiriusXM’s NASCAR Radio.

John Wehrly wrote that Buddy Baker, who he referred to as “a great guy,” was called the “gentle giant.”  Engineer George Wallace wrote that “Buddy Baker was never completely happy with the car 046, and found it difficult to control and very susceptible to winds. With the new [Dodge Charger 500] car he found the car very easy to drive at all speeds including the maximum, even with considerable wind.” He got this car past 192 mph, though it did not have the huge wing or aero nose of the Charger Daytona. Later, it would — the same chassis was used to build car #88, which set the record.

When the news came out that he had been diagnosed with cancer, Mr. Baker said, “For those who feel sorry, hey, I’m 74 years old, have great friends, had a career. … Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name.”

Ed Poplawski quoted Tom Higgins’ interview with Mr. Baker for the Charlotte Observer:

Buddy Baker is facing the end of his life with the same courage he demonstrated during a long NASCAR career, when he sometimes drove at more than 200 mph. “I’m right with The Man Upstairs… If I feared death I never would have driven a race car.”

Bill Cawthon grew up in the auto industry in the 1950s. His Dad worked for Chrysler and Bill spent a number of Saturdays down on the plant floor at Dodge Main in Hamtramck. Bill is also the U.S. market correspondent for just-auto.com, a British auto industry publication, and a member of the Texas Auto Writers Association, which has named the Jeep Grand Cherokee the “SUV of Texas” several times and named the Ram 1500 as the “Truck of Texas” two years running.

Bill has owned five Plymouths (including the only 1962 “Texan”), one Dodge and one Chrysler and is still trying to figure out how to justify a Wrangler. He also has owned at least one of every 1:87 scale model of a Chrysler product. You can reach him directly at (206) 888-7324 or by using the form.


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