NASCAR lost the Gentle Giant Monday. Elzie Wylie “Buddy” Baker Jr., the 1980 Daytona 500 champion and famed NASCAR commentator, has died after a battle with cancer his family announced. Baker was 74. At 6 feet 6 inches tall Baker was known to many as the Gentle Giant , but to his competitors he was known as “Leadfoot” for the speeds he regularly reached during his 33-year career.
In 1970, Baker became the first stock driver to break the 200-mph mark on a closed course doing so during testing at Talladega Superspeedway. He didn’t win at the 2.66-mile superspeedway that year, but Baker visited Talladega Victory Lane four times throughout his long career.
Baker was son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker. He racked up 19 wins in the premier series, with the highlight being the 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 NASCAR’s longest race. He also won the inaugural preseason event now known as the Sprint Unlimited in 1979. 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. 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. MORE>>>