Buddy Baker, noted for a 34-year career in NASCAR's top series that produced 19 victories, including the 1980 Daytona 500, died Monday morning from lung cancer. He was 74.
The 6-foot-6 Baker, the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker, was known for his all-out style, one that allowed him to win four times at Talladega, four times at Charlotte, twice at Darlington and twice at Daytona. He ranks 14th in NASCAR history with 38 poles in his 700 career starts from 1959 to 1992. He had 202 top-5s and 311 top-10s.
In 1998, the "Gentle Giant" was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers.
"Many of today's fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport's history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions," NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a statement. "But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR's biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly."
Baker finished in the top 10 in the standings five times with a best of fifth in 1977. He raced mainly for his family team at the start of his career and then for several car owners, including Ray Fox, Cotton Owens, Richard Petty, Nord Krauskopf, Bud Moore, Harry Ranier, the Wood Brothers and Danny Schiff.
"Buddy was always wide open and that's the way he raced and lived his life. He was always full of energy," Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty said. "He was a person you wanted to be around because he always made you feel better."
Baker was the first driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course when he did it in 1970 at Talladega Superspeedway.
He remained involved in the sport, working race telecasts for The Nashville Network and then co-hosting a radio show two nights a week on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. Baker announced he had lung cancer July 7 and would be immediately leaving the network. The network announced his death Monday morning.
"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 in his final radio appearance.
Baker is a member of the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame.
"I'm right with The Man upstairs," Baker told The Charlotte Observer in a July 27 story. "If I feared death, I never would have driven a race car."
The Associated Press contributed to this report.