Buddy Baker, who won 19 NASCAR races including the 1980 Daytona 500 in a 34-year career, died Monday morning from lung cancer. He was 74.
The racing legend, who stood 6-foot-6 to earn the nickname the “Gentle Giant,” was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998. He was the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker.
Buddy Baker won 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.
“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.”
In the 1980 Daytona 500, Baker averaged 177.602 miles per hour, a record that still stands today. The car he drove in that race, the Waddell Wilson-built 1980 Oldsmobile, was known as “The Gray Ghost” — one of the sport’s most iconic race cars.
Baker co-hosted 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.