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Buddy Baker, NASCAR's Lead-Footed 'Gentle Giant,' Dies at 74

Image: Buddy Baker, NASCAR's Lead-Footed 'Gentle Giant,' Dies at 74
Buddy Baker, a former Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, has died after a brief battle with lung cancer. He was 74. (AP Photo/File)

By    |   Monday, 10 Aug 2015 01:55 PM

Buddy Baker, NASCAR's "Gentle Giant," died Monday at age 74 of inoperable lung cancer.

"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 as he signed off his SiriusXM NASCAR Radio show, "The Late Shift," last month. He told his audience he had a "huge tumor" in his lung during the monologue, USA Today reported.

The 6-foot-6-inch Baker won the 1980 Daytona 500, was a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, and was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers in 1998. He was also the first driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course in 1970 at the Talladega Superspeedway.

His racing career spanned from 1959 to 1992, and won him $3.6 million.

"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 on Monday.

"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."

"Buddy was a real pioneer in the sense that he taught everybody how to race on the big speedways," said H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler, former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway. "He could handle the extreme horsepower. A lot of drivers were scared of that. But it didn’t scare Buddy a bit. Buddy had a penchant for putting his foot down and leaving it. He had an extraordinary ability to take race cars where nobody had taken them before."

Baker was the son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker, who himself died in 2002. Upon his retirement, Baker helped run the Buck Baker Racing School in Rockingham.

A longtime North Carolina resident, The Charlotte Observer reported that Baker is his wife, Patricia Shane Prendergast Baker and two sons, Bryan and Brandon, as well as two granddaughters, siblings, and more.

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Buddy Baker, NASCAR's "Gentle Giant," died Monday at age 74 of inoperable lung cancer.
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Monday, 10 Aug 2015 01:55 PM
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