CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- There's the winged sprint car, the midget entry and the Silver Crown machine. The rainbow-colored Chevrolets are on the other side of the room, separated by years and a handful of small tables adorned with No. 24 racing memorabilia. But the car that catches his eye is the white Pontiac stock car. It's the No. 67 and other than the Outback Steakhouse logo across the hood, it's vanilla plain by today's standards. Jeff Gordon , a four-time NASCAR premier series champion, hasn't seen this car in probably two decades or more. But it was one of the few that helped kick-start his stock car racing career. "That's where I got my very first start," Gordon, 44, tells the crowd during Wednesday's opening of "24: A Tribute to Jeff Gordon " at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Racing folks know Jeff Gordon the NASCAR star. They know the Hendrick Motorsports driver that, paired with crew chief Ray Evernham, was a force in the series throughout the 1990s. But before he was champion, before he began piling up wins (he's at 92 and counting), he was Jeff Gordon the former open-wheel racer who wanted to try his hand in stock cars. And the No. 67 was where it all began. "There are some incredible stories that belong to that car," said Gordon. "But most importantly was I sat on the outside front row at Rockingham in that car and the rest is kind of history. That's what led to the phone call from (team owner) Bill Davis which … led to the phone call from Rick Hendrick and here we are today." Impressed with Gordon's efforts during a stint at the Buck Baker Driving School, team owner Hugh Connerty offered the youngster a chance to drive his car in what’s now the XFINITY Series. That took place in 1990. Gordon made three attempts, failing to qualify at Charlotte Motor Speedway and Martinsville Speedway . In between, at Rockingham, he qualified the car on the outside of the front row. "Unfortunately I have the kind of memory that goes immediately to I remember wrecking on Lap 23," said Gordon. "We actually tried to run at Charlotte first; qualifying got rained out. We were pretty fast. I knew the car had good speed in it. Then we went to Rockingham and I knew it had good speed in it that day, but we weren't anywhere close to thinking we were going to be on the outside front row. Laid down a great lap and I think everyone was surprised. "Even today if you really think about it, if somebody comes along and they're not in one of the top cars or with one of the top teams out there, you've not heard a lot about them, and all of a sudden they wind up on the front row, it's going to draw your attention and you're going to wonder who this person is. "For me I was fortunate that wrecking on Lap 23 didn't take away from being on the front row. I just remember getting some huge phone calls after that. I didn't realize how big it was as the time, I knew I was excited that we were on the front row, but I had no idea what it was going to do for my career." The exhibit, which features nine cars raced by Gordon during his career, is scheduled to run through Jan. 10 at the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
CHARLOTTE, N.C. -- The nickname wasn't a misnomer, according to those who knew him. Often called NASCAR's "Gentle Giant," Buddy Baker was laid to rest Tuesday, with family and friends gathering at Avondale Presbyterian Church to say a final goodbye. Stock car racing history filled the pews, silently and respectfully honoring a NASCAR star that won 19 premier series races and 38 poles during a career that spanned three-and-a-half decades. Drivers, crew chiefs, owners and mechanics sat side-by-side, elbow-to-elbow during the hour-long service. NASCAR officials, marketing folks and those from the media turned out as well. The 6'6" Baker left a lasting impression not only on the sport but on everyone he touched. Cancer claimed the 74-year-old a week ago, silencing a distinctive voice that race fans had come to know and enjoy long after he climbed out of the car and stepped behind the microphone. The son of two-time premier series champ Buck Baker , Buddy retired as a driver following the 1994 season, but stayed involved -- he worked in the television booth for The Nashville Network and CBS during race coverage by those two networks. Until earlier this year, he served as co-host of the popular night-time program "The Late Shift" heard on SiriusXM NASCAR radio. "He definitely was a gentle giant," three-time NASCAR premier series champion Cale Yarborough recalled recently. "He was a great guy who would give you the shirt off his back. "Buddy wasn't only a great race car driver, he was one of my closest friends. He and I grew up together; we came along (in the sport) about the same time and we used to travel together, just the two of us. "He'll be missed … I thought the world of him." In 1980, Baker ended 18 years of frustration by finally winning the Daytona 500 while paired with team owner Harry Ranier and legendary crew chief Waddell Wilson. Baker's winning average speed of 177.602 mph established a track record that has yet to be broken. He also won four times on the series' biggest track, 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway. Baker was the first driver to eclipse the 200-mph mark on a closed course, lapping the Talladega track at 200.096 mph and later 200.447 mph during a transmission test on March 24, 1970. The mark came in a winged Dodge Daytona fielded by Hall of Famer Cotton Owens. Former Charlotte Motor Speedway President and General Manager H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler said Baker eclipsed the 200-mph mark on a number of occasions, unofficially, while testing tires for Firestone in the 1960s. "Back (then), I was with Firestone … and I was looking for a young guy that could just really push the throttle down and be our test driver," Wheeler said Tuesday. "In those days, you couldn't draft … you had to set up these weird things on the race car to simulate things you'd go through in the draft. … Carburetors as big as a swimming pool, real weird tires; we never told him what (the setup) was. And he was just unbelievable. He'd say 'We're not going fast enough.'" The potential for grave injury, even death, didn’t give Baker pause, according to Wheeler. "There were no soft walls, the inner liner had just come in (and) the fuel cell had sort of come in. You could get hurt most anywhere you went tire testing," he said. "And it didn’t bother Buddy one bit." Baker , Wheeler noted, is in the International Motorsports Hall of Fame and the National Motorsports Hall of Fame. "And there is no doubt,” Wheeler said, "that he will soon be brought into our NASCAR Hall of Fame. "Buddy was a great driver and fantastic human being." Baker has been among the 25 nominees for induction into the NASCAR Hall for the past two years. His father, Buck , was enshrined in the Hall in 2013.
Dale Earnhardt Jr . knows all about growing up in the shadow of a legend. He knows where that path leads, where it ends and where the next one begins. Buddy Baker did, too. Both are the sons of famous racers. Both followed their fathers into the sport. It was a connection, a common thread leading away from two very uncommon individuals. Baker , the son of two-time NASCAR premier series champion and NASCAR Hall of Fame member Buck Baker , passed away Monday following a brief battle with lung cancer. The father, tough as an old boot, taught the son plenty. A giant of a man inside and outside the car, Buddy won 19 times, including the 1980 Daytona 500 . He's been among the nominees for the Hall for the past two years. Earnhardt Jr.'s father, Dale Earnhardt, was one of the inaugural members of the Hall selected in 2010. The elder Earnhardt won seven NASCAR premier series titles, tying Richard Petty's formidable mark. He won 76 races. For many, Earnhardt was NASCAR, helping to fill the void left by the departure of icons that had carried the sport on their shoulders through the 1960s and '70s -- men such as Petty, David Pearson, Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough. And Buddy Baker . The father-son connection question has been asked countless times of Earnhardt Jr. He is no longer surprised by it. His father's shadow loomed large over the sport, even after his death on the race track in 2001. The similarities to Baker's own circumstances became more obvious to Earnhardt Jr. over time. "When I was really young, I grew aware of his situation and I hadn't become a driver yet," Earnhardt Jr. said Thursday during an appearance on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "I didn't feel like I could relate to him. "I obviously knew just what growing up in household must have been like, the yearning to compete and get into the series and do what your father was doing and be a part of it to be more a part of his life. "To be more of a part of your father's life is one of the main reasons why you get involved. I maybe could understand that part of it." Baker's on-track accomplishments, and later his move into broadcasting, helped him shed the "son-of" label. Just as Earnhardt Jr.'s eventual success -- he's won 25 races, including a pair of Daytona 500 titles -- helped him blaze his own trail. "You almost forgot about that scenario and how similar it may have been to your own (situation) because of what he was able to accomplish," Earnhardt Jr. said. "He created his own identity outside of Buck ( Baker ). He did so many things on his own, added to his own identity and legacy that you totally really forgot about having those similarities down the road." NASCAR hasn't lacked for father/son combinations through the years -- Lee and Richard Petty; Richard and Kyle Petty; Bobby and Davey and Clifford Allison; Ned, Glenn and Dale Jarrett; David and Larry Pearson; and more recently Ward and Jeb Burton just to name a few. There are a lot, Earnhardt Jr. said, "that I feel that connection to, that know what that connection is like." The situation isn't specific to racing, but racing is where both Earnhardt Jr. and Baker found themselves. Following in their fathers' footsteps. "Wanting to be in that shadow when you're young and wanting to be a part of his life when you're young and then trying to get out from under that shadow all the rest of the years of your life is definitely, I wouldn't call it a struggle, but it's just a unique situation that only a few of us can say we've been through," said Earnhardt Jr., "and we can relate to each other through that."
RELATED: Baker through the years " Drivers, teams react to Baker's passing Buddy Baker , one of NASCAR's fastest and most fearless drivers to ever compete in its premier series, passed away Monday from lung cancer, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio announced. Baker , 74, won 19 times at NASCAR's top level during a career that lasted three-and-a-half decades. The son of two-time premier series champ Buck Baker , Buddy Baker retired from the sport following the 1994 season. "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 and CEO 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." He made his NASCAR debut on April 4, 1959, finishing 14th in a field of 21 at Columbia (S.C.) Speedway in a car owned by his father. He is credited with 699 career starts (excluding four career starts in the now-defunct NASCAR Convertible Division), 16th on NASCAR’s all-time career starts list. He earned 202 top-five and 311 top-10 finishes, as well as 38 poles. Big tracks were Baker's specialty, a fitting strength for the 6-foot, 6-inch driver. Among his notable victories were the 1980 Daytona 500 with team owner Harry Ranier and crew chief Waddell Wilson, four victories on the sprawling 2.66-mile Talladega Superspeedway and one on the sweeping 2-mile Michigan International Speedway course. RELATED: Relive Baker's Daytona win Baker became the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph mark on a closed course, lapping the Talladega track at 200.096 mph during a transmission test on March 24, 1970 with car owner Cotton Owens. He bettered that mark during the test with the winged Dodge Daytona Charger eventually topping out at an average speed of 200.447 mph. "It's the most wonderful feeling I've had in a long, long time," Baker told track officials after his day's work was completed. "It's something nobody can ever take away from you." His first premier series win came Oct. 15, 1967 in the National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway with car owner Ray Fox. Baker would go on to win three more times at CMS, all in the physically demanding 600-mile event held each May. He was a two-time winner at Darlington Raceway as well, winning the 1970 Southern 500 and returning the following spring to capture the ’71 Rebel 400 at the track long billed as the "Lady in Black." During his career, Baker scored wins with Owens, Petty Enterprises, Nord Krauskopf, Bud Moore, Ranier and Wood Brothers Racing . RELATED: Dale Inman relays classic Buddy Baker story Baker drove for Petty Enterprises in 1971 and 1972 and NASCAR Hall of Famer Richard Petty issued a statement on Baker's passing on Monday. "Buddy was always wide open and that's the way he raced and lived his life. He was always full of energy. He was a person you wanted to be around because he always made you feel better. He raced with us, shared his stories with us and became our friend. Buddy loved the sport and he made a lasting impression on the sport on the track, in the television booth and on the radio. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baker family at this time." His last victory came in 1983 with the Stuart, Virginia-based Wood Brothers organization -- he drove the No. 21 Ford to the win in the July 4 Firecracker 400 at Daytona. In his final start on May 3, 1992, fittingly at Talladega, Baker finished 31st. While he didn't run the full schedule during much of his career, Baker did compete for the series' title on occasion, finishing in the top-10 in points on five occasions. He finished a career-best fifth in ’77 while driving for Moore. His folksy manner eventually earned Baker a job in broadcasting, where he served as a NASCAR commentator for The Nashville Network and CBS. In recent years he could be heard on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. "From the time we launched SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in 2007, Buddy was one of the anchors of the channel and we are honored and grateful to have worked with him all these years.He brought a wonderfully engaging personality to the airwaves and his storytelling ability made his show a joy to listen to. As one of NASCAR’s great competitors, he generously shared a wealth of knowledge – developed over many decades in the sport – with our listeners. He is greatly missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family," SiriusXM said in a statement. It was on SiriusXM's "Late Shift" program that Baker recently announced doctors had discovered a large tumor in his lung. Because of the diagnosis, he was stepping down as co-host of the popular program. "I think I retired five different times," Baker told listeners. "Why? Because you build this trust and love for a sport that I don't care what anybody tells you, there is no other form of auto racing in the world that can entertain and bring the stars that we have in our sport. And to have a long career like I've had, do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name." In 1995, Baker was inducted into the Charlotte Motor Speedway Court of Legends; in '97 he was doubly honored, with inductions into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame the previous year, as well as the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. The following year, Baker was named one of NASCAR's 50 Greatest Drivers. His father was also among the 50 named to the legendary list. Funeral Services will be held at Avondale Presbyterian Church, 2821 Park Rd., Charlotte, conducted by Rev. John Earles, on Aug. 18 at 2 p.m. ET. Burial will follow at Sharon Memorial Park on Monroe Road in Charlotte. In lieu of flowers, donations may be made to the Humane Society of Iredell, 110 Robinson Rd., Mooresville, NC, 28117.
Former NASCAR driver died earlier this week at 74 RELATED: Baker passes away at age 74 " Drivers react to Baker's passing NASCAR will honor the late Buddy Baker in a special way this weekend in events for all three national series. Vehicles will be affixed with a B-post decal (see below) honoring the former NASCAR driver. Baker , 74, passed away Monday after battling lung cancer. The NASCAR racing legend's career spanned more than three decades. His father, Buck Baker , was a two-time premier series champ. Here's where the decals will go on the vehicles: #NASCAR Buddy Baker decal for teams at @MISpeedway pic.twitter.com/G4IH9jul5t — David Higdon (@HigNASCAR) August 12, 2015 ...And here's where you'll see the #NASCAR Buddy Baker decal on the @NASCAR_Trucks vehicles this weekend (1/2) pic.twitter.com/Bu6yieWzif — David Higdon (@HigNASCAR) August 12, 2015 The No. 31 of Ryan Newman had Baker's name spelled out on the door frame, and the No. 21 of Ryan Blaney has an additional sticker on the C-post. Photos by NASCAR.com's Kathy Sheldon.
Presenting NASCAR content from around the web Editor's note: On Wednesday at noon ET, "High 5" will present some of the best NASCAR-related content from around the web. 1. Remembering Buddy Baker NASCAR driver Buddy Baker was known as a fearless racer and one of the sport's greats. Baker , 74, passed away Monday after battling lung cancer. In a career that spanned for over three-and-a-half decades, Baker had racing in his blood. His father Buck Baker was a two-time premier series champ. ESPN's Bob Pockrass wrote about Baker's successful career, touching on important career highlights on the man who was nicknamed the "Gentle Giant." Read the entire piece here . 2. Trouble in the Empire State New York seems to be the home of altercations in recent history, with Ty Dillon and Regan Smith getting physical with one another at Watkins Glen International during the Zippo 200. The two, however, weren't the only athletes duking it out in the Empire State. RELATED: Ty tweets after scrap with Smith Just a couple of weeks into training camp the New York Jets are already making headlines. Head coach Todd Bowles announced on Tuesday that quarterback Geno Smith will be sidelined for 6-10 weeks due to a broken jaw. The quarterback and LB IK Enemkpali, a sixth-round pick in the 2014 draft, got physical with one another in the locker room. Now Smith needs surgery and Enemkpali needs to find another team. Geno out 6 to 10 weeks becuse of an altercation in the locker room. Broken jaw. Requires surgery. IK Enemkpali hit him. Been released. #Jets — dom cosentino (@domcosentino) August 11, 2015 3. 'Tom Brady Sux' Remember that time Kyle Busch likened himself to Tom Brady? Well he might want to play down the comparisons between himself and the Deflategate star. RELATED: Kyle compares himself to Tom Brady Sun King Brewing, an Indiana-based brewing company, is showing its disdain for the Patriots quarterback. Look closely at the expiration date. This from @SunKingBrewing in Indy. (Look closely at the expiration date) pic.twitter.com/NbjRRUT8pI — Zak Keefer (@zkeefer) August 10, 2015 Not sure when that date on the calendar falls so be extra safe and drink the beer right away; you don't want to be drinking expired beer. 4. One-year anniversary of Robin Williams' passing Tuesday marked the one-year anniversary of the passing of the beloved Robin Williams. Superb actor, witty comedian and Oscar winner are just a few of the accomplishments listed on the funny man's lengthy resume and many in the NASCAR community were avid Williams fans. Check out what some of the drivers were tweeting about the late actor this time last year: I remember Mork & Mindy as a kid. Was a fan. #NanuNanu What an amazing talent. — Dale Earnhardt Jr . (@DaleJr) August 11, 2014 Sad to hear about Robin Williams. Brings light to the fact that you can't be sure what tomorrow holds, and Everyone has their struggles. — Aric Almirola (@aric_almirola) August 12, 2014 5. Squirrels are everywhere XFINITY Series star Bubba Wallace and Kansas City Royals infielder Ben Zobrist have one interesting thing in common, squirrels. Yes, you heard that right, squirrels. Bubba had a rollercoaster weekend during the Zippo 200. Not only did he finish outside the top 10, but he had the misfortune of running over a squirrel during the race. He confessed to reporters, right away, about his hit and run, "Yeah, I hit a squirrel." RELATED: Bubba hits squirrel during Watkins Glen race Days before during a Royals-Tigers game, Zobrist also had an interaction with a furry rodent. Read the full story here to find out just how the squirrel was able to outsmart the entire outfield. Your browser does not support iframes.
Buck Baker had 46 wins in a career that spanned 26 years. He was the first NASCAR driver to claim back-to-back championships (1956 and 1957) and had 45 poles, 246 top fives and 372 top 10s.
NASCAR Hall of Fame: Buck Baker
NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Buddy Baker has won19 races including the Daytona 500 and Southern 500.
Susan Baker Accepts Award for late Husband Buck Baker , and tells story of Jeff Gordon at Buck's driving school.