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Waid’s World: Victory at Martinsville Was Special for Buddy Baker

The next episode of The Scene Vault Podcast features a roundtable discussion with three long-time crewmen for, and friends of,  NASCAR Hall of Famer and former team owner Bud Moore — an American war hero who passed away in 2017.

As usual, it was a very informative, lively and often hilarious discussion. As we’ve discovered on the podcast, that is usual when a group of veterans and old friends converse.

Among many other things, they talked about some of the drivers Moore employed over his decades of NASCAR Cup Series ownership. One of them was Buddy Baker, the “Gentle Giant” who was the team’s driver from 1974 through 1977.

Baker was known as a leadfoot who had a penchant for the superspeedways. He was considered a favorite at any race on the big tracks.

“My driver loves those tracks, no doubt about it,” Moore said.

He had good reason. During his tenure with Moore, Baker won five superspeedway races, including three at Talladega Superspeedway.

Perhaps no better proof of Baker’s power on the big tracks came in the Daytona 500 of 1980. At that time, Baker was driving for Harry Ranier. He was scheduled to compete in the 500 in a black and silver Oldsmobile powered by a Waddell Wilson-built engine.

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The car was lightning fast — so fast, in fact, that its colors allowed it to blend into the asphalt surface, which made it practically invisible to others until it was almost on their rear bumpers.

To compensate, NASCAR ordered strips of neon pink tape be attached to the front bumper of Baker’s Olds.

Baker was so dominant that he was radioed to slow down to cut down the chances of an engine or mechanical failure.

“I can’t slow down,” he yelled back. “I’ll lose the race!”

Baker went on to win the race he had coveted for nearly 20 years by 12 seconds over the field. His average speed was a then-record 177.602 mph.

It remains the prime example of Baker’s superspeedway mastery — and he also showed it multiple times at Daytona International Speedway, Talladega, Charlotte Motor Speedway, Atlanta Motor Speedway, Darlington Raceway, Texas World Speedway and Ontario Motor Speedway.

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During the podcast, the always witty Harold Stott made an observation about Baker in reference to his overall driving skills. Let’s just say it’s a very funny, and original, remark that suggests Baker was, shall we say, a bit lacking when it came to short tracks.

Catch the podcast. You’ll laugh.

What Stott said made me wonder. I was certain Baker had won at least one short track race. After some research I found out he won two.

I learned that the first came in 1973 at Nashville Fairgrounds Speedway. At the time, Baker was driving a bright orange No. 71 Dodge for Nord Krauskopf and crew chief Harry Hyde. Bobby Isaac won the 1970 Winston Cup championship in the car.

At Nashville, Baker had seemingly no chance to win. He was well behind leader Cale Yarborough, who was dominant in Junior Johnson’s Chevrolet. But astonishingly, Yarborough crashed into the inner guardrail under caution on lap 261. Baker sped by, led to the finish and won by four laps over Richard Petty.

“I didn’t have the car to win today,” Baker said. “I had to have luck. I avoided more than one wreck today and to do that, you have to have luck.”

Luck played a role in Baker’s second short track victory — but perhaps not as much as it did at Nashville.

Driving Ranier’s Olds in the Old Dominion 500 at Martinsville Speedway in September of 1979, Baker managed to overcome a loss of brakes to lead the final 207 laps and beat Petty — again — to the checkered flag by 18 seconds.

Baker never forgot that victory because it came at NASCAR’s oldest and most storied short track. He was as proud of that as he was his Daytona 500 win.

At the time, I knew how he felt.

“Hey, we’re gonna call you ‘Short-Track Buddy’,” I said to him.

“Don’t mess with me, man,” he answered with a smile.

I was glad he was smiling. An angry Baker once ended a fight by picking up a fallen stop sign and clobbering his opponent.

The witty, personable Baker — easily the best storyteller among NASCAR competitors — went on to a successful career in radio and television. In fact, it was on his radio show in 2015 that he said he was going away “for just a little while.”

He died of lung cancer on Aug. 8, 2015.

Baker was enshrined in the NASCAR Hall of Fame in 2020 largely because of his dominance on the superspeedways.

Not long before he passed, Baker and I were talking and I mentioned his solid reputation on the big tracks.

“Yeah,” he said with a grin, “But I also won at Martinsville.”

About the author

Steve Waid has been in  journalism since 1972, when he began his newspaper career at the Martinsville (Va.) Bulletin. He has spent over 40 years in motorsports journalism, first with the Roanoke Times-World News and later as publisher and vice president for NASCAR Scene and NASCAR Illustrated.

Steve has won numerous state sports writing awards and several more from the National Motorsports Press Association for his motorsports coverage, feature and column writing.  For several years, Steve was a regular on “NASCAR This Morning” on FOX Sports Net and he is the co-author, with Tom Higgins, of the biography “Junior Johnson: Brave In Life.”

In January 2014, Steve was inducted into the NMPA Hall of Fame. And in 2019 he was presented the Squier-Hall Award by the NASCAR Hall of Fame for lifetime excellence in motorsports journalism. In addition to writing for Frontstretch, Steve is also the co-host of The Scene Vault Podcast.

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A minor correction, Steve. Buddy raced Ranier’s Chevy Monte Carlo to the win at Martinsville in 1979 vs. the Olds 442.

Last edited 2 years ago by toomuchcountry

My favourite Buddy story is when his crew chief removed the rear spoiler during practice at Talladega when Buddy said the car was loose. When Buddy came back in the crew chief said, “Now that’s a loose car.” Buddy wanted to severely injure him when he saw that the spoiler was gone.

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