NASCAR legend Buddy Baker, known for his lengthy career, aggressive driving and kind disposition, died Monday morning from lung cancer, according to multiple reports. He was 74.
Baker spent 34 years driving in the top division of NASCAR, winning 19 times including two Daytona 500s, four times at Talladega, four times at Charlotte and twice at Darlington, according to ESPN. Fellow racers called him "Leadfoot," and at an imposing 6-foot-6, Baker was often referred to as the "Gentle Giant." He ranks 14th all-time in pole positions won at 38 in 700 career starts spanning from 1959 through 1992.
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Baker's death was first announced on SiriusXM NASCAR radio, where the famed driver had hosted a show called "Late Shift." He announced at the station on July 7 that he had lung cancer and would be leaving the network.
“There comes a time when you talk to the doctor and say, 'What are my chances?' and there’s dead silence ... I went, ‘How long?’” Baker said on the radio, via the Charlotte Observer. “Well, we don’t own the hotel, we don’t know when we check out. It’s something that we cannot fix."
Baker finished in the top five in 202 races and finished in the top-1o of the final standings for a NASCAR season five times. His best season finish was fifth in 1977. The driver known as "Leadfoot" lived up to his moniker when he became the first driver to top 200 mph on a closed course when he accomplished the feat in 1970 at Talladega Superspeedway.
Buddy was born Elzie Wylie Baker Jr., in Florence, South Carolina, on March 25, 1941. Baker's father, Buck Baker, was a legendary driver as well; both father and son were voted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Buddy Baker was a longtime Charlotte-area resident. He talked about his life in racing and his diagnosis a couple of weeks ago.
“I’m right with The Man Upstairs,” Baker told the Observer. “If I feared death, I never would have driven a race car.”