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Buck Baker

Full Name:
Elzie Wylie "Buck" Baker
Born:
4th March 1919
Hartville, South Carolina
Died:
14th April 2002 (Aged 83)
Charlotte, North Carolina
Nationality:
American
Most recent race (in database):
Biography

NASCAR’s first back-to-back champion was a veteran of 26 seasons, 635 starts and 46 victories. A tough competitor who pushed rivals to the limit of fairness, Buck Baker said "I always thought I’d go on until I saw there were other guys who could do a better job." He retired from racing after the 1976 National 500 at Charlotte – maybe, just maybe the 57-year-old recognised his time was finally up!

Early career

It was while driving a Charlotte city bus in 1939 that Baker decided to become a racing driver. He served in the United States Navy during World War II but embarked on his racing career once discharged. Initial success was in the modified division and he also won NASCAR’s open-wheel championship in 1952.

Baker was in the field for the very first race of what is now NASCAR’s Sprint Cup at Charlotte in 1949. He qualified on pole position at Martinsville in 1950 when ironically driving a Police Special Ford in a championship that’s roots had been in running bootleg whiskey during prohibition.

Double NASCAR champion

His first NASCAR Cup victory was at Columbia Speedway in 1952 when Baker’s Hudson Hornet started from pole position and passed Dick Rathmann in the closing stages. Runner-up in 1955, Baker joined Carl Kiekhaefer’s organisation for the following season and won 14 times on his way to a championship win that showed the resourcefulness of his car owner.

Baker narrowly trailed Herb Thomas in the 1956 points as the season drew to a close. In order to give his driver another chance at closing the points gap, Kiekhaefer leased the half-mile dirt track at Shelby and a new race was added to the calendar with 10 days notice. Thomas was badly injured that day and that handed the title to race winner Baker.

Baker defended his NASCAR title with ease in 1957 in a self-run Chevrolet Bel Air but just fell short of a "three-peat" – finishing as runner-up to Lee Petty in 1958. He twice won the Southern 500 at Darlington (1960 and 1964) but that latter success was his final victory at this level. Although no longer a fulltime NASCAR driver, Baker continued to represent the "old school" until that 1976 finale.

Career after NASCAR

He formed the Buck Baker Racing School at North Carolina Motor Speedway after retiring as a driver. The enterprise thrived and expanded, outliving him as a respected finishing school for stock car racing’s future talent.

An aside: Baker liked to have a flask of tomato juice in his car in case he needed sustenance during a race. He abandoned that practice when spectators were alarmed after it exploded during one of his inevitable accidents.

Buck Baker was a remarkably versatile driver who could win in any type of car. A champion in stock cars, modifieds and open-wheelers – he was named among NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers when the organisation celebrated its 50th anniversary.