‘Gentle Giant’ Buddy Baker : Legendary driver and broadcaster dies at 74

'Gentle Giant' Buddy Baker : Legendary driver and broadcaster dies at 74

‘Gentle Giant’ Buddy Baker, a longtime popular NASCAR driver and commentator, died early Monday morning from lung cancer. He was 74.

‘Gentle Giant’ Baker told listeners last month he was stepping away from his SiriusXM radio show “The Late Shift” because he had an inoperable tumor. Before signing off, he told his fans:

“For those who feel sorry, hey I’m 74 years old, have great friends, had a career. The toughest part for me is not being able to talk to some of our regulars that are like family.”

The 6-foot-6 driver known as the “Gentle Giant” added:

“Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.”

Baker won 19 races, including the 1980 Daytona 500, the 1970 Southern 500, the Coca-Cola 600 in 1968, ’72 and ’73. He also was the first driver to surpass the 200 mph barrier in qualifying at 200.447 mph at the Talladega Superspeedway in 1970.

“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,” said NASCAR Chairman and CEO Brian France. “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.”

Hall of Fame driver Richard Petty issued the following statement:

“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.”