Buddy Baker, NASCAR’s “gentle giant,” dies at 74 of cancer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. (AP) — Buddy Baker, a former Daytona 500 winner and NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee, has died after a brief battle with lung cancer. Baker was 74.

SiriusXM NASCAR Radio announced Baker passed away early Monday morning. Baker stepped down from his role as co-host of “The Late Shift” for the station last month when he announced he had a “huge tumor” in his lung that was inoperable.

“Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later,” Baker said in his final radio appearance.

Baker, who stood 6-foot-6 to earn the nickname the “Gentle Giant,” was the son of two-time champion and NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker. He made his Cup Series debut in 1959 and ran his final race in 1992.

Baker won 19 races, including the 1980 Daytona 500. Among his victories were the 1970 Southern 500, and the Coca-Cola 600 in 1968, 1972 and 1973.

He was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998.

Baker was the first driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course when he did it in 1970 at Talladega Superspeedway, where he won four times. He ranks 14th in NASCAR history with 38 poles in his 700 career starts from 1959-1992. He had 202 top-fives and 311 top-10s.

Following his retirement from racing, Baker remained involved in NASCAR first as a broadcaster for The Nashville Network, then CBS and finally SiriusXM NASCAR Radio when the station started a NASCAR channel in 2007.

“I just want to say goodbye to everyone,” Baker said before signing off from his final broadcast, which lasted about 40 minutes. “Thanks for being a friend.”

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