With the approach of the 2013 NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies, we're taking a closer look at the five men to be honored on Feb. 8. The first up is Buck Baker.
Born: March 4, 1919, Richburg, S.C.
Died: April 14, 2002, at Carolinas Medical Center, Charlotte, of natural causes at age 83.
Family: Wife Sue, sons Buddy and Randy, daughters Tina (deceased) and Susie.
Began racing in 1939, driving modified cars, the rage at that time. Baker, who had gone to a race with friends, heard them rave about the drivers and said, Hell, I can do that! And he did.
Started NASCARs very first race in what was to evolve into the Cup series on June 19, 1949, at Charlotte Speedway, a three-quarter-mile dirt track. He finished 11th.
Scored the first of his 46 career triumphs in what then was known as NASCARs Grand National Division on April 12, 1952, at Columbia Speedway, a half-mile dirt track, taking the checkered flag 14 seconds ahead of runner-up Lee Petty.
Captured series championships in 1956 and 57, the first driver to claim back-to-back titles. Baker won 14 of 48 starts in 56 and finished in the top 10 31 times. He triumphed 10 times in 1957 in 40 races and finished in the top 10 30 times.
Won the 1953 and 64 Southern 500s at Darlington Raceway, taking the latter when he was 45, an age when most drivers in that era had long since retired. The second Darlington victory was the last of his career.
Also competed for two years, in 1972 and 73, in NASCARs Grand American Division.
Final race on the big-time circuit was the 1976 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. He placed 34th and was running at the finish.
After retiring from competition, Baker founded a series of high performance driving schools. Among his early students was a teen named Jeff Gordon.
Baker was the first to found a racing series for pickup trucks. However, his venture failed after a few months for lack of sponsorship.
Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 1982, into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 1998, the same year he was named one of NASCARs 50 Greatest Drivers, an honor shared by son Buddy, the winner of 19 big-time races.
Retired Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins and ThatsRacin.com contributor Tom Higgins on Buck Baker:
I first saw him: At Asheville-Weaverville Speedway on Sept. 8, 1957, in a 100-mile race, the first I ever covered. He finished second, 10 feet behind winner Lee Petty.
First impression: An intense, combative competitor, but a man with a quick smile and a gift for witty, original quotes.
What people might not know about him: During his early days of racing, Baker also drove a bus in Charlotte.
My favorite memory of him: Watching him rush excitedly to Victory Lane to embrace Buddy when the son scored his first victory at NASCAR's top level in the 1967 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway. Says Buddy with a laugh, He whispered to me, I could have done it better.
Most memorable quote: And I reserve the right to whip your (fanny). In reply to Observer motorsports writer George Cunningham in the early 1960s. Cunningham had reported that team owner Baker was switching makes of cars, a move Baker wanted to keep secret. Confronted by Baker, Cunningham had said, I reserve the right to write anything I want to.