Friday, September 26, 2014

Buddy Baker feature

(NOTE: This story appeared in the Hickory Daily Record in 2013.)
Baker can cook up some wild tales
By Tom Gillispie
Buddy Baker always said he never let the truth get in the way of a good story.
His quips and tall tales have carried him through long careers in racing and broadcasting. In fact, he’s probably better known for his stories than his racing.
Humpy Wheeler, the former presi-dent of Charlotte Motor Speedway, once said, “Buddy Baker’s got the best one-liners of any driver I knew.”
Someone else asked Baker, “Was Richard (Petty) really that good?” Buddy’s answer, “Hell no. He just got lucky 200 times.”
And after one Dale Earnhardt-inflic-ted wreck in a non-points race at Daytona, Baker declared, “Earnhardt would give an aspirin a headache.”

Funny, but you never hear any Buddy Baker stories about Hickory Motor Speedway, probably because he had good results there.

Baker won twice at Hickory, both coming in 1973 in Grand National East races. In eight Grand National (now Sprint Cup) starts at Hickory, Baker posted three top-five finishes and did not finish three times. He was third at Hickory in 1968 and fifth in both 1964 and ’65.

Elzie Wylie Baker Jr. is on Hickory’s Wall of Fame along with his dad Buck (Elzie Wylie Baker Sr.), and both Bakers are in various halls of fame.
Buddy was the first man to break 200 mph in a closed course, driving Cotton Owens’ No. 88 Dodge Charger at Talladega in 1970. His win in late 1967 in Charlotte ended Richard Petty’s 10-race winning streak. And he posted 19 Cup victories in a whopping 700 starts, including one in the 1980 Daytona 500.
But Buddy’s stories have always stood out.
I once asked Buddy what he saw in the stands when he was racing, and he told this story:
“I noticed that the flagman was looking back, and it caught my eye,” Baker said of a 1970 race. “I came around again, and this guy with his shirt off was fighting a bunch of other guys. I came around time after time, and this guy was fighting everybody. He must have beat 25 guys in 25 laps. And I’m not exaggerating.”
Baker laughed, then added, “I wasn’t doing too well, obviously, or I wouldn’t have had time to be watching the crowd.”
Another story involves one of Baker’s best friends, the late Tiny Lund, a notorious practical joker.
The two were attending a pre-race party one night, and Lund, without Baker noticing, had slipped away early.
Buddy was tired when he returned to his hotel room later that evening, so he stripped down in the dark and crawled into bed.
He was dozing off when he thought he heard a growl. After another growl, Buddy reached over and flipped on the light. He found himself nose-to-nose with the mascot of one of the race sponsors, a living, growling cheetah.
Baker probably set a hotel speed record heading screaming down the hallway buck-naked. He didn’t know that the equally scared cheetah had departed in the other direction, also with great haste.
Baker and Lund met down the hallway, and Lund hurried into his room to avoid Baker.
Buddy ran that much faster.
Finally, he looked back and saw no cheetah. Baker rushed to his room, only to find the door had locked.
What to do? Buddy grabbed a wastepaper basket, busted the bottom out and wore it down to the front desk to get a passkey.
Then there’s the incident after Buddy won the 1980 Daytona 500. After a huge celebration, Baker was tired, and he told someone he was going to bed. “Bed? You just won the Daytona 500; no way you’ll sleep!”
He was right.
Instead, Baker headed home in his car. He was busting along, and suddenly his “fuzzbuster” warned him. He looked to the left and saw a police car hiding in the brush. Resignedly, Buddy pulled over.
A policeman walked over, recognized him and exclaimed,”Buddy Baker! Buddy Baker! Wow!” Thinking he’d get off, Buddy sighed in relief and said, “Yeah, it’s me!”
 “Man, congrats on the win,” the policeman said. “I always root for you. Sometimes you just have bad luck ... just like right now.”
Let’s finish this with the classic stretcher story.
In June of 1967, Baker appeared at the Smokey Mountain Raceway dirt track in Maryville, Tenn. During the race, Buddy crashed and demolished his car. He had injured ribs, so the ambulance crew — he still calls them “Bubba and Barney Fife” — hustled around, got him strapped to the stretcher and loaded him in the ambulance. The ambulance driver jumped in and hurried off.
Then Baker realized that Bubba and Barney had forgotten to lock the wheels of the stretcher or latch the back door. The stretcher, with the 6-foot-6 Buddy still strapped down tight, left the ambulance and boogied down the backstretch.
To make matters worse, a dozen racers came around the turn under caution.
“I’m on the gurney with my arms and legs strapped down, and these cars are coming at me,” he said. “I got one arm out and started waving my hand at them a little.”
The stretcher reached the inside of the track, dug into the mud and flipped over. Baker came down face-first in the muck!
“One of the guys from the ambulance jumped out, grabbed me and rolled me over,” Buddy continued. “He said, ‘Are you OK?’
“I said, ‘If I ever get off this thing, I am going to kill you.’ ”
Never the end.

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