Elzie Wylie Baker, Jr., more popularly known as NASCAR great Buddy Baker, died this morning. Diagnosed with inoperable lung cancer this past December, the 74-year-old Baker set numerous NASCAR records and firsts, including the first lap at over 200 miles per hour.

Baker, who raced in NASCAR from 1959 to 1992, accumulated 38 pole positions and 19 wins over the course of his career. He was known as a super-speedway specialist, with two wins at Daytona (including the fastest Daytona 500 on record), four at Talladega, a whole bunch at Charlotte, and smatterings at Darlington as well. After retiring, he became a regular NASCAR commentator, co-hosting on SiriusXM right up until last month, and a driving instructor and coach.

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But so much that’s been said about Baker’s life wasn’t so much about his on-track accomplishments, as what he was like off the track. Well over six feet tall, Baker was known as the “gentle giant,” and was generally regarded as an incredibly nice guy with a placid demeanor. In an interview with the Charlotte Observer just a few weeks ago, he seemed at peace with not only his life, but also his death:

“I’m right with The Man Upstairs,” Baker said Saturday when I visited him along with Humpy Wheeler and Waddell Wilson at the Baker home on the western shore of Lake Norman near Terrell. “If I feared death I never would have driven a race car.”

And if you want to know more of what he was like, here’s Baker describing one of his wild ambulance rides after getting into a wreck back in his racing days, courtesy of reader a_d_a_m:

In celebration of his life, let’s all watch Buddy Baker breaking 200 miles an hour. It’s the sort of thing everyone dreams of.

Photo credit: AP


Contact the author at ballaban@jalopnik.com.
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