It's always difficult to think about losing someone so special like we did Monday with the passing of Buddy Baker.
He was a man that was so full of life and had meant so much to our sport. I was blessed to work with Buddy through a lot of years. He was very kind to me when I first came in the sport and gave me lots of advice. He was the absolute master of the big tracks and so he tried to help me learn about the draft at Talladega Superspeedway.
When people ask me about Buddy I tell them the only fault the man had behind the wheel was that he literally drove too hard. You have to remember something, back in that era, the cars weren't basically bulletproof like they are today. Buddy was a big man -- 6-foot-6 tall -- he never got tired and he would literally drive his car into the ground.
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Buddy never quite figured out that the cars could only take so much punishment. I mean there's a reason his nickname was "Leadfoot" and that's because Buddy was all out when the green flag fell. Sometimes his car would make it to the end but more times than not, it didn't.
Buddy Baker wasn't afraid of anything. He had nerves of steel. I can still picture him though back in the day standing in the hotel in his uniform waiting to go to the race track smoking a cigarette and just nervous as could be. I'd always ask him why he would get so nervous and he'd say "DW, if you'd have half as many things happen to me near the end of the race as I have, you'd be nervous, too!"
Like I mentioned earlier, he was the absolute master of the big tracks whether it was Daytona, Talladega, Charlotte or wherever. He was always the man to beat. He set a bunch of speed records in our sport that probably will never be broken. He had some great race cars and drove for some great owners.
He even tried owning his own team but quickly found out like I did, like Bobby Allison, Cale Yarborough, Bill Elliott and the rest that while we might be great drivers, we weren't so great owners. Buddy went down that road. He grew up watching his father, Buck Baker race and own race cars, so Buddy wanted to do the same thing.
What I also want folks to remember about Buddy is that he was a trailblazer for some of us in the TV business. Buddy was one of the first NASCAR drivers who, once he got out from behind the wheel, he got behind the microphone. He was a great race analyst. He had so many stories to tell and make no mistake, Buddy Baker was a master of telling stories. Then after his TV career was over, Buddy moved over to SiriusXM and continued to entertain fans on the radio.
When I had gotten the word that the end was drawing near I just had to talk to him. I prayed with Buddy on the phone. I asked him if he was right with the Lord and he said he was all set there. He also told me that he was actually excited because he was going to see his father in Heaven again. That really touched my heart.
One thing he made perfectly clear to me was that he didn't want tears over his passing. He said he wanted us when we thought of him to remember him with a laugh. That's the Buddy Baker I always knew. On the race track he was a ferocious driver who at times literally drove the wheels off his car, but off the track he was a sweet, kind gentle giant with a laugh and smile on his face.
Buddy Baker will be missed by all of us in the NASCAR garage and by millions of fans. I'm going to miss my friend. I'm going to miss his stories and his laughter. We've lost a legend, a hero, an icon and, yes, definitely a character in our sport.
My heart is so filled with sadness but Buddy made me promise and so I'm going to remember my friend with a laugh and a smile.