Legendary driver and broadcaster Buddy Baker dies

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Buddy Baker, a NASCAR legend as an affable broadcaster and a star driver who won many of the sport’s biggest races, died Monday morning after a brief battle with cancer, according to SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

During his final appearance on “The Late Shift,” Baker, 74, had announced July 7 that he had been diagnosed with an inoperable tumor in his lung.

“Do not shed a tear,” he said on “The Late Shift” on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio. “Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.”

Before moving into broadcasting, Baker competed in NASCAR’s premier circuit from 1959-92 and scored 19 victories. The  biggest was his win in the 1980 Daytona 500, but he also won the 1970 Southern 500 and the Coca-Cola 600 three times — in 1968, ’72 and ’73.

Named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers in 1998, he became the first driver to exceed 200 mph on a closed course in 1970 at Talladega Superspeedway (where he won four times), and he built a reputation so synonymous with speed (capturing 38 pole positions in 700 starts), he was tagged “Leadfoot.”

The son of NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker (who was inducted in 2013), Buddy Baker had been a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee the past two years.

Also nicknamed the “Gentle Giant,” the 6-foot-6 Baker became a fan favorite in the TV booth for his homespun style of broadcasting races as an analyst for The Nashville Network and CBS. He joined SiriusXM when the satellite radio company started an exclusive NASCAR channel in 2007 and became one of its most popular hosts, regaling fans as a beloved and an insightful storyteller.

SiriusXM released a statement:

From the time we launched SiriusXM NASCAR Radio in 2007, Buddy was one of the anchors of the channel and we are honored and grateful to have worked with him all these years.  He brought a wonderfully engaging personality to the airwaves and his storytelling ability made his show a joy to listen to.  As one of NASCAR’s great competitors, he generously shared a wealth of knowledge – developed over many decades in the sport – with our listeners.  He is greatly missed, and our thoughts and prayers are with his family.

In his last appearance on SiriusXM, Baker took calls from fans and industry members for 40 minutes.

“I just want to say goodbye to everyone,” Baker said before signing off. “Thanks for being a friend.”