NASCAR Hall of Fame Induction Ceremony: Buck Baker
Topics: NASCAR, Buck Baker
February 8, 2013
CHARLOTTE, NORTH CAROLINA
KERRY THARP: Our final inductee being recognized here this evening is Buck Baker, and we have his wife Susan and son Buddy have joined us. Certainly Susan, several have commented on just how eloquent your talk was, and maybe just talk a little bit about how meaningful it is to be able to know that your husband is recognized as one of the best in the history of the sport.
SUSAN BAKER: Well, I didn't actually watch Buck race in the '50s and '60s. I met him in the '70s, and at the time that I met him, he was running the Grand American Series, which was Pontiac, it turned into a Pontiac Trans Am, and it was a series of Pontiacs, Camaros, Mustangs. But he was a fierce competitor then. It's hard to describe him and what he meant to me. As I said, he was the love of my life. I was just so honored to be there tonight and to accept it. I just wish he could have been here.
KERRY THARP: Buddy, you have had a tremendous amount to do in this sport, and you've continued your dad's legacy as an outstanding race car driver, and certainly you're still involved in the sport. But just talk a little bit about your dad, Buck Baker. When people think about NASCAR, he's one of the top drivers that they think about. What does all that mean to you?
BUDDY BAKER: Well, in my opinion he was the best, period, not because he was my father, but he could drive any type of race car, open wheel, you put him‑‑ modified. He won hundreds of races in modifieds. He won a championship in open wheel, which was‑‑ he bought a car that Mauri Rose won the Indianapolis 500, and they converted it because NASCAR wanted to have open wheel racing, and they put American‑made motors into these cars. And he won like 80 or 90 percent of the races that he run in open wheel.
He bought a midget just to see what they were like and won four or five races with it. Then he ran the Firebird, won the Paul Revere at Daytona with a terrific road racer, put him on the half mile dirt he was the best one that I ever watched. I've heard Junior Johnson, people that raced with him that were really, really great on the dirt races. Of course they all had a little experience on back roads before.
But anyway, just couldn't be prouder of my father. I'll tell you, I never have been one that had to look for words, but when you induct your father, that's a different story. I had anxiety today. It was like the first time I ever did a TV show, and I walked out there, and they were like, okay, Baker, go. And I stood there like a deer in the headlights, and they were like, are you going to go?
So I started talking, and I was the same way when I had to talk about my father. I said, God, don't mess this up. That was my childhood hero. When I started racing he was my hero, and when he passed away he was still my hero. That's pressure. It's so much pressure because you want to do it right and make sure that everybody knows to me he was the champion on the racetrack, he was the champion in life.
Q. I'd like to know, what are some lessons that you learned from your father as a race car driver and what are some lessons you learned from him off the racetrack?
BUDDY BAKER: Have you ever heard that old song, "Don't Talk Back"? Okay, that's what I learned, because he was very stern. When I first started racing, he helped me get a start. He talked in the shop one day and said, okay, it's time for you to go. I went, what? He said, I promised you a start, not a career. You've got to go. I'm running for a championship and you're barely running.
You know, it was a‑‑ I didn't know at the time and didn't realize how wise he was, but he wanted me to earn my way just like he did. He was not going to give me a gift of the best cars and all that. And I spent seven or eight years‑‑ as Rex White said, you drove some stuff I didn't even want to walk by. I didn't realize at the time, but you gain so much, and I didn't realize how smart he was until I got a little bit older and realized what he passed on to me, because how many people have ever had a live‑in pro in their house? When I first started racing I'd go to him and sit down, and I'd say, what did you think of the way I was running on this dirt track? He said, well, I'll tell you, you've got some work to do. And I said, in what way, and he laid it out just like if you lived with Arnold Palmer and you were a golfer. He said, you need to get the car set, you don't need to use as much brake. I mean, he was watching all that, competing at the same time I was.
And I will tell you, this is the absolute truth: I thought the first time I beat him on the racetrack, that's going to be the greatest moment of my racing career, to beat my hero. And I beat him, and I went down and I said, dad, I feel lousy. He said, what? I said, I thought when I passed you and beat you in a race, that would be the ultimate high. He said, you want to feel better? If I was your age, I'd still kick your‑‑ you've got it.
Q. What is your most favorite memory about racing against your dad?
BUDDY BAKER: Great question. There were so many great times, watching him win his third Southern 500 and realizing that's a racetrack where it's not 80 percent car, and realizing that he was the 80 percent and the car was the rest. And as a kid, watching him win his first Darlington 500, sitting under the flag stand and him in the winner's circle and watching everything that went on in winner's circle and thinking, if I could just ever, ever get an opportunity to win one time at Darlington. And when I finally did, I know this sounds a little quirky, but I could almost see that kid sitting under the flag stand going, someday maybe, because I thought of him the minute I got the checkered flag.
Q. How much actual racing did you do on track against your dad? And what were you‑‑
BUDDY BAKER: That's a good question. There was a whole bunch of my racing career I wasn't racing with him. He was up going into one corner and I was coming off another one. He was a straightaway ahead. I did get to race with him when he was in his prime, and I never will forget at Beltsville, Maryland, one time, I told him‑‑ this was later on. I said, dad, you know what, I've got a pretty good old Hemi in this thing. We got here late. When I get up to you, I'd appreciate a little courtesy. I shouldn't have said that to him. At the end of that 100‑mile race, he was still going in the corner and I was coming off the other one.
Q. I remember your dad back in the '70s saying, well, we used to race for an hour back in the '50s and fight for two hours. What was his thinking about racing later on in his life in the '70s? What did he think about it compared to back when he started do you think?
BUDDY BAKER: I'll just outline a little bit about my father. My father was the most giving person in the world. I've watched‑‑ and Sue was talking about the other day, when Richard Childress was starting out, he came to the back of my dad's truck and wanted to borrow something, and he just opened the truck up and said, get what you want. He was that type of guy.
But that same guy with 10 laps to go, he might put you out of there if you run into him. He lived by that theory. He raced you the way you raced him.
If you come down there mad after the race, he'd stop you about six feet away, he'd say, you take one more step, I know what you're here for, and they're going to carry you back where you came from. He was just kind of a‑‑ all those guys, they just got out‑‑ they had fought a war, got out of the Navy, come back to no jobs, no anything, and it was a means to feed the family. And they took it to heart. Like my dad said, I wouldn't want my own grandmother in that corner ahead of me on the last lap.
You know what, I want to thank everybody. I'm not going to stay up here because I got the idea a pillow is going to look pretty good. But I want to thank all of you for making this night very special, and also, Susie was‑‑ her speech about my father, if that didn't get you, you can't be got.
SUSAN BAKER: Thank you.
BUDDY BAKER: It was just a very special night, and I'll never forget it. I'm sure my father, and I do believe in spirit he was here. Kind of special for me. Thank all of you.
KERRY THARP: Thank you. Congratulations, and again, thanks a lot.
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