Durham News: Sports

Baker breaks into winner’s circle

It’s taken Brian Baker a while to make it into the winner’s circle. Now that he’s been there, he intends to stay.

Baker has worked around cars ever since he graduated from Southern High School in 2003. He’s enjoyed success in his No. 18 Impala, finishing high in each of the five Late Model Select races so far this year at the Orange County Speedway.

But his victory June 2 was his first ever in Late Models.

“It was like having a weight lifted off my shoulders,” Baker said. “You work so hard, day in and day out, it’s hard to explain how good it feels to win. It’s unbelievable, really.”

Baker has had to work harder than most people to succeed, though his backstory is not uncommon in short-track auto racing. For years, he worked in his dad’s business in Durham – Baker’s Plumbing – just to get enough money together to get a car onto the three-eighths mile track in Rougemont.

Even now, he’s his own best sponsor, doing a lot of his own work in the Roxboro Auto Body shop this year.

“I’ve just got a passion for racing,” Bakr said. “I think I can be successful.”

Baker, age 27, got off to a good start in Rougemont by entering 10 Late Model Select races in 2009, finishing six times in the top 10, including a second place.

In 2011, he got back onto the Rougemont track for five LMS races, finishing in the top 10 four times.

This year, he’s never finished outside the top 10.

On June 2, he got to start along the front row after three-time LMS winner Tripp Massengill got bumped back from the pole due to a rule designed to even out starting positions.

Baker was biding his time in a 35-lap sprint along with Massengill and Brian Cole when those two bumped heading into the last lap. As Massengill and Cole exchanged paint, Baker saw his opportunity, slipped by them on the lower third of the track for the lead and held on for the last 600 meters for the win.

“I was trying to be patient the whole way,” Baker said. “I ended up being in the right place at the right time.”

Baker didn’t escape the last lap unscathed. He got “roughed up a little bit” as he got past Massengill, and he couldn’t manage better than seventh in the night’s second 35-lap event of a twin bill.

The 90 points he earned from his two top-10 finishes June 2 bumped Baker up to fourth in the season’s standings. That’s the best he’s ever stood this far into the season.

The speedway’s first races of the summer months will take place Saturday in Rougemont. The front gates open at 5 p.m., followed by qualifying at 5:40 p.m. and then the first green flag at 7 p.m.