NASCAR & Auto Racing

Friends, family say farewell to former NASCAR star Buddy Baker

Pallbearers carry the casket of former NASCAR driver and television commentator Buddy Baker from Avondale Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon. Baker died Aug. 10 from inoperable lung cancer. Among the pallbearers were NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman, right, looking toward flowers, and former Charlotte Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins, second from left. At top right is former NASCAR driver Bobby Allison.
Pallbearers carry the casket of former NASCAR driver and television commentator Buddy Baker from Avondale Presbyterian Church in Charlotte Tuesday afternoon. Baker died Aug. 10 from inoperable lung cancer. Among the pallbearers were NASCAR Sprint Cup Series driver Ryan Newman, right, looking toward flowers, and former Charlotte Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins, second from left. At top right is former NASCAR driver Bobby Allison. jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

A church full of Buddy Baker’s family and friends gathered Tuesday afternoon to say goodbye to Baker, one of NASCAR’s fastest and most fearless drivers.

Baker, who grew up in Charlotte and graduated from Garinger High, died Aug. 10 at the age of 74. He won 19 races over his 33-year career – including five times at Daytona (Fla.) International Speedway and four at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway – and was also the first stock-car driver to eclipse the 200-mph barrier during a test at Talladega in 1970.

“Buddy said the most important thing for him was to be with family,” said pastor John Earl, who officiated Baker’s funeral at Avondale Presbyterian Church in Charlotte. “Family and friends are here to be with and for each other.”

NASCAR was represented at the funeral by chairman Brian France and president Mike Helton. Former rivals Richard Petty, Ned Jarrett and Bobby Allison attended. Ryan Newman, who drives on the Sprint Cup Series and counted Baker as a mentor, served as a pallbearer with Allison. Bud Moore and Waddell Wilson, two of Baker’s crew chiefs, were also in attendance.

Buddy said the most important thing for him was to be with family.

Pastor John Earl

H.A. “Humpy” Wheeler, Baker’s longtime friend and former president of Charlotte Motor Speedway, spoke at the service. Wheeler said there was so much more to Baker than just being a driver and broadcaster (he was co-host of a satellite radio show when he was diagnosed with lung cancer earlier this year).

Wheeler talked about a time recently that Baker talked a young man out of committing suicide. When Baker won at Talladega in 1975, Wheeler said Baker told him he didn’t feel like a winner because a friend, fellow driver Tiny Lund, died in the race.

“Buddy was a ferocious driver,” said Wheeler. “He wasn’t afraid of anything on the race track. He also wasn’t afraid to kneel down and say a prayer.”

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