In the Rearview Mirror: Buck Baker, driver and teacher to the stars

Buck Baker HoF Headshot
There is just a short time left for fans to vote for their five selections into the NASCAR Hall of Fame for the Class of 2012.  There are many talented drivers as well as NASCAR affilates to take into consideration.  With this look back In the Rearview Mirror, I spotlight Buck Baker, nominee for the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Elzie Wylie Baker, Sr., or more simply known as Buck, was born in Richburg, South Carolina in March of 1919. Like most drivers of the golden days, Buck Baker got his foray into racing by hauling illegal moonshine during the 1940s. After a taste of the fast paced thrills, Baker wanted more and headed to the newly formed NASCAR.

Joining the NASCAR series in 1949 (although listed as an entrant in two races even though no laps were completed) Baker had a slow and difficult start.  It wasn’t until 1953 that Baker competed full-time, although back then full-time was still not every race due to the way the schedule was. There were often two races a week and at distances far apart, making the schedule grueling for drivers and teams - not to mention if you had a crash and a damaged car.

During 1953 Baker drove for Bob Griffin, wheeling a No. 87 Oldsmobile. They had what was missing prior and on just their second race working together Baker sat on pole for the 1953 Richmond 200, which happened to be Richmond’s first ever NASCAR race. Lee Petty won the race and Baker finished in third. After four wins (Langhorne, Columbia, Darlington and Atlanta) Baker concluded the season fourth in the Grand National points.

Baker moved onward in 1956 and joined with millionaire team owner Carl Kiekhaefer. (The year prior, Kiekhaefer won the championship with Tim Flock) Working with Kiekhaefer was like no other team, Carl spared no expense in buying the best equipment for his teams. Baker excelled under these conditions, winning a remarkable 14 of the 48 races he entered, which is a 29.2% of the races that he won. With statistics like this, it should come as know surprise when I say that Buck Baker was crowned the 1956 Grand National champion, winning by 484 points over Speedy Thompson.

In January of 1957 Kiekhaefer quit NASCAR over an allegation of cheating, choosing to step away instead of reflecting poorly on the car manufacturer. Baker was left as the reigning Grand National champion but with no team. Baker joined the team of Hugh Babb - who fielded cars for Speed Thompson, Johnny Beauchamp and numerous others. Despite the changes, Baker picked up where he left off the previous season. Ten wins, including a win at Watkins Glen in which he led all 44 laps. A remarkable stat that should be noted: Buck Baker finished in the top-10 in 38 of the 40 races he started. The year ended the same as the previous, Buck Baker was the 1957 Grand National champion, with a win of over 760 points by Marvin Panch. Baker became the first driver to get back-to-back NASCAR titles.
Baker's win at Watkin Glen after leading every lap.
Credit: RacingOne Multimedia
Although Baker went on to win more races and finish second in the points in 1958 (running in a self owned Chevrolet) his career would not see the same highlights as previous years.

The story does not end there for Baker though, after leaving NASCAR in 1976 he opened the Buck Baker Racing School. Baker tapped into his talents to teach the future stars of NASCAR. In 1980 Baker’s school was opened and has taught the likes of Jeff Gordon, Tony Stewart, Ryan Newman and Jeff Burton.

With a career heralding over 635 Grand National starts which includes 46 wins and 246 top five finishes, Baker’s career has received much acclaim. Included in the accolades are:
  • Inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association’s Hall of Fame (1982)
  • Inducted into the International Motorsports Hall of Fame (1990)
  • Named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers (1998)
  • Inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America (1998)
Buck Baker passed away in April of 2002 at the age of 83. Although gone, the teachings of Baker will forever live on in the stars of NASCAR.

A replica of the No. 87  that Baker drove for Griffin Motors
Credit: Rusty Jarrett/Getty Images for Darlington Raceway

Amanda takes NASCAR seriously and is willing to pass up other activities to watch the boys have at it. NASCAR By the Numbers and In the Rearview Mirror (looking back at NASCAR's history) are Amanda's two main focuses with Skirts and Scuffs, but as an Associate Editor her duties are limitless. Amanda also frequently writes the post-race recaps for Skirts and Scuffs. Feel free to contact Amanda via Twitter.
In the Rearview Mirror: Buck Baker, driver and teacher to the stars In the Rearview Mirror: Buck Baker, driver and teacher to the stars Reviewed by Unknown on Wednesday, June 08, 2011 Rating: 5