NASCAR has lost a legend. Buddy Baker, who was better known as the "Gentle Giant" of NASCAR, died this Monday at the age of 74 from inoperable lung cancer. Baker had announced his diagnosis last month and vacated his seat as co-host of Sirius XM's NASCAR Radio. "Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I'm not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later," Baker said as he signed off. He had commented on NASCAR races in the past, both on TV and radio, and was a beloved character to fans of all ages.

At 6 feet 6 inches tall, Buddy Baker, son of NASCAR Hall of Fame driver Buck Baker, stood head and shoulders above most of his competitors.

He always drove like a man possessed, flat out and pedal down, always giving all he had and all he could pull from the car. His all out style made him a champion, winning four times at Talledega, four times at Charlotte, two times at the Darlington, and two times at Daytona. Baker ranks 14th in NASCAR history and is NASCAR Hall of Fame Nominee. He was voted one of the 50 greatest drivers of the sport and had 38 poles in his 700 career starts from 1959 to 1992. In addition, Baker had 202 top-5s and 311 top-10s. He was also a member of the the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame and the International Motorsports Hall of Fame. He could, in short, drive the wheels off any car he got in, and in later years, could tell the tale of a race like no other. 

Baker's favorite tracks, however, were the super speedways.

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Like Earnhardt, Baker could feel the air stream as it whipped ferociously over the car. On a closed Talledega track, Baker became the first man to go 200 mph, a feat that earned him his second nickname - "Leadfoot."  Super speedways were uniquely suited to the big driver's fast, all out style, and Baker soaked up every moment on their high banks. 

Across the country, some of NASCAR's biggest names expressed their sadness at the loss of their friend and competitor. NASCAR Chairman, Bill France, issued a comment saying, "Many of today's fans may know Buddy Baker as one of the greatest storytellers in the sport's history, a unique skill that endeared him to millions. But those who witnessed his racing talent recognized Buddy as a fast and fierce competitor, setting speed records and winning on NASCAR's biggest stages. It is that dual role that made Buddy an absolute treasure who will be missed dearly."

It was perhaps Baker's fiercest competitor, and one time car owner, Richard Petty, that best summarized Baker saying "Buddy was always wide open and that's the way he raced and lived his life. He was always full of energy. He was a person you wanted to be around because he always made you feel better. He raced with us, shared his stories with us and became our friend. Buddy loved the sport and he made a lasting impression on the sport on the track, in the television booth and on the radio. Our thoughts and prayers are with the Baker family at this time."

Indeed, Mr. Petty, indeed.