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NASCAR Hall nominee Buddy Baker leaving radio after cancer diagnosis

Buddy Baker
Buddy Baker Getty Images for NASCAR

NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee Buddy Baker, a longtime favorite of race fans, announced Tuesday night that he has inoperable lung cancer and is leaving his role as a co-host on SiriusXM NASCAR Radio, effective immediately.

Baker, 74, made the announcement to open what he said will be his final appearance on “The Late Shift.”

“There comes a time when you talk to the doctor and say what are my chances and there’s dead silence. I went, ‘how long?’. ‘Well, we don’t own the hotel, we don’t know when we check out. It’s something that we cannot fix,’ ” Baker said.

“Everything has a start and an ending and mine has been overwhelming.”

Baker, a Charlotte native, won 19 races and 38 poles in what is now called the Sprint Cup Series. At 6-foot-6, he was often called the “Gentle Giant” because of his friendly demeanor.

In 1980, Baker won the Daytona 500 with an average race speed of 177.602 mph - a record that still stands today. That same year he became the first driver to eclipse the 200 mph mark on a closed course while testing at Talladega (Ala.) Superspeedway.

Among his 19 career Cup series wins were victories in the 1970 Southern 500 at Darlington (S.C.) Raceway in a race in which he lapped the entire field. He also won back-to-back World 600s at Charlotte Motor Speedway in 1972 and 1973.

After a successful driving career, Baker made a transition to the television booth as an analyst, working for The Nashville Network and CBS. He most recently has co-hosted the shows “Late Shift” and “Tradin’ Paint” for SiriusXM NASCAR Radio.

In 2013, Baker’s father, Buck, was inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame. Former Observer motorsports writer Tom Higgins wrote that his favorite memory of Buck was watching him rush excitedly to Victory Lane to embrace Buddy when the son scored his first victory at NASCAR’s top level in the 1967 National 500 at Charlotte Motor Speedway.

What did Buck say? “He whispered to me, ‘I could have done it better,’ ” Buddy said.

Buddy Baker signed off from his final show Tuesday night in his typical self-deprecating fashion: “Do not shed a tear. Give a smile when you say my name. I’m not saying goodbye. Just talk to you later.”

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