Sunday, May 4, 2014

May 4: Buddy Baker's Talladega Twin Wins

Over his multi-decade career, Buddy Baker won nineteen races. Of the nineteen, almost half were at two tracks. Four were at Charlotte,  and four happened at Talladega - including three in a row. Of his four Talladega victories, two happened to fall on the same day: May 4th.

Baker's three-race winning streak at Talladega began May 4, 1975. He let the field know early he was the man to beat by winning the pole for the fifty car field.

Long-time independent and Dodge driver Jim Vandiver won the preliminary race - the ARCA 200 - on Saturday May 3. In an odd scheduling twist, Coo Coo Marlin won the pole for the ARCA race in a qualifying session held ... a week earlier.

Vandiver's Dodge was sponsored by H.B. Ranier, father of Cup car owner Harry Ranier. The "Ranier" name figured prominently into Baker's 4th Talladega win 5 years later.

Donnie Allison in his DiGard Chevy qualified alongside Baker. Brother Bobby Allison and David Pearson comprised the second row. The field gathers 2x2 on the pace lap as the drivers amp up for the start.

The Cup raced was overshadowed by tragedy - which seemed to be a part of the fabric of Talladega in the 70s. Randy Owens - Richard Petty's crewman and brother-in-law - was killed during a pit stop when a pressurized water tank exploded as he tried using it to extinguish a wheel bearing fire on the 43.

A unique participant in both the 1975 and 1980 races was country music legend Marty Robbins. He wrecked out of the 75 race in his Dodge Charger and lost an engine in the 1980 event in his Dodge Magnum.

Baker was certainly the class of the field as he led 99 of the race's 188 laps. However, David Pearson led a sizable chunk as well by pacing the field for 27 laps. And Petty's 43 was out front for 22 laps as the Charger was pretty stout that day. But once Petty had to make the unexpected stop and Owens was killed, the Petty crew parked the 43 and withdrew from the remainder of the race.

Though Baker led more than half the race, his win was hardly assured as is the case more often than not at Talladega. But Baker manage to nip Pearson by about a foot to earn the win. Behind Baker and Pearson, Dick Brooks finished third. A pair of Tennesseans, Darrell Waltrip and Coo Coo Marlin, finished fourth and fifth respectively.

Following the race, the King was clearly distraught as he tried to speak with reporters about the accident in the pits that took Randy's life.

Source: Gadsden Times via Google News Archive
* * * * * * *
Baker nabbed his next-to-last career win on May 4, 1980 in Harry Ranier's #28 'gray ghost' Oldsmobile by nipping 1979 ROTY Dale Earnhardt by about 3 feet - not quite as close as the win over Pearson but still one for the ages.

In the preliminary Saturday race, a driver who'd made his name known on the bullrings of the midwest and started his first Cup race at Atlanta earlier in the 1980 season won: Rusty Wallace. He won from the pole in the short-lived Grand American series Alabama 300.

David Pearson continued to show folks he still had gas in the tank after parting ways with the Wood Brothers in 1979. In 1980, he took over from Donnie Allison in Hoss Ellington's Hawaiian Tropic #1 car. The two had some immediate success with a win in the Rebel 500 at Darlington and capturing the pole for the Talladega race. Baker lined up alongside Pearson in his Waddell Wilson prepared Olds 442.

As was the case in 1975, Baker led the most laps. However, the competition was more balanced in 1980. Baker led only about a third of the race vs. the 99 laps he led 5 years earlier. Earnhardt led 55 laps to Baker's 61. Cale Yarborough and Pearson took turns for double-digit laps as well.

Earnhardt had a sizable lead as the laps wound down. But Baker was relentless in his pursuit of the Osterlund Olds, and he was able to get around Dale with the checkers in sight. Using Buddy Arrington as a pick on the backstretch, Baker was able to break Dale's momentum limiting his chances to pass him back.

Some footage of the final few laps of the race is available on YouTube. Unfortunately, the video can't be embedded here. But [click here] to watch Baker eke out a win over Earnhardt.

Baker's win was the second Cup win at Talladega for car owner Harry Ranier in three seasons. Lennie Pond won the 1978 Talladega 500 for Ranier as well.


No comments:

Post a Comment