Giant direction on a giant track: Buddy Baker’s route to wins at Talladega Superspeedway
Editor’s Note: This is the fifth in a series chronicling the creation and history of Talladega Superspeedway, which is celebrating its 50th anniversary during the Oct. 11-13 NASCAR Playoffs doubleheader weekend, featuring the 1000Bulbs.com 500 and Sugarlands Shine 250. Read about the track’s creation, its unusual design and highlights from the 1970s and 1980s. The venue this weekend will debut the culmination of the Transformation Infield Project presented by Graybar, featuring the Talladega Garage Experience, where fans will be immersed into the sport like never before.
It was only fitting that Buddy Baker, who at 6 feet 6 inches tall was a giant of a man, would have success at NASCAR’s biggest, baddest track – Talladega Superspeedway.
Baker, known for his lead foot and running a car as hard as it could go, made his ’Dega debut in NASCAR’s premier series in 1970. He would pull off a sweep of victories in 1975 with car owner Bud Moore in the famous No. 15, then come back in spring ’76 with yet another triumph. His fourth and final win at Talladega came in 1980, driving the No. 28 “Gray Ghost” for car owner Harry Ranier. Toss in 15 top-five finishes – six of which were runner-up results – and he truly was one of the best in the business at Talladega.
As the track once known as Alabama International Motor Speedway celebrates its 50th anniversary, we look back to the thoughts of Baker, who died in 2015, on how to tackle the 2.66-mile venue. The following are excerpts and a graphic from a first-person story written by Baker that appeared in the 1970 summer Talladega souvenir program.
By Buddy Baker
Race tracks are a one-way street, and there’s only one way – one particular course – which is the fastest way around.
That’s what practice is all about. You drive that track, again and again, looking for that one fast way ’round. That means being high some places and driving low at others. You experiment a lot, and each driver develops his own line.
Those who qualify fastest not only have the faster cars, but they have found the best line. If I didn’t have a good line at Talladega, I’d never have made those over 200-mph runs.
The main effort is to make as straight a delivery into the corner as possible. But let’s make a trip around the steepest-banked (33 degrees) track in America … and the fastest track in the world. Come along.
Coming into the dogleg (Graphic A), you try to go as straight as possible. You stay near to the wall … as close as possible. The wind is usually crosswise, and on the wall is the only place to be.
Running close to the wall is safer. If anything happens, you hit the wall flat. You don’t build up momentum and then hit. I’ve been in a few walls, and catching them flat is the only way to go.
When I see my corner angle (B) I cut for it. I go as low as possible (C) because this is the quickest way. Also, you’re coming off the bank, going downhill here. And at Talladega, the bank in the turn is the same all the way up to the rail.
There are a series of bumps (D), and it’s very choppy in the second and third grooves. That’s another reason for staying low. If you scuff a tire at 200 mph, you cut at least a tenth of a second off of your speed.
You start letting the car (E) free out to the top of the race track, then tuck up over by the wall (F) on the other side of Turn 2.
Now we’re set for the backstretch. I put my shoulder against the door (G), hold my left arm stiff and get a straight line down the backstretch. I want the straightest line possible.
If I wander, I lose time. Most fans don’t realize that. They don’t realize how much time you lose when you come off your line to pass another car.
As I go down the back straight (H to I), I check all the gauges. You’ve had the biggest load on the car through the turn there, and you want to see just how things are going. You want to know that everything is all OK.
Then I check the oil pressure about 50 yards or so (J) before I go into the corner – but on the backstretch you check every gauge.
The perfect lap is the only way you can catch up. A caution flag may bunch up the field, or you may be able to luck out when you go through traffic, but the surest way to close ground is to turn that perfect lap. And then you hope the guy ahead got messed up somewhere. If he didn’t, just pray for a caution, or hope that your pit stop will be better than his.
Hope to see you at Talladega. Look for me in Cotton Owens’ red Daytona with the big orange No. 6. With a little bit of luck, maybe I’ll win it this time. Sure hope so.
In the third NASCAR premier series race held at Talladega Superspeedway, Baker would finish fifth behind winner Pete Hamilton.
The tradition continues at the Palace of Speed this weekend. For ticket information and to learn more about the Talladega Garage Experience, log onto www.talladegasuperspeedway.com or call 855-518-RACE (7223).
(Courtesy of Alabama NewsCenter)