190 mph Fireball!

Buddy Baker and the 1970 Alabama 500 at Talladega Superspeedway

Excerpted from the original article Three Experts Pick an Ex-Rookie Race Report by Bob Carey appearing in the August, 1970 issue of Stock Car Racing

Baker came back to life on the 155th lap with Hamilton dangerously close behind. By the 164th lap, Baker had a 3.5 second lead on Hamilton who had a straightaway on Isaac. Baker poured on the power, and by the time he was ready for his next routine pit stop, lap 170, he had nine seconds on Hamilton who now had almost a full half-lap on Isaac. Baker was in the pits 1 min., 28 sec., for four tires, and Hamilton passed him twice, taking the lead with Baker a lap down. Hamilton and Isaac pitted together, and Hamilton was able to resume racing speed with Baker passing him only once to get back in the same lap.

Now Baker was screaming around the track in an effort to close the gap on Hamilton. Coming out of turn four of the 175th lap, his tire blew. A piece of the shredding tire knocked off the oil cooler connection, spraying hot oil on hotter parts. The car immediately burst into flames and became a 190 mph fireball roaring through the tri-oval. With flames spraying up through the floor boards and scorching his legs, hands and face, Baker did some split-second thinking while doing a magnificent job of braking and steering. His thought was to spin the car to put out the fire, but spin it where it would be least involved with other cars. Miraculously, he did it, spinning on the grass apron directly across from the start/finish line. The fire went out, but it was agonizing seconds before Baker appeared diving through the window on the passenger side. He limped to the retaining wall and sat on it, doubled over. Then he jumped down and ran limping toward the pit area only to fall down and beckon help by waving and pointing to his leg. A little brown panel truck came lumbering up; Baker jumped in the front seat with his right leg sticking out of the window, and the truck lumbered off toward turn one--the opposite direction from the hospital. At the hospital, Buddy was treated for second degree burns of the legs and face and released. Later, he said, "It was the scariest thing that ever happened to me. I don't really mind losing this time; I'm just happy to be alive."