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The Gray Ghost

Posted by Digory Kirke on July 8, 2009

Buddy Baker (The Gray Ghost) 1980 Daytona 500 Winner

Buddy Baker (The Gray Ghost) 1980 Daytona 500 Winner

February 17, 1980

“you really have to do something about Buddy Baker’s car,” the drivers begged NASCAR offcials. “It’s scaring the hell out of everybody.”

Baker’s ride was wicked fast, to be sure, but it was the car’s color scheme that had everyone spooked. The Olds was painted a hue so similar to the Daytona asphalt that it disappeared like a chameleon, materializing out of thin air. Dubbed the Gray Ghost, it proved to be the supernatural force that finally exorcised Baker’s Daytona demons.

In 17 previous starts, Baker won the Daytona 480 more times then he cared to remember. It was the pesky Daytona 500 he had trouble with. Over seven tries between 1973 and 1979, he led six races and more than 330 laps but failed to finish five times.

Finally, in 1980, the Gray Ghost outran Baker’s past, his bad luck, and 41 other cors. Baker led 143 of 200 laps and captured the flag with an average speed of 177.602 mph, the fastest Daytona 500 in history.

“I held down the throttle and held my breath,” Baker said. “I figured the faster I got it over with, maybe I could get done before my luck got me again.”

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