Buck Baker’s Big Victory
by Tom Jensen September 03, 2021
A victory in the 1964 Southern 500 at Historic Darlington Raceway put an exclamation point on Buck Baker’s NASCAR Hall of Fame career.
Ask any racer and they’ll tell you no one knows when that last victory is going to come, especially not for older drivers.
NASCAR Hall of Famer Buck Baker (2013) was the first driver to win consecutive premier series titles, taking championships in both 1956 and ’57, as well as eight consecutive top-five points finishes from 1953 to 1960.
But by the time the circuit pulled into Darlington Raceway for the 1964 Southern 500, Baker was already 45 years old, a senior citizen by NASCAR driver standards. And fitting of his advanced – at least by racing standards – age, Baker throttled back his schedule in ’64, running only 34 of 62 races on the premier series slate.
Prior to the ’64 Southern 500, Baker had posted but a single win that year, a victory in a 200-lapper at the 0.500-mile Valdosta 75 Speedway in Georgia.
At Darlington, Richard Petty (2010) came into the race as the favorite, a driver on his way to his first of a record seven premier series championships. Petty did not disappoint in qualifying, capturing the pole at a blistering speed of 136.815 mph around the tight, egg-shaped 1.375-mile track.
Baker, the winner of the 1953 and 1960 Southern 500s, kept himself in contention, running near the front of the field as Petty and Pearson set the pace. Attrition was brutal, as mechanical woes and accidents knocked out 20 of the 44 cars in the field by the halfway point of the race.
As expected, Petty dominated at Darlington, leading 252 of the first 289 laps, before electrical problems on his No. 43 Petty Enterprises Plymouth dropped him two laps off the lead. Jimmy Pardue, who earlier had dueled for the lead with Petty, lost six laps in the pits and shearing off three wheel lugs after contact with the wall.
The woes of Petty and Pardue handed Baker his first lead of the day on Lap 302 and he held on over the final 63 laps, finishing ahead of the Petty Enterprises Plymouth of Jim Paschal, with Petty himself finishing third. A footnote: Winner Baker and runner-up Paschal were the only two drivers who competed in each of the first 15 Southern 500s.
The victory, which paid $21,230, was Baker’s 46th race win in the premier series. Although he would make 134 more starts before retiring for good after the 1976 season, the 1964 Southern 500 was the last triumph for Baker.
“This is a tricky track,” Baker said after the race. “I could run at 135 (mph) without straining and I felt confident at that speed. I’m not a flashy guy. I don’t feel I have to blow everybody off the track to prove I can drive.”