It’s a long way to the top if you want to rock ‘n roll.

Damn shame Baker is starting way back on the fourth row.

Seemed plenty fast all day but the Harleys kept breaking.

Guess they turned fragile in pursuit of speed.

Mechanical failure snatched him from contention repeatedly that season.

This was his final National for the factory team.

He won’t win a Championship today,

but maybe redemption.

Brad Baker in full gladiator mode. [Michael Lawless]
The track started smooth and fast but turned rough and dusty.

Conditions forced more than one racer into survival mode,

everyone ran the safer line down low.

When the lights turned green for main,

Baker dropped into beast mode.

He brazenly ran the high line out by the fence.

Spectacularly over the limit.

Passing competitors on a wide-open throttle, hopping through the ruts and blinding dust.

There’s no room for error running high, wide and handsome.

Insiders stood with mouths open as Baker roared by.

Baker gloried in the madness,

passing the entire field, taking the lead on lap 3.

With no challengers, victory was his – if the Harley held together.

Baker later said he took the first ten laps WFO.

Blasting through lapped traffic, the blinding dust pasted his taped-on faceshield.

With eyes burning from the dust,  he eased off but still won handily.

The sweet wheelie of victory. Brad Baker takes the checkered flag at a heat race in NY. [American Flat Track]
The battle for the Championship was settled well behind him.

In their excitement did the cheering crowd notice Baker’s win?

I knew I’d seen something special.

It wasn’t until the post-race party I knew others saw it too.

Some racers spoke in awe of his riding, some shook their heads side to side.

One tuner joked he’d worried ‘Baker’s balls would get tangled up in his chain’.

I was floored by the honesty of the new Champ when he confessed,

he tried to hang on to Baker but couldn’t.

He’d almost pitched it away in the chasing, but reminded himself

he was there to win the Championship,

not beat Baker.

I couldn’t find Baker for comment.

Brad Baker just ahead of Jared Mees at the white flag – one more lap to go. [American Flat Track]
I’d been chasing Baker ever since.

A Media badge doesn’t guarantee face time.

I saw my chance on a break at The Kentucky Mile.

Baker stood in the shadow of the transport, like a gladiator, looking lean and mean.

Waiting for the battle to come.

But a fan munching the largest chicken leg I ever saw beat me to him.

“Hey, Brad, you going to win tonight?”

The hard look of a racer dropped into a smile.

“I’m going to try – hey thanks for coming out tonight man.”

The fan was aware Baker noticed his chicken leg.

“I guess you can eat all the chicken you want huh?”

“I’m allowed 6 ounces with lunch and it can’t be breaded or fried.”

“Really, wow, what’s that you’re drinking?”

“It’s a gallon of water with lemons & cucumber.

At the end of the day, I gotta hand it back empty to my trainer or else I got to drink it right there.”

The fan stood, comprehending that flat track racers had changed,

and as he drifted away, Baker eyed me wearily knowing I’m media.

“Hey Brad – what it’s take to run high wide & handsome?”

He took a hit from his water jug and said, “Big huevos,”

smiling broadly. ​

“What’s it like going that fast with that wall in your face?”

“You don’t see the fences, you’re looking where you want to go.”

“Don’t you think about…”

“You can’t…”

“What would happen if it goes wrong?”

Brad laughed,  “I’d end up face down in the parking lot.”

He reached for his helmet as his crew fired up his bike.

“Hey, I was thinking we could do an article about your beating Marquez,

or about winning Santa Rosa?”

“Yeah ok, you know where to find me…”

That night Baker beat Henry Wiles for third place by mere inches

in one of the most electrifying battles of the season.

Brad Baker taking a moment with Olive Lawless. [Michael Lawless]
I wanted my daughter Olive to see the spectacle that is the Springfield Mile.

We did the 16-hour drive with our friend Barb Shoemaker.

Since we weren’t hauling Jake’s race bike she insisted we stop for Krispy Kremes.

Olive stopped calling her Ms. Shoemaker and switched to Aunt Barb.

I got to show her my favorite spots to observe the race action:

row one at start/finish line takes your breath away,

inside turn one against the rail is magic too,

the spooky tunnel under the track, and the media room.

Walking through the pits we bumped into Baker.

He’s sweating hard in full leathers, right after practice.

Brad thanks me for the Marquez article.

I introduce Olive.

Much to her amusement, he reached out and said ‘Hi, I’m Brad’.

They chat for a few minutes.

As we walk away she says,

“You make him sounds like such a desperado, Dad, but he’s really nice.”

Brad Baker as an advisor to the Indian factory flat track team, with Kelsey Stauffer and Jake Shoemaker. [Michael Lawless]
I was gutted when Brad was permanently hurt at that shitty little X Games short track.

For me, it was the day the music died.

Baker had seemed unbreakable.

But a wheelchair hasn’t stolen Brad from the sport he loves.

He’s a TV commentator for American Flat Track and an advisor to the Indian factory team.

He’s set to be married this year to his sweetheart Kelcey Stauffer.

His passion for dirt racing led him in a new direction,

and he recently started racing a dirt track car with hand controls.

It reminds him of the old days – just him, a bike and van.

It’s not easy, but that was never the point.

Life ain’t over ’til the checkered flag is thrown.

Brad Baker at the hand controls of his circle track racing car… [Michael Lawless]
…and looking very much like the #6 we know. [Michael Lawless]

Michael Lawless [@electric_horseman], our ‘Poet of Packed Earth’, is the Flat Track Editor for, and has his own blog: Electric Horseman
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