Like all sports, motorsports has its gentlemen and its not-so-much’s, its ladies and its unrefined, its kind competitors and its rude individuals, its unphased and its angry, its mature and its childish.
Even the most passionate and gentle of racers are prone to slipping up. While true sportsmanship is not frequently seen in racing, it does most certainly exist. Case and point, a man possessing a sense of charisma so strong that his local speedway named their sportsmanship award for him, Scott Mitchell Baker.
Scott Mitchell Baker was born on April 30th, 1957 in Chicago, into a family that would eventually have seven children. His father was Ralph Baker, a successful Midwestern racer. Scott graduated from Saugatuck High School in Michigan in 1975 and served in the U.S. Navy for six years before heading back and settling down in Holland, Michigan, where he would stay. He started racing in 1982 and eventually met a lady by the name of Julie. The pair wed and had two children, daughter Brandy and son Scott II.
Baker quickly found local success, mostly at the Berlin Raceway. Berlin is very famous for its bizarre shape and lack of a backstretch wall, and is one of the trickiest short tracks in the country, so this was a feat in and of itself. Baker did race at other tracks besides Berlin, however. He quite famously flew out of the track at Winchester during a late model race in 1986, though he was unhurt. In 1995, Baker won 5 ARCA late model races at Berlin Raceway, something he never flaunted.
Scott moved up to ARCA in 1997 and ran occasional races whenever the series raced near his home. He made his first start at a late season race at Salem. The #7 self-sponsored car came home midfield. Scott ran one more ARCA race in 1997, four in 1998, and in 1999 he ran five. He finished fifth twice, at Winchester in 1997 and the same track in 1998.
After ARCA started in 1953, Berlin was a semi-regular stop on the schedule, holding races every now and again. In between 1969 and 1998, however, they only ran a race at Berlin once (1986). Berlin was included again on the schedule in 1999, and Baker jumped at the opportunity to run his home track. The popular local sat on the pole, led 50 of the 200 laps, and finished in eighth.
Baker was respected both on and off the track for his skill as a metal fabricator, and during the week he used those skills in a metal fabricating business that he ran, Baker Metal Products. Baker was passionate about his business, and always welcomed customers with a charismatic greeting and a smile. It contrasted well with Baker’s fierce and aggressive driving style. Baker often weaved down through corners, trying to force mistakes from unprepared opponents, though he never dumped them.
Baker was going to start his 2000 ARCA season at Salem in the spring, but ended up withdrawing. He made his 12th ARCA start at the Jasper Engines And Transmissions 150 at the half mile Toledo Speedway on June 23rd, 2000, running the #71 Monte Carlo for Arne Henriksen. He started well and ran up front for most of the day, eventually finding himself in eighth. On lap 146/150, owner-driver Joe Cooksey, who a year and a half before had made headlines by hitting the pace car at Daytona, looked for a lane on the inside coming off of turn four and gave a slight bump to Baker, sending Baker across Cooksey’s nose and to the inside of the circuit.
Toledo Speedway contains a 1/5th mile short oval on its frontstretch, and during ARCA events, the short oval was used as the pit lane. For this event, ARCA had the Toledo Speedway set up a tire wall to protect the pit crew.
Baker struck two earth mover tires with his passenger door at about 120mph, sending the tires, both of which weighed hundreds of pounds, flying into the pit lane and forcing everyone to scatter about. One of the tires struck and severely damaged a team’s pit box, but no one in the pit lane was hurt. The car itself decelerated on the spot, teetering on two wheels before coming back down.
The race was red flagged while safety crews extricated Baker, and with so few laps left, officials decided that there was no need to continue the race with a driver in need of urgent medical care. The race was ended a few laps early, with Frank Kimmel being declared the winner. Ultimately, the 43-year-old Baker would be pronounced dead shortly after arrival to the hospital. The severe horizontal deceleration had caused vital arteries in his brain to stretch and become damaged. The Toledo Speedway and ARCA both responded with their condolences, and a permanent pit lane was set up at the Toledo Speedway for future events.
Oddly, one of Toledo’s most popular local drivers is also named Scott Baker. The Ohioan Scott Baker, who won the Iceman Championship in 1999, is even around the same age as his fallen Michigan counterpart. The Ohioan Scott Baker is mostly retired as of 2017, running the select event here and there and managing a race car parts supply store.
ARCA stopped by Berlin a few weeks later, and Tim Steele won the race. Tim immediately donated all of his earnings that night to the family of Scott Mitchell Baker in a tribute to Scott’s sportsmanship, and the Berlin Raceway has since named their sportsmanship award for Scott. Ralph Baker, who was part of Scott’s pit crew on June 23rd, 2000, is still a somewhat frequent face at the Berlin Raceway despite pushing 90, and Julie Baker took over Baker Metal Parts, still running it to this day. Berlin Raceway lost its ARCA date after 2016, but the oddly-shaped 0.4375 mile oval in the Grand Rapids suburb of Marne, Michigan kept busy with a NASCAR K&N East race in 2017 and will see the return of ARCA in 2018.
Scott Mitchell Baker’s sportsmanship was admirable, and his driving style reflected his kindness. Hopefully the drivers who faced off against him were able to realize that fair and clean racing, not rough driving, is what earns a driver respect, and they were able to adjust their driving styles accordingly.
Info received from Berlin Raceway’s social media team
“Scott Baker final arrangements”, June 26th, 2000 article on motorsport.com
Scott Mitchell Baker’s page on Findagrave.com
“Scott Baker – stock car racer”, June 27th, 2000 post to Google Groups by Jerry and Bea
“ARCA: Berlin race report”, July 16th, 2000 post to Google Groups by motorsport.com