When I catch up with Kim Baker, he's relaxing at his Massachusetts home after a busy race weekend in California with his corporate client, Panasonic. Baker's home is truly his castle, one he took time off from racing to build. Since then, he has returned full force to the business of motorsports.
We sit down to talk about his incredible career in the art gallery, which showcases Baker's success story with photos of multiple visits to Victory Lane, feature articles from virtually every national racing magazine, and ads prominently displaying his winning Corvettes and stock cars. Baker has not changed much from his earlier photos. Indeed, he informs me that he's ready to jump into a race car at a moment's notice-and he often does so to instruct other drivers. He credits his youthful appearance to a strict workout-and-diet regimen and his unrelenting passion for speed.
Getting On Track
Kim Baker and his Bakeracing team are legendary names in the arena of production-based racing. In 1984, after numerous successes with other makes, Baker took a GT Class SCCA national championship in a showroom-stock Corvette. His legendary attention to detail is what made him a winner, and it made his cars winners, too. Baker made victory look easy, capturing numerous championships as a driver, a team owner, and a representative for tire and auto manufacturers.
During that time, Baker was a key player in helping Corvette sweep the SCCA-sanctioned endurance races. "The Corvette was a strong and reliable car," says Baker, whose team went on to win championships in the Escort Endurance Series. "The Porsches were just as fast as us, but they couldn't beat us on durability or, ultimately, to the finish line." The Corvettes, however, were found to be too good. The SCCA disallowed them from the series, leading Chevrolet to create its own competition-the Corvette Challenge-in 1988.
Baker remembers the 1985 season, one in which his team won the Lime Rock and Mid-Ohio 24-hour races, as a special one. Both races took place in September and carried the largest money prize ever offered in sports-car road racing. Goodyear paid the winning team a $50,000 bonus for each race. Asked about his favorite years in Corvette racing, Baker answers, "That would have to be '86 and '87, because that was the greatest battle between car manufacturers and tire manufacturers. In '86, on our way to the championship, we won four out of the six races, including the 24-hour races at Mosport and Mid-Ohio. In '87, on the way to that championship, we won five out of seven races, again including Mosport and Mid-Ohio. During those two seasons, Bakeracing won nine out of 13 races, beating out Porsche and winning the manufacturer's championship for Chevrolet. [We also won] the tire manufacturer's championship over three other tire manufacturers."
Behind The Scenes
Baker's commitment to excellence and his expertise with engines drove thousands of customers to the doors of his Wilbraham, Massachusetts, automotive shop. An article on Baker in the Nov. '85, issue of Road & Track stated, "Ask any of his Corvette competitors who builds the best engines in the Endurance series, and the answer is always the same: Kim Baker." It was customary at Bakeracing, which evolved from a foreign-car repair service into a state-of-the-art Corvette performance shop, to have a three-month waiting list.
Another testament to Kim Baker's expertise with engines is that he was one of the very few outside specialists called upon to aid in the development and testing of the ZR-1's LT5 powerplant. As far back as 1987, Baker was involved in the program, putting ZR-1 prototypes through high-speed testing at superspeedways such as Talladega, Riverside Raceway, and Mosport near Toronto, Ontario.
"We did approximately 350,000 street miles and 10,000 miles under race conditions during our work on the LT5," Baker says. "As a result of that testing, we gained incredible knowledge about the ZR-1 motor and vehicle." The crowning achievement for Baker was gaining a spot on the Morrison racing team that set new land-speed and endurance world records at Fort Stockton, Texas, in the ZR-1 he had helped to develop. Through his involvement with "The King of the Hill," Baker, too, became a legend. In 1991 he was named "One of the 10 Most Influential Men of Corvette" by Road & Track.
Having conquered virtually every level of sports-car racing, Baker took on a new challenge in 1994. He decided to build an Unlimited Class Corvette and attempt to break the 200 mph barrier on a closed course in Nevada. Baker tore down and completely rebuilt a ZR-1 for the BluBlocker 100 event. "We took it down to the last nut and bolt and used the shell. We made lots of safety changes, and we put in a new powerplant, of course," he says. "We took it out there with zero miles on it, practiced for 10 miles, and then went out for the race-and it ran flawlessly."