smalldrobanner.gif (3353 bytes)

In Memoriam

by Chris Martin

Bobby Baldwin, who passed away recently due to an aneurism at age 53, probably lived the life that most drag race fans could only dream about it. He got the bug and became a fan, and that led to his getting into the sport's orbit. He began his involvement by helping then NHRA's Vice-President/Competition Steve Gibbs at Pomona Raceway, preparing the sand traps and such things for the national events in the early 1980s. During this time, the then spectator saved his money and bided his time until he could complete the building of a Top Fuel dragster.

To the best of my recollection, Baldwin had no backing at all during his career save for what he had in his pocket and whatever small associate backing he could get. He, like fellow independent Southern California nitro racers Wyatt Radke and Bob Reehl, epitomized the grit and single-minded purposefulness of the hard core independent racer.

Baldwin started racing in about 1987 or '88, and predictably, the going was tough. Broken parts, oil-downs; he, like many who had gone before him, had to keep his chin up while enduring the pain-in-the-ass leaker status that is laid on the pro non-qualifiers. When Baldwin ran back then, there were more photogs waiting for fire than big numbers.

But like a genuine pro racer, Baldwin withstood the blows and mounted an offensive of his own, at least as much of an offensive as an independent racer could muster. He qualified at the 1990 NHRA Winternationals -- his first qualified effort -- but missed the rest of the local NHRA national event fields.

He got better, though. In between 1988 and 1991, he ran his first four, and at the 1992 NHRA Winternationals scored his first round win with a 5.04/287.72 whipping of the legendary Connie Kalitta. That year Baldwin got close, lasting until the semifinals at the NHRA Supernationals and carding a career best (at the time) of 4.88/286.89.

On he toiled. He earned a semifinal finish at the 1994 Gatornationals and then two years later switched over to Funny Car. He bought Gary Densham's old Olds Cutlass in 1996, but lost the car in a fire at half-track at Memphis International Raceway.

In recent years, he showed that he was getting closer to a first national event win. He runner-upped in Top Fuel at the 2000 NHRA Matco Tools Supernationals in Houston, Texas, and earned a semi-final finish at the NHRA 50th anniversary night bash this year at Pomona. Moreover, he qualified at seven national events in 2000 and could lay claim to the somewhat silly piece of trivia notoriety of having run the millennium's first four-second run on Thursday of the NHRA Winternationals. In many of his 2000-2001 races, he was solidly in the 4.7s at 300-mph.

And then this.

I knew him on sight and had a mostly drag race writer to racer relationship. However, guys like him always held my interest and had my deepest respect. They deserved it. They were playing respectably in a million-dollar card game with $100,000. And when they won, they provided welcome relief from the monopoly of winners with the big budgets. In a sport that has grown oh so predictable in outcome these racers, for me, became the stuff that dreams are built on.

Baldwin embodied drag racing's can-do spirit at its best. He got by strictly on ability and guts, and I must say my admiration of him and his type are a big reason why I'm still a fan of drag racing. To wife Paula and the rest of his family, I extend my heartfelt condolences and want to let them know that Bobby's class and courage did not escape the notice of this writer.

- Chris Martin

Copyright 1999-2001, Drag Racing Online and Racing Net Source