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
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
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