Norm Baker – Driver

By Chad Meyer

Norm Baker

Norm Baker prepares to climb into the Schutjer Implement modified. Baker is a 2013 inductee into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame.

Norm Baker grew up near Dows, IA, and spent his childhood with a steering wheel in his hand. His father was a truck driver who started his boys Rick and Norm out early. At the age of five, Norm was given the task of fueling the trucks when then returned. Strategically standing on the floorboard and hanging on to the wheel, the diminutive Norm was able to push in the clutch to get the trucks started and to move.

Older brother Rick was the first in the family to give the sport of racing a try, venturing to the Wright County Raceway short track that sat between Belmond and Clarion. Though Norm tagged along on some of those race nights, it wasn’t until he was on leave from the Marines that Baker got his first taste of wheeling a race car.

While home, Baker was in the pits with other friends from Dows who had built a racer. When the young man who was tabbed to be the driver backed out, Baker quickly volunteered to be the pilot. Though he was in the Marines at the age of 17, he had to summon his mother from the track’s grandstands to sign for him to drive.

When Baker returned from the Marines for good, he couldn’t wait to start driving race cars. He bounced around a bit, driving cars for others. In the summer of 1958 Dows car owner George Wilmer asked Baker to drive for the rest of the year.

Norm Baker

Norm Baker after one of his biggest wins, the 1966 IMCA sprint car race at Sandusky, OH.

Baker and the slow-talking, easy going Wilmer were a potent combination, finishing second in points in 1959. A year later, they were track champions at the Belmond track.

With momentum on their side, they built a new car for the assault on the ’61 season. It was mid-season before Baker could race though. A broken shoulder kept him on the sidelines until the mid-point of the year.

The 1961 season was over for the team about as soon as it started. Baker wasn’t fully healed but drove the car at Iowa Falls anyhow. While racing, Baker got shoved from behind into another car and couldn’t get separated. Wilmer, who was unhappy with how the officials called the race, vowed never to race those tracks again. And he didn’t, selling out and calling it quits from the sport for good.

Baker purchased Wilmer’s old 1939 Ford coupe with a flathead six cylinder and raced on his own for the next year.

Though he’s not sure exactly how he got teamed up with Richard Brock and Don Prilipp, Baker was certainly glad they did. The two years he spent behind the wheel of the #27 were some of his best. They raced Algona Friday nights, Webster City Saturday’s and at Mason City on Sunday.

Norm Baker

The 1964 mod that Norm Baker drove at Algona Raceway, owned by Richard Brock and Don Prilipp.

Baker remembers winning races at each track, but takes satisfaction in his success at Algona. They won several features together, and were dominating the 1964 season until circumstances changed the outcome of the point chase.

The team was leading points at Algona in ’64 which meant Baker started in the back of each race. Just past mid-season, on a muddy track, Baker was unable to pass in his heat race, which put him in the B-feature. Since he finished last in the heat, he should have started the B on the front row.

When he didn’t, Richard Brock went through the roof and vowed they wouldn’t race tracks promoted by Monte Wellendorf again. The team then skipped the next race and the rest of the season at Algona to compete at Knoxville Raceway.

The decision to leave Algona early, prevented Baker from earning what he felt would be sure championship. He contends it took eventual champion Stacy Redmond four weeks to surpass Baker’s point lead after he left. Though he is disappointed that he didn’t win the point championship, he is grateful for the success he had at Algona and with Brock and Prilipp. The cars he drove for them were the best cars he ever wheeled.

The next season, the Brock & Prilipp team went IMCA sprint car racing across the Midwest with Lonnie Jensen as the driver. Baker took a ride in the Schutjer Implement modified that competed locally and at Jackson Speedway in Minnesota.

Norm Baker

Baker at the controls of the Brock & Prilipp sprinter on the high-banks of Sandusky, OH.

When 1966 came around, Baker was at the controls of the Brock & Prilipp ride once again, barnstorming the Midwest on IMCA sprint car circuit. The team found victory lane on the pavement track at Sandusky, OH, beating out legend Jerry Reichert and many others for the win.

Baker stepped away from racing later that year. The team was trying a new cross-torsion suspension and the car didn’t handle the way he was accustomed. Baker says every car he drove always handled great, but he really struggled to offer the advice needed to make the car go faster.

He was asked to drive other cars after leaving the sport in 1966. He had a good job as a service manager for a General Motors dealership in Missouri plus a new family and was ready to spend more time at home.

Like many racers of that era, he considers himself lucky. It wasn’t until three years after a terrifying crash at Knoxville that he found out he had suffered a broken neck. A trip to the chiropractor uncovered that the doctors at Knoxville had missed the injury when he was released after the crash.

He is proud of the win on the IMCA sprint circuit at Sandusky, OH and the championship at the Belmond track. He is more proud of the wins he garnered at Algona and surrounding tracks. Baker says the years he drove modifieds for Brock & Prilipp were the most fun he had in racing and were some of the best cars he had the privilege to drive.

Today Baker is retired, living with his wife Shirll in Arizona.

Norm Baker joins five other inductees into the Kossuth County Racing Hall of Fame in 2013. The ceremony will take place August 3rd.