The engines no longer reverberate throughout the Daytona International Speedway, which is another thrill Daytona 500 It had just finished a few hours before, and I was moments away from a live TV report from the calm of the pit road at that sacred place.
With the exception of a few TV crews bringing live footage back to their respective stations, there are only a few of us left in the area. The massive crowd was gone, NASCAR’s biggest stars had long since walked away, and the race team’s undertakers were leaving, yet something caught my trusted photographer Mike Kirby’s attention.
“Look,” he said to me, pointing his head to an area about 30 yards behind the pit road site.
Huddled in silhouette on this dark and fine February evening, three men were reliving their day, talking and laughing as you might expect friends to do.
Richard Petty, Darrell Waltrip, and Buddy Pittman.
“Oh my God, what did this guy do for NASCAR,” said Mike. Except in this case, he was not referring to Messrs. Beatty or Waltrip.
Buddy Bateman His 50-year career in television ended this week with his retirement from… WUCF, University of Central Florida’s public television station. She was Great runspent most of it here in Central Florida, where he became Buddy Icon in WESH.
Some of us are born without talent. Friends are born without egos. He was a great director, producer, sportscaster. Once a news photographer. The movie from the gruesome murder scene of the still-infamous Ziegler Winter Garden furniture store in 1975? The camera was on Buddy’s shoulder that night. Until his retirement day, he brought a camera across the state for WUCF, one-man punching his way through great interviews, then shooting his cover video before editing the stories himself. Buddy turns 71 in May. Still no ego.
And Kirby Meta was right. While Buddy may not have influenced NASCAR in ways like Petty or even Waltrip, He was covering sports When no one was paying attention.
That coverage has always been personalized and comprehensive. He’d tell you that for decades his passion has been the arrival of Speedweeks, once but no longer two weeks of nearly continuous racing at Daytona, culminating with the 500. (His streak of 46 consecutive Daytona 500s during the pandemic ended. Don’t that warrant an asterisk?) He didn’t miss out. Friends very much like a quiz session. Networks like CBS and ESPN are conditioned to not worry if they miss a crash course. They were just calling Buddy for the video.
Dedication to NASCAR? Get a load of this one. Orlando hosted the NBA All-Star Game in 1992 on the same Sunday in February as the old Busch Clash. On one of the lifts that day inside the speedway, NASCAR Vice President Jim Hunter lamented to his boss, Bill France Jr., that because of the hoops, no local media would appear on the speedway that day.
“Friends will be here,” said confident France. Then the two started betting.
Moments later, the elevator door opened, and a tall man with his camera and tripod stood in front of these two NASCAR heavyweights.
Hunter immediately hands France a $50 bill.
In fact, NASCAR is in a better place today in part because Buddy made it great for covering the sport. With wit and propriety, the people of Daytona always treated him with great respect and afforded him the access he was given.
But really, you’d be hard-pressed to find anyone in this city – this area – who doesn’t respect and always admire Buddy Pittman for his work ethic and gentle disposition.
And now, as he turns into a well-deserved retirement, perhaps my old colleague will take a moment to look back and smile at a memorable career that many would envy. And Nary A Soul would blame Buddy if he looked in the mirror today and repeated the words he’d heard countless times from so many great Daytona 500 champions.
“Wow! That was an amazing trip!”
Pat Clark An icon in his own right, he has spent over three decades covering Central Florida sports for several television outlets.