Magic. The Postman. The Great Bambino. Not many figures have the resume under their belts to be known by a nickname alone. But a legend in its own right, in rolls a car with enough mystique and history to make racing fans and non-fans alike gasp. Maybe there are a few more names that will spark a memory. Daytona. Baker. Earnhardt. The Gray Ghost. The Oldsmobile was given the intimidating nickname by opponents who said “it was so fast that it blended in with the asphalt as he passed them.” Turns out, it would be more than fast enough to go down in the record books as champion. Now, it rolls into Prestonsburg, KY at the Ranier Racing Museum.
The man behind the wheel was famed Nascar driver, Buddy Baker. With The Gray Ghost surrounding him, Baker competed in no less than 300 races. The one that will always be remembered with an asterisk happened in Daytona Beach, Florida. You know the one, that little ole race known as the Daytona 500. It’s the mountain peak that all drivers strive to achieve. For Baker, it was the must-do career achievement.
In Baker’s own words, “Winning this race is something you will always be remembered for” and he was right. For a young 14 year old kid in the stands, it was certainly a moment that would shape a lifelong passion and, in his eyes, turn his dad from his hero to a legend. It was on this day that the Ranier Racing team became one of the first Nascar teams to win back-to-back Daytona championships. Prestonsburg native, Harry Ranier was over the moon. As the Gray Ghost led 143 laps and crossed the finish line first as the checkered flag waved, Ranier saw his wildest dreams come to fruition. The eastern Kentucky coalmine owner had racing and cars in his blood. His family became known for bringing the best cars to Prestonsburg with his dad’s, H.B. Ranier, car dealership. After telling his wife his crazy dream of succeeding in Nascar one evening in a drive-in, Harry sought to bring the best and fastest cars to the major racing league.
Ranier did just that. The monumental win in 1980 was no easy feat for Baker and the Gray Ghost. With an average speed by Baker of 177.6mph, this race went into the history books as the fastest Daytona 500 in history. That’s what made the Ranier racing team so special. They were fighters with a unique grit that was equally matched by passion for the sport. Now, nearly 40 years later, that 14 year old kid in the stands is fighting to keep the passion for racing alive in eastern KY. Lorin Ranier, Harry Ranier’s son, helped spearhead the Ranier Racing Museum in their hometown of Prestonsburg. What started as exhibit collection of memorabilia developed into a museum with some of history’s greatest racecars being displayed. The most recent racecar to be rolled off the shipping truck bed held an extra special place in Lorin’s heart. He tracked the Gray Ghost down across the country and made arrangements to have the enigma brought back to the home roots of the family that believed in its power. As Lorin says, “The Gray Ghost meant so much to my dad and racing. To bring this car here, specifically, feels like a homecoming in more ways than one.”
Ranier Racing Museum visitors now have the opportunity to not only get an up close and personal peek at one of the most successful cars in NASCAR history, but to also witness one of the most stylish. The Gray Ghost was voted the best black paint scheme in NASCAR history. So in 2017 when
Dale Earnhardt Jr. decided to take his last laps, he wanted to have some fun doing it in his final season. After asking for a fan vote, and swaying the public opinion toward his favorite racecar scheme, the Gray Ghost design was an overwhelming victor for Earnhardt to pay homage to on the track.
In 1980 looking down from the Daytona stands, Lorin Ranier got bit by the same racing bug that filled his dad with so much joy. He went on to carry the racing dream of his family, working for racing teams and becoming a NASCAR spotter. He learned at an early age to feel pride in what he loved. Now, he looks to share what his father loved with the people he loved. The only place Harry Ranier loved more than Victory Lane was his hometown between the mountains, Prestonsburg, KY. Visitors can visit the Ranier Racing Museum and historical Gray Ghost for no cost every weekday from 9am-5pm and Saturdays until 12pm. The museum is located inside the Mountain Arts Center at 50 Hal Rogers Drive in Prestonsburg, Kentucky.