"Cannon Ball" Baker

Location: 902 E Garfield Dr, Indianapolis (Marion County, Indiana), 46203

 Installed 2017 Indiana Historical Bureau, Garfield Park Neighbors Association, and Friends of Garfield Park

ID#: 49.2017.3

Visit Blogging Hoosier History to learn more about Baker's 1914 Record-Breaking Transcontinental Motorcycle Run

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Side One:

Pioneering motorcyclist and racecar driver Erwin G. Baker (born 1882) moved to Indianapolis circa 1893. He won one of the first motorcycle races at newly opened Speedway, 1909, and raced in 1922 Indy 500. Baker set numerous speed and distance records during his career, often on unpaved roads. Nicknamed "Cannon Ball" after record-breaking transcontinental run in 1914.

Side Two:

Baker lived here across from Garfield Park by 1926. Many automobile and racing companies asked him to promote their brands, as the public associated his name with professional integrity and nostalgia for early racing. NASCAR named him its first commissioner at its 1947 founding meeting; served until death, 1960. Later inducted into several motorsports halls of fame.

Annotated Text

Side One:

Pioneering motorcyclist and racecar driver Erwin G. Baker (born 1882) moved to Indianapolis circa 1893.[1] He won one of the first motorcycle races at newly opened Speedway, 1909,[2] and raced in 1922 Indy 500.[3] Baker set numerous speed and distance records during his career, often on unpaved roads.[4] Nicknamed "Cannon Ball"[5] after record-breaking transcontinental run in 1914.[6]    

Side Two:

Baker lived here across from Garfield Park by 1926.[7] Many automobile and racing companies asked him to promote their brands, as the public associated his name with professional integrity and nostalgia for early racing.[8] NASCAR named him its first commissioner at its 1947 founding meeting;[9] served until death, 1960.[10] Later inducted into several motorsports halls of fame.[11]    


*All newspapers accessed via Newspapers.com unless otherwise noted.

[1] All record for this footnote accessed via AncestryLibrary.com unless otherwise noted.

“Henry W. Baker, Barbara Kohler,” Marriage Record, February 9, 1878, Dearborn County, Indiana, Indiana Select Marriages Index, 1748-1993; 1880 United States Census (Schedule 1), District 50, Dearborn County, Indiana, Roll 272, page 228C, Lines 1-3, June 1, 1880; “Henry W. Baker,” R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1894 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1894), 162, U. S. City Directories, 1822-1995; “Henry W. Baker,” R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1896 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1896), 165, U. S. City Directories, 1822-1995; “Their Home is Saved,” Indianapolis Journal, December 16, 1899, 6, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; 1900 United States Census (Schedule 1), District 129, Marion County, Indiana, Roll 389, page 2B, Lines 66-70, June 2, 1900; 1910 United States Census (Schedule 1), District 179, Marion County, Indiana, Roll T624_368, page 6B, Lines 87-89, April 20, 1910.

Marriage records list Henry W. Baker and Barbara Kohler married February 9, 1878 in Dearborn County Indiana. According to the 1880 Census, “Henry Becker,” his wife Barbara, and daughter Tillie lived in Manchester Township, Dearborn County. All were born in “Bavaria” and Henry was working as a “farmer.”

Secondary sources report that Erwin G. Baker was born to Henry and Barbara in 1882. IHB staff could not locate primary sources confirming the location, but the year 1882 is confirmed by 1900 and 1910 U.S. census records (no census exists for 1890 due to fire). Secondary sources state that the Baker family moved to Indianapolis in 1893. The family is not listed in the 1893 Indianapolis City Directory, but Henry W. Baker is listed as living at 438 S. State Ave., working as a laborer in the 1894 Indianapolis City Directory. By 1896, the city directory lists Henry W. Baker at 811 Dawson St. An Indianapolis Journal article dated December16, 1899 states that Henry and Barbara Baker moved to Indianapolis in 1893 from Scott County (as opposed to Dearborn County) where he had many debts. After moving to Indianapolis, he found work in a “railroad situation” and received a small salary which he turned over to his wife.  She invested the money and purchased them a small home.  A suit was brought seeking the sale of that home to pay past debts, but the court provided an exception and “saved” the Bakers’ home.

 

According to the 1900 Census, “H. W. Baker,” his wife Barbara, daughter Tillie (or Lillie), and sons Harry and “Urban” Baker were living at 811 Dawson Street in Indianapolis, Indiana. Urban was working as an “apprentice machinist.” Urban’s birthdate is listed as “March 1882” and his age as 18 years old. The 1910 Census lists Erwin as “Irwin G.” and still has the family living at 811 Dawson St. The young Baker is listed as working as a “machinist” at a “machine shop” at the age of 28. These ages are consistent with the 1882 birth year.

 

[2] “Erwin Baker,” Indianapolis News, July 13, 1909; “Auto Speedway is Ready for National Motorcycle Races This Week,” Indianapolis Star, August 8, 1909; “City Dresses up for F.A.M. Meet,” Indianapolis Star, August 8, 1909; “F.A.M. Convention Tussles in Crisis,” Indianapolis Star, August 14, 1909; “Scenes on Speedway During National Championship Motorcycles Races,” Indianapolis Star, August 15, 1909; “Death Nearly Wins Motorcycle Races,” Indianapolis Star, August 15, 1909.

In the summer of 1909, Baker was one of many drivers to compete at the newly opened Indianapolis Motor Speedway. The first motorcycle races (which predated automobile races at the famous track), began August 14 under the auspices of the Federation of American Motorcyclists (F.A.M.). Speed tests had been scheduled to begin August 13, but rain led to the postponement of the events until the following day.

The Indianapolis News reported as early as July 13 of that year that Baker would participate in F.A.M.’s national meet and provided a photo of the “daredevil rider.” Baker competed in the seventh event, the ten-mile amateur championship, riding his Indian motorcycle. According to the Indianapolis Star, the event lacked the number of entries some of the other races saw due to racer Jake DeRosier’s accident on the unpaved gravel track earlier that day and fear on the part of some of the drivers about being badly injured themselves. Baker, already regarded as a daredevil racer and “rider of great skill and nerve” by this time, did not let DeRosier’s incident deter him and took home first place in the event in a time of 11:31 1-5.

[3] “’Cannonball’ Baker in 500-Mile Jaunt,” Jasper Weekly Courier, April 21, 1922, 1, accessed Hoosier State Chronicles; “Official Race List Shows 32 Cars in Classic on May 30,” Richmond Palladium-Item, May 5, 1922; ”Official Entries for 500-Mile Auto Speed Test,” Oakland [California] Tribune, May 28, 1922; “Box Scores – Indianapolis 500 – 1922,” Indianapolis 500 Historical Stats, accessed indianapolismotorspeedway.com.

In late April and early May 1922, Indiana newspapers reported that E.G. “Cannonball” Baker entered to drive a Frontenac in the Indianapolis 500-mile race scheduled for May 30 that year. A May 28, 1922 article in the Oakland Tribune of California listed the official entry list of drivers for the race, but noted that Baker was “injured in a road accident and may not drive.” Baker did in fact compete and completed all 200 laps. He started the race in 16th and finished in 11th place, just one shy of eligibility for prize money. By competing in the Indianapolis 500, Baker became one of few racers to compete on both two (Indian motorcycle) and four wheels (Frontenac) at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway.

[4] W.H. Blodgett, “Indiana’s Bad Road System,” South Bend Tribune, September 9, 1912, 6, accessed Indiana State Library, microfilm [Lincoln and Dixie Highway marker file]; “Promote Campaign for Better Roads,” South Bend Tribune; October 22, 1914, 9, accessed Indiana State Library, microfilm [Lincoln and Dixie Highway marker file]; “Permanent Highway Will Solve Road Problem,” South Bend Tribune, August 14, 1915, 11, accessed Indiana State Library, microfilm [Lincoln and Dixie Highway marker file]; “Indian Wins Grand Prize at Panama World’s Fair,” Wichita Daily Eagle, October 2, 1915, 33, accessed Newspapers.com; Advertisement, Saturday Evening Post 191:58, March 22, 1919, 121, accessed GoogleBooks; “Baker’s Hop-Off for Three-Flag Prize,” Motorcycle and Bicycling 18: 3, July 16, 1919, 9, accessed GoogleBooks; “Real Action in Mansfield Meet,” Motorcycle and Bicycling 18:6, August 6, 1919, 8, accessed GoogleBooks; “The Highway System,” Indianapolis News, April 6, 1920, 6, accessed Indiana State Library, microfilm [Lincoln and Dixie Highway marker file]; “Lincoln Car in Record Run,” Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette, June 17, 1923, 7A, accessed Newspapers.com; “Sets Record for East to West Dash,” Decatur (Illinois) Herald, March 6, 1924, 14, accessed Newspapers.com; “Crosses U.S. in 71 Hours,” Ogden (Utah) Standard-Examiner, February 15, 1925, 18, accessed Newspapers.com; Advertisement, Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, July 16, 1928, 9, accessed Newspapers.com; “Uniform Motor Road Marking for Main National Highways,” New York Times, May 3, 1925, XX16, [Lincoln and Dixie Highway marker file]; “An Era Ends,” American Motorcycling 14:6, June 1960, 11, accessed GoogleBooks.

 

Baker began setting records in the early twentieth century, a period before paved roads or highway numbering became standard as a result of the spread of the Good Roads Movement. While Baker often intentionally sought out demanding primitive mountain roads or desert paths in order to prove the efficiency of the vehicle he was promoting, even the roads of his flat and even home state would have presented a challenge.  In 1912, the South Bend Tribune reported that Indiana roads were mostly bad, hindering and isolating rural residents and farmers.  A 1914 article explained that the State of Indiana took no responsibility for its roads and noted that the question of a state highway department was hotly debated. Lobbying by bicycle organizations and automobile touring clubs, improvements in automobile technology, the increasing affordability of mass-produced automobiles, the transportation needs of farmers, and the free rural mail delivery efforts all contributed to the construction of new and improved roads across the country in the first few decades of the twentieth century. In Indiana, the construction of sections of the Lincoln and Dixie Highways gave impetus to the movement and “marked the real beginning of permanent road building in northern Indiana,” according to the South Bend Tribune in 1915. The State of Indiana took over maintenance of designated highways in 1920, and in 1925, the Joint Board on Interstate Highways decided to “designate as United States highways the through thoroughfares to be marked as interstate routes.” In that year, the board created a uniform numbering system for Federal Highways.

 

Baker set his first nationally-recognized record in 1914, on a transcontinental motorcycle run. [See footnote 6 for more information on this run]. He set so many records for speed and distance during his career, and then so often broke his own records, that collecting them is outside the scope of this project. The following examples serve to show the breadth of his accomplishments in the first fourteen years of his career, during the peak of his record-setting. In 1915, Baker set the “Three Flags record” for “touching three countries” during a Canada to Mexico run on an Indian motorcycle.  According to the Wichita Daily Eagle, he “crashed down the Pacific Coast . . . at a speed faster than any man ever rode before on a motorcycle on any long journey.” It took him three days, nine hours, and fifteen minutes despite facing mountainous terrain and even passing through forest fires. In 1919, Indian Motorcycle claimed in an advertisement that Baker held four records riding their model: “World’s 500-mile Record,” accomplished in just under seven hours; “World’s 1000-mile Record,” ran in just over sixteen hours; “World’s 12-hour Record,” whence he ran just over 821 miles; and “World’s 24-hour Record,” crossing over 1534 miles of terrain. [View the ad.] In July 1919, the Chicago magazine Motorcycle and Bicycling reported that Baker broke his Three Flag Record by five hours and eleven minutes despite poor road conditions, some engine trouble, and being stopped by curious police. In August 1919, the same magazine reported that Baker had also set a Three Flag Record for a motorcycle with a sidecar containing a passenger. This time he made the Canada to Mexico run in sixty-five hours and fifty-three minutes “through sand and mud, over boulevards and miserable mountain trails.”  In 1923, the Fort Wayne Journal-Gazette reported that Baker set the record for a run from Indianapolis to Chicago in a Lincoln stock touring car. The record time was just over seven hours, forty minutes, and broke the previous record by over an hour. The Journal-Gazette reported, “The roads over which the run was made may be considered ‘fair.’ Very little of it is paved and some of it his full of chuck holes.” In 1924, driving a Gardner sedan, Baker set “a new mid-winter transcontinental endurance and speed record” for a New York City to Los Angeles run in seven days, seventeen hours, and eight minutes. He made the same run the following year, breaking his own record with a time of seventy-one hours and 33 minutes, driving a Rickenbacker Six “over snow and sleet . . . mud and slush . . . snow and mountains.” In 1928, he set the record for New York City to Los Angeles and back again in 157 hours, 23 minutes, beating the previous record by over ten hours, driving a Franklin stock sedan. He also set records in Australia and Hawaii, as well as a “Capital to Capital” record for “touching 48 State Capitals in just over 83 days. More newspaper articles reporting on records set by Baker are available in the IHB marker file.

 

[5] “All Star Indian Team for Dodge City Motordome National Meet,” Fort Wayne News, June 27, 1914, 8; “Will Take in Big Meet,” Coffeyville (Kansas) Daily Journal, June 27, 1914, 2; “Indian Riders Are Selected,” Wichita (Kansas) Daily Eagle, July 1, 1914. 9; “Rewards Go to Man Who Is Ready,” St. Louis Star and Times, July 18, 1914, 7; “Racers Due Here Today,” Hopkinsville Kentuckian, September 24, 1914, 1; “Holder of More Records Than He Can Count, Cannon Ball Baker Still Active in Auto Testing,” Big Spring (Texas) Weekly Herald, September 27, 1940, 1;“Erwin Geo. (Cannon Ball) Baker,” 1942, Draft Registration Cards for Fourth Registration for Indiana, Recrods of the Selective Service System, National Archives at St. Louis, U.S. World War II Draft Registration Cards, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Erwin G. Baker,” photograph, Don Emde Collection, accessed Jerry Garrett, “A Tribute to Cannon Ball Baker’s Century-Old Motorcycle Record Hits the Road,” New York Times, May 6, 2014, accessed nytimes.com;

By 1914, newspapers in Indiana and across the country were regularly referring to the cyclist as “Cannon Ball” or “Cannonball” Baker. The nickname appeared in the newspapers that summer after he set a record for traveling from San Diego to New York on an Indian motorcycle.

Later newspaper articles and secondary sources have claimed that Baker trademarked or copyrighted his name. For example, the Big Spring (Texas) Weekly Herald referred to him as “the man with the copyrighted name.”  The article claimed that after a newspaper identified him as “Cannon Ball” he was so “pleased with the sound of the name, [he] took out copyright papers on it.” The article also noted that he had “long ago” stopped signing his name, but instead would sign “Cannon Ball,” which was “the identifying mark of his trade.”

While IHB staff was unable to find copyright or trademark records, the second part of this story can be corroborated in an interesting manner. In 1918, he signed his World War I Draft Registration Card “Erwin G. Baker,” but by the time he signed his World War II Draft Registration Card in 1942, he signed even this official document “Cannon Ball Baker.”  View an autographed photograph courtesy of the New York Times here. While newspapers and advertisements use both “Cannonball” and “Cannon Ball,” IHB has chosen to use the spelling that Baker used as his signature: “Cannon Ball.”

[6] Ad, Des Moines [Iowa] Register, July 18, 1911; “Baker Starts 3,500-Mile Dash from Coast to Coast,” Indianapolis News, May 5, 1914; “Baker Making Good Time,” Indianapolis News, May 6, 1914; “Baker to Pass Through Richmond on Ride to Break Another Record,” Richmond Item, May 6, 1914; “Motorcyclist Trying for Cross-Country Record Stops Here,” Albuquerque [New Mexico] Journal, May 7, 1914; “Kansas Dog Almost Spoils His Record,” Topeka [Kansas] Daily Capital, May 11, 1914; “Baker Stops Here in Dash Across Country,” Indianapolis News, May 13, 1914; “Coast to Coast Record Broken by Indianapolis Rider,” Indianapolis News, May 15, 1914; “Erwin Baker Cuts Eight Days from Davis’ Time on Cross Country Ride,” Arizona Republic, May 16, 1914; “New Coast to Coast Motorcycle Record,” Philadelphia [Pennsylvania] Inquirer, May 17, 1914; “Baker Tells of Fastest Cycle Trip,” Reno [Nevada] Gazette-Journal, May 30, 1914.

By 1914, Baker was accustomed to traveling all over the country on his Indian motorcycle and was constantly setting new speed and distance records. In May 1914, he set out to test himself once again. This time, his goal was to break the transcontinental record set by Volney Davis a few years earlier. Rather than departing from San Francisco as Davis had, Baker made San Diego his starting point. In a post card from Baker to William Waking of Waking and Company mailed May 1, 1914, he wrote:

Dear Friend Waking:

Am leaving San Diego, Cal., May 3. Will wire you just before my arrival at Richmond and ask you to assist in guiding me through your city. I’m making an effort to break transcontinental record which stands 20 days, 9 hours, one minute. Such assistance would keep me from losing time.

Yours truly,
E.G. Baker

The trek required the Hoosier speedster to travel through twelve states and across all manner of roads and weather conditions. Newspaper accounts report that he laid out his route ahead of time, planning what roads and towns to travel through and even planting tanks of gas ahead of him in remote areas so as to avoid fuel trouble. The F.A.M. sanctioned the ride and, as a result, Baker wrote nightly reports updating the organization on his progress and offering details about his journey. Newspapers across the country also covered the story and helped track his route. The first leg of his trip, one which Baker would describe as one of the worst due to the sandy desert and high temperatures, took him from San Diego to Phoenix. On May 7, the Albuquerque [New Mexico] Journal reported that he passed through Albuquerque the previous afternoon and, after a short stay, continued on to Santa Fe, bringing his total mileage that day to just over 350. From Santa Fe, Baker traveled through Las Vegas (New Mexico) on to La Junta (Colorado) before making it into Kansas. He reached Topeka (Kansas) seven days and six hours after starting his journey in San Diego and was well on his way to breaking Davis’s previous transcontinental record. Baker encountered some trouble at this point in his trip though. According to the Topeka Daily Capital, while road conditions in Kansas surpassed those of the deserts, Baker had to contend with seven nail punctures along this leg and hit a dog that had crossed his path, causing him to topple from his motorcycle and the machine to fall. Baker hurt his elbow and knee in the process, but did not allow the incident to discourage him. He made it to Indianapolis on May 12 and even stopped for a quick dinner at home before continuing on. Baker had been on the road a little over nine days when he made it to his home state and had already covered 2,600 miles. It’s no wonder that the Indianapolis News referred to him as “Here-He-Comes-There-He-Goes Baker.”

Baker arrived in New York City on Friday, May 15, having driven well over 3,000 miles. Newspaper accounts disagree on the exact time of his run, some reporting it as 11 days, 11 hours, and 10 minutes and others reporting 11 days, 12 hours, and 10 minutes, both effectively shattering Volney Davis’s record by just under nine days. The Indianapolis News rightly wrote on May 15 that the trek represented “not only the sturdy qualities of [Baker’s] machine, but the endurance of the rider.”

Reflecting on his record-breaking run in the days and weeks following, Baker credited his preparation and calculation before the trip as a large factor contributing to his success. He also praised his Indian motorcycle, noting that throughout the entire journey, which included fording streams and riding on railroad ties, he experienced no mechanical troubles.

[7] R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1925 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1925), 1817, accessed Indiana State Library microfilm; R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1926 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1926), 379, accessed Indiana State Library microfilm; R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1927 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1927), 368, accessed Indiana State Library microfilm; R. L. Polk & Co.’s Indianapolis Directory for 1959 (Indianapolis: R. L. Polk & Co., 1959), 37, accessed Ancestry.com; Charles O. Morris, architect. Cannon Ball Baker, owner. Architectural drawing, date unknown, submitted by applicant.

Indianapolis city directories list Erwin G. Baker’s residence as 815 Dawson St. throughout the early and mid-1920s. By 1926, the city directory listed Baker as a driver with his home at 902 N. Garfield Dr. The 1927-1930 city directories confirm the address on Garfield Dr. Baker died in 1960. He is not listed in the city directory that year, but the 1959 Indianapolis city directory still listed him at 902 N. Garfield Dr. Architectural plans submitted by the applicant for this historical marker feature Baker’s home on Garfield Dr. Though they are undated, they are consistent with images of the home and list Cannon Ball Baker as the owner.

[8] “All Star Indian Team for Dodge City Motordome National Meet,” Fort Wayne Daily News, June 27, 1914, 8; “Indian Riders Are Selected,” Wichita Daily Eagle, July 1, 1914, 9; “Rear View of ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker’s World Record Car,” San Bernardino (California), June 11, 1916, 11; Advertisement, Altoona (Pennsylvania) Mirror, April 30, 1924, 32; Advertisement, Lincoln (Nebraska) Star, May 10, 1925, 10; Advertisement, Eau Claire (Wisconsin) Leader, June 21, 1925, 6; Advertisement, Brooklyn (New York) Daily Eagle, July 21, 1925, 12; Advertisement, Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Record, October 10, 1925, 24; Advertisement, Wilkes-Barre (Pennsylvania) Record, July 28, 1928, 13; Advertisement, (Cononsburg, Pennsylvania) Daily Notes, July 24, 1929, 7; Advertisement, Mount Carmel (Pennsylvania) Item, September 23, 1929, 2; Advertisement, Eugene (Oregon) Register, November 28, 1929, 10; Advertisement, (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) Evening Standard, July 21, 1930, 11; “Famous Driver Here,” Shamokin (Pennsylvania) Dispatch, February 28, 1933, 2; “Holder of More Records Than He Can Count, Cannon Ball Baker Still Active in Auto Testing,” Big Spring (Texas) Weekly Herald, September 27, 1940, 1; “NASCAR Needed Symbol of Integrity – Cannonball Baker Was the Answer,” Florence (South Carolina) Morning News, September 3, 1956, 10.

Immediately upon garnering fame with his 1914 coast to coast motorcycle run [see footnote 6], Baker received the major sponsorship of Indian Motorcycles and the press noted his integrity.  Newspapers across the country, from the Fort Wayne News to the Wichita (Kansas) Daily Eagle, ran syndicated articles reporting on this sponsorship and described Baker as a part of the “classiest aggregations of speed merchants that has ever been assembled in history.”  This widely published article also reiterated his class by noting that he was “wearing modestly his freshly won coast-to-coast laurels.”

The number of brands who paid to be represented by Baker was impressive. Examples included: Nobby Tread Tires which used Baker’s transcontinental speed records and a quote from him in their advertisements (“No other tires would have stood the test,” 1916); Gardner automobiles advertised their sedan as the model driven by Baker on a midwinter record setting run (1924); Rickenbacker advertised their new “4-Door Coach-Broughman” as having a chassis “identical to the one with which ‘Cannon Ball’ Baker has made so many cross-country records of late” (1925) and by quoting baker as describing the model as “a performing fool” (1925), and presenting a picture of Baker alongside a signed affidavit from his passenger and official timer (also 1925); On a single page of the Lincoln (Nebraska) Star in 1925, there were advertisements using Baker’s name for ABA Gasoline and Oil, the Rickenbacker Six, Weston Tire Co, and the Central Café, which used his reputation to advertise their “speedy service; The Franklin Sedan  advertised themselves as the “World’s Fastest Road Car,” citing a recent cross country run in the car by Baker and used a graphic of a racing Baker behind the wheel of the car (1928), and they advertised a demonstration run by Baker up Pike’s Peak in freezing weather (1929); Mobil Oil used Baker’s name along with Charles Lindberg and the Wright Brothers to advertise their product as making possible “achievement through quality” (1929); Lee of Conshoken Tires advertised using Baker’s records, photographs, and quotes from Baker (1929) and a signed letter from Baker (1930); Graham-Page cars garnered some advertising by sponsoring a “motoring safety” tour featuring their vehicles piloted by Baker across the country (1933).

Baker’s distinguished name remained sought after by various brands throughout his career, even after he stopped racing, and newspapers often described the boost in sales lent to these companies by the association.  For example, The Big Spring (Texas) Weekly Herald reported in 1940 about a coast to coast publicity tour Baker was making for “the Crosley motor people” that was sure to be successful for the company. The article noted that over Baker’s career he had represented “Rickenbacker, Ford, Franklin and several other motor companies that are credited with giving the automobile business the first boost.” Baker’s name was often linked to the public’s nostalgia for the early days of automobiles and racing in this manner.  In fact, most articles by this later period in his life, list Baker’s early accomplishments and records. Several examples can be accessed through the marker file.

The National Association for Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) chose Baker to represent the new organization at its founding meeting [see footnote 9] specifically because his image lent credibility, integrity, and the rosy tint of nostalgia.  In 1956, the Florence (South Carolina) Morning News reported on this meeting.  The Morning News claimed that after founding and naming the stock car organization “not a word or warning was uttered” until they found the right person to represent them. This was the “venerable” Baker. The article purported to quote a founding NASCAR official from that first meeting: “Nothing can be a success until you get a man who not only knows the sport, but whose integrity is unquestioned and whose ability is so outstanding as to attract national attention.” The article continued:

E.G. “Cannonball” Baker’s name, although long in a well-earned retirement, is synonymous with that glorious period of automobile history that marked the development and growth in popularity of the automobile. It was this same Baker who had performed more firsts with an automobile than any other person in history and whose name, linked with any make, meant sales of that pushed up and into the thousands.

[9] “Meeting Ends for Car Racers,” Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, December 19, 1947, 43; “Famed Driver Asks Courtesy for the Road,” Rushville (Indiana) Republican, March 5, 1949, 4; “She’ll Race Against Men Drivers Here Monday,” (Syracuse, New York) Post-Standard, August 31, 1949, 15; “Stock Car Races at Carrell Track,” Covina (California) Argus, November 9, 1951, 23; “Reckless Driving by Auto Racers Hit by Officials,” Florence (South Carolina) Morning News, August 17, 1952, 15; “NASCAR Head to Be at Opener of Shangri-La,” (Sayre, Pennsylvania) Evening Times, April 24, 1953. 8; “Race Winner Disqualified,” (Uniontown, Pennsylvania) Morning Herald, March 1, 1955, 9; “Tim Flouk Wins,” Florence (South Carolina) Morning News, March 1, 1955, 7; “NASCAR Needed Symbol of Integrity – Cannonball Baker Was the Answer,” Florence (South Carolina) Morning News, September 3, 1956, 10; Chuck Mittlestadt, “Famed Pioneer Test Driver, Cannonball Baker, Describes American Auto Industry as Sick,” Albuquerque (New Mexico) Journal, March 26, 1959, 18; “Bill Will Tell Tale on Friday,” High Point (North Carolina) Enterprise, May 12, 1960, 37; “Old Race Buffs,” (Long Beach, California) Independent, May 14, 1960, 9.

In December 1947, stock car racing promoters met for four days in Daytona Beach, Florida.  According to the Indiana (Pennsylvania) Gazette, they adopted the official title National Association of Stock Car Auto Racing (NASCAR) and named Baker as commissioner. Bill France, who was elected president at the same meeting, stated that Baker’s responsibilities would include deciding on “major issues” as they arise and approving speed records and titles. Newspaper articles published in the ensuing years show that his responsibilities expanded to include distribution of prize money, determining eligible drivers, speaking with the press about race details and issues, notifying officials of infractions, and promoting races. A 1956 article in the Florence (South Carolina) Morning News explained that Baker’s association with NASCAR lended the organization prestige, linked its image to nostalgia for early racing and affinity for the automobile, and increased attendance and sales.

[10] “Erwin Baker, Pioneer Racer, Dies at Age 78,” (Richmond, Indiana) Palladium-Item, May 11, 1960, 7; “Baker, Famed Cyclist, Car Driver, Dies,” (Valparaiso, Indiana) Vidette-Messenger, May 11, 1960, 9;  “Noted Race Driver Dies,” Anderson (Indiana) Daily Bulletin, May 11, 1960, 13; “’Cannon Ball’ Baker, Famed Driver, Dies,” (Lafayette, Indiana) Journal and Courier, May 11, 1960, 31; “Cannon Ball Baker Dies,” (Carbondale) Southern Illinoisan, May 11, 1960, 12; “Erwin G. Baker, Early Car Racer,” New York Times, May 11, 1960, 39, accessed ProQuest Historical Newspapers; “Erwin G. Baker,” Medical Certificate of Death, May 10, 1960, Indianapolis, Marion County, Indiana, Indiana State Board of Health, Death Certificates, 1900-2011, microfilm, Indiana Archives and Records Administration, accessed AncestryLibrary.com; “Cannon Ball Baker,” Crown Hill Cemetery, Section 60, Lot 150, Find A Grave Memorial #1431, accessed https://www.findagrave.com/cgi-bin/fg.cgi?page=gr&GRid=1431.

Baker died on May 10, 1960 at Community Hospital in Indianapolis. He is buried at Crown Hill Cemetery.

[11] “Teague, Byron and Baker Make Racing Hall of Fame,” Florence [South Carolina] Morning News, September 3, 1966; “Racing Hall of Fame Adds 3,” Corpus Christi Caller-Times, August 27, 1972; “Ward Among 7 Named to Indy Hall of Fame,” Kokomo Tribune, May 16. 1981; “Honor Roll: Motor Sports Hall of Fame of America Motors to Novi,” Detroit Free Press, June 5, 1989; “Hoosier Cross-Country Motorcyclist to be Honored,” Indianapolis Star, June 4, 1989; “Motor Racing Notes,” Los Angeles Times, November 15, 1991; “Hall of Fame Inductees,” Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum, accessed indyracingmuseum.org; “Erwin ‘Cannonball’ Baker,” AMA Motorcycle Hall of Fame, accessed motorcyclemuseum.org; “Cannon Ball Baker, Motorcycles, Class of 1989,” Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, accessed mshf.com.

In the years after Baker’s death, the pioneer racer was inducted into several motorsports hall of fame across the country. On September 3, 1966 the Florence Morning News of South Carolina reported that the Southern Motorsports Press Association had elected Baker to Stock Car Racing’s Hall of Fame in its inaugural year. In 1981, Baker was among seven inductees named to Auto Racing’s Hall of Fame at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway Museum. According to the Kokomo Tribune, Baker, Johnny Aitken, and Art Pillsbury, were all selected “for their contributions to racing during the ‘pioneer days’ before World War I.” In June 1989, the Indianapolis Star ran an article entitled, “Hoosier Cross-Country Motorcyclist to be Honored” and reported that Baker had earned a place in the “soon-to-be-built Motor Sports Museum and Hall of Fame, in Novi, Mich.” The Motorsports Hall of Fame of America lists Baker in their 1989 class; one of eight inducted that year. Just two years later, Baker was among twelve to be selected for the American Auto Racing Writers & Broadcasters Association Hall of Fame. His name and legendary career continue to live on in motorsports history.