Friday night’s NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies presented Hershel McGriff with his Hall of Fame ring, his distinctive blue jacket, and apparently … a ride.
At age 95, McGriff became the stock-car shrine’s oldest member and fittingly shared stories that stretched over all eras of NASCAR’s 75 years. His racing career has also arched over many of those diamond years, and now it might be getting his second act.
“Bill McAnally and Richard Childress both offered me a car for a race when I reached the magic number of 100,” McGriff said during his speech before cracking, “I hope they both stay healthy.”
McGriff was welcomed into the hallowed Hall alongside fellow inductees Matt Kenseth and Kirk Shelmerdine as the three members of the Class of 2023. The tributes and honors spoke to McGriff’s longevity, which the longtime West Coast campaigner detailed in his sharp, wide-reaching speech.
A lifetime of memories speak to that — spanning from a dirt-track start just two weeks after World War II ended in 1945, to the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway in 1950, to decades on the old Winston West Series, to his final (we think) start in 2018 at age 90.
“That’s just in me. I’ve just gotta keep doing something,” McGriff said. “I still ride a bike all the time, and I’ve gotta keep busy. I was just born that way, while the rest of my family kind of went slow — they were school teachers.”
Riding a motorcycle was actually where McGriff was last May when he found out he’d been elected to the Hall of Fame. The word came through during a fuel stop while on the annual Kyle Petty Charity Ride, where McGriff has been a regular participant. By then he’d already put in a few hundred miles on the open road that day.
Petty, with a nod to his father, told the group of bikers at dinner that they’d started the day with one Hall of Famer on the ride. Now they were ending it with two.
“It was like he was 20. I mean, you could just see it in his eyes. It was like Christmas morning for a 5-year-old,” Petty said. “I mean, it’s something that … he wanted people to understand what he had done and what he had been a part of. When you look at the sport, the first race is in ’49. You think about (NASCAR’s) 75th year, and the first race is ’49. He was there in ’50. So you look at it that way.
“It was just the emotion, and the emotion from the riders. Because they knew how bad he wanted it. We just called him ‘Hall of Famer’ the rest of the week.”
McGriff drove a little bit of everything in his lifetime, which he chronicled in his sprightly speech — farm equipment at age 10, a scooter with a sidecar to deliver groceries at 11, a church bus at 12, a railroad car at 13, a 1930 Ford Model A that he bought as an eighth-grader, a milk truck, an ambulance, a hearse, a 1940 Hudson in his first race, a 1950 Oldsmobile in the first Southern 500 (a car he drove from his Oregon home to Darlington, raced, then drove back), another Olds to four Cup Series wins in 1954, a Jaguar on a baseball diamond at Baltimore, a fire-breathing Dodge at Le Mans in 1976.
These days, McGriff’s still going, saying he takes his three-wheeled bike out for 150, 200 miles at a time a couple of days a week. He credits his staying power to a daily running regimen during his career — “back before it was popular,” he says — that kept him fit for the stresses of competing in a race car at speed.
So the mention of him racing again in five years might come with a smile and a wink, but there’s a little bit of truth inside every joke. McGriff is convinced he’ll be around at 100, and if there’s a car available …
“Well, it’s kind of a joke, but it is gonna get serious,” McGriff said. “… I’m not worried about me making it to 100. I’m pretty sure I will. … I only have five years to go, and I’ll be back in it. I’ll have to get in shape a little bit more.”
If he does, Childress says he’ll provide the car and the crew as the icing on the 100-candle cake.
“He’s raced against or driven for just about everybody that’s already in the Hall of Fame,” Petty says, “so why not?”