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Curator's Corner / Hall of Famers

10 Fun Facts about Hershel McGriff

Second Pioneer Ballot winner had a career that stretched back to the early days of NASCAR and continued for decades.

Long and colorful.

Those two words might be the most appropriate in describing the career of Hershel McGriff, newly selected as the second NASCAR Hall of Fame Pioneer Ballot winner and therefore a member of the Hall’s Class of 2023.

Born on December 14, 1927, the 94-year-old McGriff spent the vast majority of his career racing on the West Coast, where he made quite a name for himself.

Here are 10 fun facts about McGriff, the oldest living individual elected to the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Hershel McGriff (left) and co-driver Ray Elliott won the first Carrera Panamericana Mexican road race in 1950. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

The first Carrera Panamericana

In May 1950, Hershel McGriff drove his Oldsmobile 88 from his home in Oregon to Mexico to compete in the first Carrera Panamericana, a treacherous five-day event on open roads, with much of the course at high altitude. McGriff bested a field of 132 competitors to win the inaugural event, then drove his Oldsmobile back home.

Hershel McGriff and NASCAR founder Bill France met when they both competed in the first Carrera Panamericana. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

Befriended by Big Bill

NASCAR founder and Hall of Famer William H.G. France (2010) a/k/a “Big Bill” met McGriff at the 1950 Carrera Panamericana, where France also raced, sharing a car with fellow Hall of Famer Curtis Turner (2016). France and McGriff quickly became friends and France suggested that McGriff should move to the Southeast and compete in NASCAR.

In the 1951 Southern 500. Hershel McGriff (No. 77) qualified and finished in the top five. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

The first Southern 500

After his historic victory in the 1950 Mexican road race, McGriff drove his race-winning Oldsmobile from Oregon to South Carolina to compete in the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, where he qualified 44th and finished ninth, 26 laps behind winner Johnny Mantz. The following year, McGriff quailed fifth and finished fourth in the Southern 500.

One of Hershel McGriff’s four premier series race victories in 1954 came at Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

A short schedule

Despite France’s urging, the only year in which McGriff ran more than five premier series races was 1954, when he competed in 24 of 37 races. During that year, McGriff won four times, and posted 13 top-five and 17 top-10 finishes, ending the year sixth in points. His race wins came at Bay Meadows Speedway in Northern California, Central City Speedway in Georgia, Southern States Fairgrounds in Charlotte and in the final race of the season at North Wilkesboro Speedway.

Team owner Carl Kiekhaefer was unsuccessful in his attempts to hire Hershel McGriff to drive one of his Chryslers. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

A championship opportunity

For the 1955 season, McGriff was offered a premier series ride in one of a fleet of Chrysler 300s owned by a then unknown businessman named Carl Kiekhaefer. McGriff turned the offer down and returned home to his business interests in Oregon. The seat instead went to Hall of Famer Tim Flock (2014), who scored his second series championship and the first of two in a row for Kiekhaefer.

A legend in the West Coast racing community, Hershel McGriff also enjoyed tremendous success running his timber and mill operation. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

Businessman and racer

One of the main reasons McGriff turned down a full-time premier series career is that he had a thriving timber and mill business in Oregon and he wanted both to continue to grow that business and be closer to his family. Many years later after moving to Arizona, McGriff ran a mining equipment division for a copper mine operator.

In 1973, Hershel McGriff drove in three premier series races, all in a year-old Plymouth purchased from Petty Enterprises. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center

The 1973 Daytona 500

For the 1973 Daytona 500, McGriff purchased a used Plymouth from Petty Enterprises to race in NASCAR’s biggest event. With only one mechanic he brought with him and a part-time borrowed pit crew he had to share during the race with fellow West Coast competitor Ray Elder, McGriff managed to finish fifth behind Richard Petty (2010), Bobby Isaac (2016), Dick Brooks and A.J. Foyt.

Hershel McGriff’s first of two cracks at the 24 Hours of Le Mans came in 1976, when he piloted a Dodge. Photo courtesy of NASCAR Archives & Research Center/CQ-Roll Call Group via Getty Images

24 Hours of Le Mans

To give you an idea of how diverse McGriff’s career was, he twice competed in the 24 Hours of Le Mans endurance race in France, first in 1976 in a Dodge Charger co-driven by his son, and again in 1982 in a Chevrolet Camaro. The first attempt ended early with a piston failure, but in ’82, McGriff finished in the top 20.

A fixture in West Coast NASCAR racing for decades, Hershel McGriff was voted one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998. Photo courtesy of Steven Dykes/Getty Images for NASCAR

West Coast stardom

The vast majority of McGriff’s career saw him race on the West Coast. From 1954 until 2018, McGriff competed in 271 races in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West (now ARCA Menards West Series), winning 34 races and posting 100 top-five finishes. He won the series championship in 1986 and finished second in points in both 1985 and ’87. He finished in the top five in points eight times.

At 90 years old, Hershel McGriff competed in a NASCAR K&N Pro Series West race in Tucson. Photo courtesy of Chris Codutto/Getty Images for NASCAR

Ageless wonder

In 2001, at age 73, McGriff ran the entire 14-race NASCAR K&N Pro Series West schedule, finishing 13th in points. In 2018, at the age of 90, McGriff ran his last NASCAR race prior to retirement.

Plan your visit to the NASCAR Hall of Fame and purchase tickets by visiting nascarhall.com/tickets.

Tom Jensen

Tom Jensen

Tom is the Curatorial Affairs Manager at the NASCAR Hall of Fame. For more than 25 years, he has been part of the NASCAR media industry.

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