10 Fun Facts about Hershel McGriff
by Tom Jensen May 16, 2022
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.