Saturday, July 26, 2008
Hershel McGriff will attend Concurso de Motor Sports in San Miguel de Allende
It's OFFICIAL! Legendary driver Hershel McGriff, the very first driver to win La Carrera Panamericana and his lovely wife Sheri, will be accompanying my wife and I to San Miguel de Allende where Hershel will be honored at the gala Panamerican banquet at the Concurso de Motor Sports in San Miguel de Allende on October 18. What a special treat this will be for anyone attending the the first Concurso de Motor Sports Panamericana in San Miguel de Allende this year. Traditionally San Miguel de Allende is where a much needed layover for competitors and teams who are part of the Coyote Convoy led by North American La Carrera Director, Gerie Bledsoe, find time to relax and acclimate themselves to the beauty of Mexico prior to heading south to the Guatemala border. San Miguel de Allende is without a doubt one of the most beautiful cities in Mexico and has been voted one of the top travel destinations not only in Mexico but in the world. Click here for a list.
The event will be a weekend of classic cars, vintage motorcycles, and motor sports entertainment. In addition to recognizing Hershel the Concurso will raise funds for groups providing assistance to the children of San Miguel de Allende and the area. During the fund raiser Hershel will be interviewed in a question/answer type format by a panel headed up by Gerie Bledso and let me tell you, having spoken with Hershel numerous times, I can guarantee Hershel is an amazing speaker so this is going to be great! Can it possibly get any better than this? I think not.
When I was a young boy growing up in rural Oregon I was all but cut off from the rest of the world when it came to all the hero's that most young boys grew up idolizing. Most boys worshiped sports legends like Joe DiMaggio, Jackie Robinson, Mickey Mantle, Ted Williams, and Willie Mays as well as others from football teams naturally being fondest of the teams from their state. But Oregon had no famous NFL or baseball teams but what we did have was Hershel McGriff. While other boys were playing ball I could be found racing my go-carts on country roads or cow pastures pretending to be Hershel McGriff. Like myself Hershel grew up around the lumber business in Oregon and he even bought some logs from my father's mill over the years. Little did I know that one day I would find myself traveling to Mexico to take part in honoring the man I have idolized since my early childhood.
I can't begin to tell you how exciting this is for me. Just think... Hershel won the very first La Carrera Panamericana and now after 58 years he is returning to be recognized for his amazing feat.
McGriff's career is one that pre-dates NASCAR and spans seven decades of racing. NASCAR Chairman Bill France Jr. said, "Hershel started with us about the same time NASCAR was founded and he has always championed NASCAR's cause since day one. He was quite a race-car driver through the years and even more importantly a great ambassador for the sport and we hope he continues as an ambassador to our sport."
McGriff's fascination with racing stemmed from an early interest in cars that developed while growing up in Sioux Falls, S.D. He owned a motor scooter when he was about 9 years old and drove farm machinery while working summer jobs before becoming a teenager. "My dad let me use the family car when I was 12," McGriff recalled of living in a time and place that did not require a drivers' license. "I bought my first car when I was 13."
His first race was at 17 years of age after his family had moved to Portland, Ore. He borrowed his father's car to compete at Portland Speedway in September of 1945. "They advertised this 250-lap race at Portland Speedway, which was dirt," McGriff said. "My dad agreed to let me use his car, a 1940 Hudson. The following year I was offered a 1946 Ford coupe. In the meantime, they had blacktopped the track. I won that race, a 100-lapper.
One of what McGriff considers his biggest accomplishments came in 1950 when he won the Pan American road race in Mexico. His encounter during that event with fellow competitor Bill France Sr., led to a lifelong friendship. "From that time on we were always pretty close," McGriff said. "I think I learned a lot from him. He was so knowledgeable and looked so far ahead."
That same year, France invited McGriff to compete in the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway. After driving his car cross-country, McGriff raced it to a ninth-place finish and then drove it home to Portland.
Busy building a successful lumber business, McGriff was basically away from racing from 1955 to 1967 before eventually getting involved again. During his racing career, McGriff competed against some of the best names in NASCAR including three generations of the Petty family. He went door-to-door with Lee Petty early in his career, later raced against Richard Petty and even competed against Kyle Petty.
Perhaps McGriff's most remarkable talent was on a road course. With 14 wins, he was the all-time leading race winner at Riverside International Raceway. He also won the first-ever NASCAR Winston West Series street race on the streets of Tacoma, Wash in 1986.
Never one to shy away from a challenge or an adventure, McGriff also carried the NASCAR banner overseas on more than one occasion. In addition to competing in a NASCAR Winston Cup car in the 24 Hours of LeMans in France, he raced in Australia and Japan.
Besides his accomplishments on the track, McGriff was also noted for his efforts off the track. His contributions to the sport were reflected with McGriff being presented with the NASCAR Award of Excellence.
McGriff's popularity among fans was indicated by the record 12 consecutive years, from 1981 to 1992, that he was named as the Most Popular Driver in the NASCAR Winston West Series.
McGriff, who was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame, leaves his name etched throughout the NASCAR Winston West Series record book. In addition to winning the series championship in 1986, he is third on the list of series career victories with 34. In terms of pole positions won in the modern era (1971 to present), McGriff leads the way with 35. His record 12 victories in 1972 still stands as the most in a season as does his record that year for winning the most pole positions, with 12. McGriff also set a record that year for most consecutive races won with five and for the most top-five finishes in a season with 22.
In the modern era alone, McGriff started 236 NASCAR Winston West Series races, one short of the record. He is second in that era for top-fives, with 96, and also second on the list of top-10s with 144. McGriff led 4,094 laps of competition in the modern era, which also ranks second for that time span. When he visited victory lane at Mesa Marin Raceway in Bakersfield, Calif., in 1989 he became the oldest driver to win in the series at 61 years and four months old.