Saturday, August 01, 2009

Hershel McGriff... NASCAR's Real Ambassador

Some men's bucket list are much longer than others. At the age of 81 Hershel McGriff just finished running an amazing race at the NASCAR Camping World Series MILLER MOTORSPORTS PARK 125 RACE with an amazing 19th place finish in spite of a flat tire on the final lap enabeling him to check off one more item from his bucket list. The temperature there was in the 80's and that combined with the extreme long straights and hard braking resulted in a lot of trouble for many teams who ended up blowing their engines but leave it to Hershel to get the job done in spite of it all.

Hershel McGriff, named one of the 50 greatest drivers in NASCAR history, has just completed the last of three road races in the Camping World West Series circuit after having not raced since April 2002, which was 57 years after he first climbed into a 1940 Hudson to compete at Portland Speedway at the age of 17. Just take a moment to allow that to sink in while you begin to realize some American Presidents weren't even born then not to mention some of your grand fathers.

Along the way he competed in the first Cup race at Darlington Raceway in 1950, set a single-season record with 12 West series wins in 1972 and became one of the most beloved and respected drivers in stock car racing history a fact that is unlikely to ever change. In 1976, Big Bill France offered sponsorship to McGriff’s racing team along with another NASCAR team to be the first NASCAR stock cars to compete in the famous 24 Hours of Le Mans race. Herschel McGriff has won NASCAR races in the last six decades and lets not forget he won the very first La Carrera Panamericana in 1950. Today a news reporter told me, "There simply aren't enough adjectives to describe Hershel McGriff." I can go one better than that; When I open my thesaurus up to "incredible" it said, "See Hershel McGriff".

Remember the old commercial from the 60's when the lady said, "We've come a long way baby." Well nothing could be more truthful than in the case of McGriff's race career. I know Hershel well enough to know he will not be happy with simply finishing which is simply an amazing feat all things considered and while he may not have won a championship or even the race what I can tell you is that Hershel McGriff has won a lot of hearts not just here in America but in fact all over the world. And if you think I'm pulling your leg just do a search on the Internet; there are news reports coming in from everywhere... Italy, Japan, Russia, Bolivia, Germany, Mexico and the list is astounding. It just might even be easier to look for a country that has not written something about him.

Some men just sit around dreaming and wishing but I honestly don't even think Hershel knows what his ass is used for yet because he never sits around. It was October 2008 and Hershel and his beautiful wife Sherrie where relaxing in Mexico with my wife and myself when he said, "Gary, when I turn 80, I just would like go to some track and show the young guys that I can still do it,” The difference between most 81 year old gentlemen and Hershel is... Hershel didn't just talk or dream about it... He did it!

What's next for Hershel? Hell I don't know but now I am a little worried because I recall another conversation we had in Mexico about what it would be like to go run with the bulls in the nine-day festival of San Fermín in Pamplona, Spain. Trust me... If the phone rings tommorow morning and Hershel says he is headed for Spain I won't be the least bit surprised. I'm just going to ask what time our plane is taking off and start packing my bags.

Hershel will long be idolized by the masses not only for his accomplishments but for his personality, respect for family and friends not to mention his love of racing. Hershel McGriff is and always will be the finest example of an Ambassador for NASCAR and the world of auto racing as will ever live and I know now that Hershel will live for ever.

CLICK HERE FOR POD CAST Around the Track: Racy old man
CNN's Michael Jones and NASCAR.COM's Mark Aumann discuss 81-year-old Hershel McGriff as well as the Nationwide and CWTS action from this weekend.

The #52 City of Roses Oldsmobile was fielded by Hershel McGriff in the first Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway on Sept. 4, 1950. The painting below shows his entry which was one of 75 cars in the lineup, starting 44th and finishing ninth. Early in McGriff’s career that has spanned 40-plus years, the painting of this car illustrates most significantly what an impact the first superspeedway race had on the future of stock car racing in the United States.

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