NASCAR’S Hall of Fame Class of 2023 will include a driver who took part in the first stock car race at Calder Park Thunderdome.
Herschel McGriff is legendary for the longevity of his career as his success during it – his driving career spans over 70 years!
McGriff, who turned 94 in December, ran his first race in 1945 and made his first start in a NASCAR-sanctioned race in the 1950 Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway, and earnt four victories in the Cup Series in 1954.
Hailing from Bridal Veil, Oregon, McGriff was a staple of stock car racing on the United States’ west coast, winning 37 times (third all-time) in what is now the ARCA Menards West Series, and earning the championship in 1986.
Two years later and aged 60, McGriff was one of a host of west coast racers that flew across the Pacific to take part in the inaugural NASCAR race at Calder Park Thunderdome, where he qualified eighth and finished sixth.
While he wound his competition career back in the new millennium, McGriff continued racing all the way into his nineties, with his last race start coming in the K&N Pro Series West race in Tucson in 2018.
McGriff was participating in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride when his name was called, so he didn’t get the official word until the motorcycle riders stopped for fuel.
“I always loved the sport,” McGriff said, “but I couldn’t go full-time because I had to raise a family… I started when they didn’t have go-karts—we just drove street cars. Right after World War II, September 16, 1945, I ran my first race (on a dirt track).
“I borrowed my dad’s 1940 Hudson, got a couple of friends to help me and finished 12th or 13th.”
McGriff is the sixth person to be inducted to NASCAR’s Hall of Fame with links to Calder Park Thunderdome.
Among the first inductees in 2010 were Richard Petty, who came to Australia for the first Goodyear tyre tests at Calder Park in 1987, and Junior Johnson, whose cars won a pair of Australian NASCAR titles in the hands of Robin Best.
Bobby Allison (second in the inaugural race) and Terry Labonte (winner of the rain-shortened 1990 Christmas 400) were inducted in 2011 and 2016 respectively, while joining them in 2018 was Ray Evernham, who was the crew chief for Dick Johnson’s NASCAR efforts before linking up with Jeff Gordon and Hendrick Motorsports in the 1990s.
McGriff was one of three inductees chosen from a total of 15 nominees for the Class of 2023, a list that included Neil Bonnett, the winner of the inaugural race, and Harry Gant, who raced in the 1988 NASCAR Christmas 500.
Joining McGriff in the Hall of Fame’s Class of 2023 are two-time Daytona 500 winner and 2003 Cup Series champion Matt Kenseth, plus Kirk Shelmerdine, who was the crew chief for several of Dale Earnhardt’s Cup Series titles with Richard Childress Racing.