A racing career that began in 1945 will continue as legendary driver Hershel McGriff gets back behind the wheel of a stock car when the NASCAR K&N Pro Series West visits Arizona’s Tucson Speedway on May 5.
McGriff, who turned 90 in December, will drive the No. 04 South Point Hotel & Casino Toyota Camry prepared by Bill McAnally Racing.
It’s an opportunity he just couldn’t pass up.
“Who would turn down a free ride in a K&N car built by Bill McAnally Racing?” McGriff asked.
“Bill said to pick out a track anywhere on the West Coast that has a K&N race and that’s where we’ll race,” McGriff explained. “Tucson’s my home. So, we decided on Tucson, although I haven’t run here that much. It’s going to be fun. I hope I do well, for his sake. I think I can.”
McGriff, who in his last full season of series competition teamed with Bill McAnally in 2001, talked about the performance of the BMR cars in this year’s K&N West season opener at Kern County Raceway Park near Bakersfield, California.
“I saw the Kern race,” he said. “I watched his cars run first, third and seventh. They handled pretty good the whole race. Some of the other cars were starting to slow up a little bit after 70 or 80 laps. Their cars stayed with it.
“Hopefully, mine will be the same. So it’ll be up to me to turn the wheel in the right direction,” McGriff said with a chuckle. “But I’ll be okay. When I get my helmet on, they won’t know who’s in there. They won’t know whether I’m 90 or 22. They’ll be wondering who was in the car by the end of the race.”
McGriff – who holds numerous K&N West records – has accumulated 35 wins, 37 poles, 98 top fives, 144 top 10s, in 266 races on the circuit during a career that dates back to the first year of the series in 1954. He holds the mark as the oldest winner in the series, with his last victory coming at the age of 61. His last series start was on the road course of Sonoma (California) Raceway in 2012 at the age of 84.
McAnally says he is looking forward to teaming up, again, with the NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee.
“I was extremely privileged to be associated with one of the 50 Greatest Drivers In NASCAR, when Hershel drove for us in 2001,” McAnally said. “It’s great to have him back, as he returns to the series for this event.
“We appreciate Michael Gaughan and the South Point Hotel & Casino coming on board to be a part of this,” McAnally said. “Michael and I were partners in 2001; when his son, Brendan, and Hershel were teammates. We had some great times and a lot of success that year, and it will be great to get together again.”
McGriff’s return to competition at Tucson will involve some members of his family who are well known in the racing industry. Pitching in to help on the car will be his son, Hershel McGriff Jr.; his son-in-law, Tex Powell; and another son-in-law, Chuck Bown.
The Tucson event will be a busy night for the family – with McGriff’s granddaughter, Mariah McGriff, competing in a Super Late Model division race and Hershel Jr., competing in an Outlaw Late Model race.
“They will be real busy, but all I have to do is get in and drive it,” the elder McGriff said.
McGriff grew up in Sioux Fall, South Dakota and began racing stock cars at the age of 17 after his family moved to Portland, Oregon. He borrowed his father’s car to compete in a race at Portland Speedway in September of 1945.
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.
That same year, France invited McGriff to compete in the first Southern 500 race at Darlington Raceway in South Carolina. After driving his car cross-country, McGriff raced it to a ninth-place finish and then drove it home to Portland.
McGriff’s venture into what is now known as the Monster Energy NASCAR Cup Series was most extensive in 1954, when he raced in 24 of 37 events. He netted four wins and finished sixth in the final point standings. He is also credited with winning five pole positions in NASCAR’s premier division.
Rather than pursue a full-time racing effort, McGriff opted to return home to Portland the following season to focus on his family and a lumber business. He was basically away from racing from 1955 until getting involved again in 1967.
McGriff was always a fan favorite in the sport, reflected in the record 12 consecutive years – from 1981 to 1992 – that he was named as the Most Popular Driver in what was then the NASCAR Winston West Series. He won the series championship in 1986.
In addition to competing at tracks across the country, McGriff raced a NASCAR stock car in the 24 Hours of LeMans in France, and also competed in Australia and Japan.
He was named as one of the 50 Greatest Drivers in NASCAR in 1998 and was also awarded the NASCAR Award of Excellence. He was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America in 2006, was among the inaugural class inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame in 2002. He was named to the Oregon Sports Hall of Fame and is a NASCAR Hall of Fame nominee.
While some drivers may plan on relaxing the day after the Tucson race, McGriff is too busy to slow down.
“I fly out the next morning to Mount Pocono in Pennsylvania,” he said. “I’m in the Kyle Petty Charity Ride (Across America) for the third year.”
He will miss the first two days, but will meet up with the group to begin the third day and finish out the fundraising motorcycle trip.