I believe Formula 1 driver Graham Hill said it best when he explained what he felt about racing in his eulogy for friend and Formula 1 rival Jim Clark.
“For a driver, the excitement of racing is controlling the car within very fine limits. It’s a great big balancing act, motor racing. It’s having the car broken away and drifting and doing exactly as you want it to do and getting around the corner as quickly as you can, and knowing that you’ve done it, and hoping that it is better than anyone else has done. You are aiming at perfection and never actually getting it. Now and then you say, ‘That’s it. That’s how I want to do that corner. Now beat that, you bastards.’ This is the essence of racing, and at this, Jimmy, in his era, was unsurpassed.”
I was recently honored to be asked by the NASCAR Hall of Fame to be a presenter of the Class of 2023 Membership plaque to my life-long idol, NASCAR’s own legendary Hershel McGriff during the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductions. It was during the three days of ceremonies that I heard other legends of motorsports speak not only of their respect and admiration for Hershel, but of their personal journeys into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
These included such great drivers as Richard Petty, Kyle Petty, Dale Earnhardt Jr., Jeff Gordon, Mark Martin, Ron Hornaday Jr, Richard Childress, Jack Roush, Joe Gibbs, Dale Jarrett, Roger Penske, Matt Kenseth, Kurt Busch, and others. Listening to a group of motorsports legends such as these speak with such admiration and respect for Hershel, I was completely in awe. But the amazing accolades of McGriff didn’t stop with legendary drivers, crew chiefs, car builders and team owners. NASCAR officials and sports broadcasters alike had amazing things to say about him as well.
Something else I found honestly overwhelming was how humble all the speakers were, and how grateful each of them were as they spoke of their families, friends and sponsors, and how they believed they could not have done it without them.
Over three days of brunches, dinners, red carpets, tributes, celebrations and more, including the induction ceremony itself, I heard Hershel share much of his journey that led him to this event and watched him interact with other drivers, fans, and much of his family and friends, all of whom flew in from all over the country to share in this glorious celebration. One of the things I loved most about this whole affair was simply that it was not done posthumously, as is the case of so many other Hall of Famers. Not only did his loved ones get to see the satisfaction of accomplishment on his face as he was showered to accolades of his lifelong accomplishments at age 95, but more importantly Hershel got to see the adoring faces, some with tears, on those who love him unconditionally.
As Hershel gave his eloquent induction speech, hundreds of guests sat spellbound and speechless, or at least until Hershel spun off multiple lines that the best comedians would have paid to use, one of which was when he said, “Bill MacNelly, Richard Childress have both offered me a car for a race when I reach the magic number of 100. And I hope they both stay healthy.” The audience erupted in laughter.
Hershel McGriff is one of the finest diplomats of motorsports, and if there were a hall of fame for speeches, he would be inducted into it as well. It’s easy to see why he’s in the NASCAR Hall of Fame.
So, my question for you is, as a member of NASA, are you a diplomat of motorsports?