I remember sitting on the floor beside my father, typically on Sundays watching various motorsports events like the Indy 500, drag racing or NASCAR races. How I cherished those exciting moments, especially because it was my dad and me doing it together. This marked the early stages of my daydreaming about one day sitting behind the wheel of a racecar. Those daydreams have stayed with me for a lifetime.
In the early stages of this romance with motorsports, as I began my love affair with all things related to racing, karts found a place in my younger teenage years. One of the drivers I began to relate to, primarily because he often was referred to as “a racecar driver from Oregon,” which is where I grew up, was my childhood idol, Hershel McGriff. This connection contributed all the more to my daydreams and hopes that one day I too would become known as a racecar driver from Oregon. It wasn’t long after this fascination that I took some model paint and painted the name “McGriff Special” on my kart. I remember standing back and admiring my handiwork thinking, “Watch me now!”
Life deals us many hands as we grow up, eventually becoming an adult with families of our own, and yet just as often those same childhood dreams live on within us, as alive, fascinating and exciting as they were when we first had them. For those of us who had the racing desire living within us, it never seems to fade away. In fact, it seems to become more fueled each time we watched a race, be it on TV or while attending an actual race. God help us all.
Ironically, while enjoying dinner one evening in San Miguel de Allende, Mexico, with none other than Hershel McGriff and his lovely wife a couple of years after I competed in La Carrera Panamericana — the same race that Hershel won when he was just 19 years old — I learned something I never knew in all my years growing up.
My father was in the lumber business and, unbeknownst to me, so was Hershel. Turns out Hershel and my father had done business with each other, which reinforced the kindred bond I already felt. Upon learning this from Hershel, I was simply overwhelmed. In some strange and yet welcome way, I felt even more of a connection.
Hershel McGriff never ceases to amaze me, let alone thousands of motorsports fans. There isn’t enough room in this column to write his many accolades, but to say he’s done it all pretty much gives a fair assessment of his career. Just to name a few accomplishments, he was the first to win La Carrera Panamericana in 1950, and in doing so became friends with NASCAR founder Bill France Sr. He then raced with NASCAR for four generations, and at LeMans. He’s been inducted into the West Coast Stock Car Hall of Fame, the Motorsports Hall of Fame of America, and the list goes on.
While I was spending the weekend with him during his last race at Sonoma Raceway, we were standing in his hauler when I heard a voice behind me saying “Hey, how ya’ doin’?” I recognized the voice before I even turned around. It was Richard Petty just stopping in to shoot the breeze. He used to build cars for Hershel, and had Hershel not taken 10 years off, he would have beaten Petty’s record.
With all that in mind, you can only imagine how excited I was to be invited to watch the living legend himself compete in a NASCAR race this coming Cinco de Mayo weekend at age 90! Hershel is living proof that racing never gets old nor does the dream of getting behind the wheel.