Race Weekend Central

Fanning the Flames: Herschel McGriff Scores 1 for NASCAR’s Geritol Gang

Move over, Tom Watson. Herschel McGriff, at 81 years of age, finished 13th in this past weekend’s NASCAR Camping World West race at Portland International Raceway. We’ve all heard about that, right?

But did you realize when and where he made his first career NASCAR start?

The inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington. No joke. The inaugural Southern 500. And he finished ninth.

Let that sink in for a minute, would ya? Then go back and read some of the articles written about McGriff in your spare time. He’s truly a living link to those “good ol’ days” we all wax poetic about around here. The 1986 Winston West champion (it was known as the NASCAR Pacific Coast Late Model Series when he started, back in the 1950s), winner of 37 races on that circuit in 234 starts spanning 34 years, McGriff has truly seen it all. He made 85 Grand National/Cup starts, too, going to victory lane four times – all in 1954.

Yes, I said 1954.

McGriff made 24 of those 85 starts that season and finished sixth in the standings. Throughout the rest of his career, he’d pop in for two, three or four starts per season, mainly when the circuit visited Riverside or another western facility. Choosing to stay racing on the Winston West circuit, he was successful enough to be named as one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers in 1998.

That a driver who competed in the inaugural Southern 500 could suit up today and run 13th in a sanctioned NASCAR race just amazes me to no end. Hell, that an 81-year-old still has the fire in his belly to jump in one of today’s stock cars and go toe-to-toe with a bunch of 20- and 30-somethings amazes me.

McGriff told one publication in the weeks leading up to the race in Portland that, “I’m looking forward to it… I hope I haven’t lost my touch.”

Mr. McGriff, you haven’t lost a thing. Here’s to hoping you have a couple more races in ya.

Q: What’s up with NASCAR dragging Jeremy [Mayfield’s] stepmom into this? That whole deal doesn’t sound reputable to me. Doesn’t even really sound like a stepmom, really. More like someone he had to tolerate. If they wanted to make him look real bad, I guess they did a good job of it. – Anonymous

A: That was NASCAR’s trump card, saved for the Mayfield defense team’s counterclaim following NASCAR’s filing that the court overturn its earlier decision to allow Mayfield back in the sport. NASCAR’s lawyers knew Mayfield’s would fight their latest motion, so by bringing in the woman that was married to Jeremy’s father with some damning statements, NASCAR and its legal team basically countered their argument before it was made.

Q: Matt, with the opening of the NASCAR Hall of Fame coming soon I have hypothetical questions for you regarding Kevin Harvick. Let’s say that Harvick continues to race another nine years, and let’s say he totals the same amount of Cup wins he did in his first nine years in the sport (11). Let’s also suppose that he’ll win another one of the “big races” in that time (he already has won two at Daytona and Indianapolis).

In his first nine years of racing, he hasn’t won a Cup title so, for the sake of argument, we’ll say in his last nine, he won’t win one either. He’ll win a few more races in his own Busch (yes, I still call it the Busch) Series equipment and maybe, as an owner, another Truck title in that time… I know, a lot of question marks.

That being said, he retires from racing at 43 or 44 years of age, amasses 22 or so Cup wins, 40 or so Busch wins, a couple Truck titles as an owner along with his own Truck wins. So my question is, if he replicates the success of the first half of his career… even without a Cup title, do you think Harvick makes it into the Hall of Fame? Thanks. – Adam Dodds

A: This is interesting in that we find ourselves dissecting which active drivers deserve a Hall of Fame nod before we’re even sure what the criteria is. What I mean by that is we’re assuming Harvick gets to 22 career wins. Looking on the all-time list, Terry Labonte is the only driver with 22 (27th all-time). Of course, he has two titles and that may swing HoF consideration in his favor… I guess. Is Texas Terry a Hall of Famer? Honestly, I don’t really know because technically, there are no Hall of Famers yet, so I’m not sure how to handle anyone past Richard Petty, Dale Earnhardt and Bill France.

Maybe Jeff Burton is a better example. For argument’s sake, let’s say Burton retires at season’s end. He has 21 wins (thus far), zero Cups and three “signature wins” in the Coke 600 (1999, ‘01) and the Southern 500 (’99). Do you think Burton is HoF material? (The one glaring difference between the two will be in number of career races started.) Personally, I think his resume still needs a little work.

See also
Voice of Vito: Kevin Harvick's Potential Move to Stewart-Haas Racing Has Long-Lasting Implications

However, with Harvick (whose resume needs work as well) you have the addition of ownership. I think that’s where he could punch his ticket. If KHI blossoms into a legit Cup enterprise that bags a couple titles after Harvick steps out from behind the wheel, I believe his “scope of achievement” could get him in. All things considered, though, I’d like to believe any driver getting in from the modern era would have at least one title in the portfolio. If Harvick doesn’t have that – even with 22 wins (a couple being crown jewels) – he’s not on my card based solely on his on-track achievements.

Q: My man Juan Pablo Montoya is hot, Matthew! And I expect a good run at the Brickyard. Can he maintain? There are seven races left to the Chase. Will he run for a title? Will the equipment hold up? – MontoyaMan

A: He’s certainly making a charge. Montoya hasn’t finished outside of the top 12 since late May in Dover – that’s six straight solid runs. The key for him retaining his spot in the Chase will rely on his showing in the next three events. Indy, Pocono and Watkins Glen are good tracks for the third-year Cupper. If he notches strong runs – top 10s – in those races, he sure is making it a lot easier on himself.

Montoya’s only 36 points up on 13th place in the standings, so any cushion would be a welcome one considering the four-race finish to the regular season. Michigan (average finish: 27.6), Bristol (18.4), Atlanta (24.4) and Richmond (27.8) are obviously not his favorite locales, and that’s where we’re heading after the Glen. I don’t see him making it through that minefield unscathed and honestly he’s not in my Chase as it stands at the midway point. Sorry, bro.

That said, in battling for a Chase slot, I like the strategy his crew chief, Brian Pattie has employed: Keep your eye on the big prize and take the points where you can get ‘em. Don’t do anything stupid to jeopardize that. That’s the way the game is played these days.

And I’ll say this about JPM: He’s fun to follow on Twitter. As I was typing this very paragraph he informed his 11,519 followers that he’d been at the pool with the kids and that the water was a little cold.

I know, I know… I swore I’d never Tweet. “It’s just a fad,” I kept telling myself. “Don’t get swept up.” Yet here I am, @MattTaliaferro, where questions can be submitted for this very column. It’s actually a great place to get NASCAR news. Much more informative than I’d ever imagined. And entertaining.

JPM just hit 11,520. I’m at 24. See ya’ll in Twitterville.

About the author

The Frontstretch Staff is made up of a group of talented men and women spread out all over the United States and Canada. Residing in 15 states throughout the country, plus Ontario, and widely ranging in age, the staff showcases a wide variety of diverse opinions that will keep you coming back for more week in and week out.

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