Hershel McGriff: The Toughest Drivers to Beat

Hershel McGriff: The Toughest Drivers to Beat

Hershel McGriff raced is first event in 1945 and his last in 2018. In a career that spans eight decades, several moments stand out to McGriff, now 93 years old.

Born on December 14, 1927 in Oregon, his first race came when he was 17 years old, right after World War II ended in 1945, at a half-mile dirt track in Portland, Oregon.

In 1950, McGriff won the first Carrera Panamericana — a race on open roads that stretched along the newly built Pan-American Highway in Mexico. The 2,178-mile event went from the U.S. border at Ciudad Juarez to the Guatemalan border at Ciudad Cuauhtémoc. It was at this event where he met Bill France Sr., founder of NASCAR, who later invited him to compete in the Daytona 500 and Southern 500 at Darlington Raceway.

His most memorable win occurred in 1967, when he beat Ron Grable in a photo finish at Riverside International Raceway in California. It was one of 14 wins McGriff earned at the now-defunct road course.

At age 90, McGriff became the oldest driver to race in a NASCAR touring series event when he started an ARCA Menards Series West event at Arizona’s Tucson Speedway.

With a career spanning from the early years of stock car racing to today, we asked Hershel McGriff who he felt were the toughest drivers to beat.

Hershel McGriff is best known for racing a No. 04, as seen here in 1983 during a NASCAR Cup Series event at Riverside International Raceway in California. Photo Credit: Drew Hierwarter.

Lee Petty

Born: March 14, 1914 | Died: April 5, 2000
Three-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (1954, ’58, ’59) | 54 NASCAR Cup Series wins | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2011)

“Lee was ‘Mr. Consistency’ — an incredible precision driver. We met when I was 26 and Richard was 15. Lee took me in like a son. We used to joke with Richard, telling him I was adopted into the family in case he didn’t turn out to be a good driver. Lee and I ran first and second six races in a row on dirt. He was a good ole Southern gentleman.”

Tim Flock

Born: May 11, 1924 | Died: March 31, 1998
Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (1952, ’55) | 39 NASCAR Cup Series wins | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2014)

Fonty Flock

Born: March 21, 1920 | Died: July 15, 1972
19 NASCAR Cup Series wins

“Fonty was a showman, who wore shorts while racing. Tim was tall and skinny, and carried a monkey with him named ‘Jocko Flocko.’ The monkey actually was the co-driver when Tim won a race at Hickory [Motor Speedway in North Carolina]. They were both solid dirt-trackers because they were moonshine runners. They drove Hudsons. Tim Flock had an 18-win [season in 1955, a] record that stood until Richard Petty broke it [in 1967, with 27 wins].”

Herb Thomas

Born: April 6, 1923 | Died: August 9, 2000
Two-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (1951, ’53) | 48 NASCAR Cup Series wins | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2013)

“Another fast dirt-tracker in a Hudson from [North Carolina]. Herb’s crew chief was Smokey Yunick.  NASCAR had to change the rules because he ran three carburetors and was so fast that he was untouchable.

“He towed one Hudson Hornet with another when I hitched a ride with him to Daytona.  He said ‘nobody better lap me’ — because NASCAR forced him to run one carburetor. I did lap him — and he didn’t offer me a ride back.”

Curtis Turner

Born: April 12, 1924 | Died: October 4, 1970
17 NASCAR Cup Series wins | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2016)

“Curtis was rough and ready, and didn’t care if he hit you as long as he could get by you.

“I ran on Curtis’s team for 17 NASCAR races. A few years later, we were running the half-mile dirt track in Columbia, South Carolina. A chicken farmer gave me a car to race. I stopped to change tires, he didn’t. He was so fast that he was sideways before he got to the turn, lap after lap. He won with worn-out tires. I finished second with new tires.”

Bill Amick

Born: November 16, 1925 | Died: July 15, 1995
1 NASCAR Cup Series win |ARCA Menards Series West champion (1965)

“Bill Amick, younger brother of George, carried on to become one of the best drivers in the Northwest. He was a top driver everywhere — up and down the West Coast, he was a contender.”

Marvin Panch

Born: May 28, 1926 | Died: December 31, 2015
17 NASCAR Cup Series wins | 1961 Daytona 500 winner

“Marvin was aggressive — if you ran in front of him, you had to keep your mind on what you were doing.

“He was a master at running the wall at Oakland Stadium [in California], one of the most treacherous tracks in racing. It was a 5/8-mile, and had incredible 62-degree banking, with a wall on top. Plenty of drivers just looked at the wall and went home.

“Marvin was all about timing — and he was good at it. He came off the wall, got on the left-rear bumper of the car in front of him, and began hitting it with his headlight. Then, he made his move.”

Danny Letner

Born: January 3, 1928 | Died: March 30, 2018
2 NASCAR Cup Series wins

“He was a California star, and one of the most versatile drivers I ever raced with. He was good on dirt, good on pavement, and good anywhere on any track. He won at diverse tracks like Langhorne [Speedway in Pennsylvania], Oakland, and Tucson [Speedway in Arizona].”

Parnelli Jones

Born: August 12, 1933
Indianapolis 500 winner (1963) | USAC Stock Car champion (1964) | Off-Road Motorsports Hall of Fame inductee (1976)

“Parnelli was awesome in the Baja 500 and 1000. I ran against him in off-road racing. He would always find a way to get around you. He even drove through the dirt at Riverside [International Raceway, a paved road course in California] to make a move and complete a pass.”

Richard Petty

Born: July 2, 1937
200 NASCAR Cup Series wins | Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (1964, ’67, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75, ’79 | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2010)

“I consider Richard a good friend and family. I drove one of his cars for 12 races. What can you say about him — just look at his record — he’s Richard Petty. When I was driving one of his cars, I passed him on the last lap of practice. ‘We just don’t do that’ is all he said to me afterward. It was all good. We still ride our three-wheelers together.”

McGriff (left) peaks under Richard Petty (43) at California’s Riverside International Raceway during a NASCAR Cup Series event in 1983. Photo Credit: Drew Hierwarter.

Bobby Allison

Born: December 3, 1937
84 NASCAR Cup Series wins | NASCAR Cup Series champion (1983) | NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2011)

“Bobby was tough to beat. He came to Portland [Oregon] and Yakima [Washington] to race with us. He sold front-end parts and brought a lot of stuff with him — so we all got to know him. If he beat you, he would walk up to you after the race, with a big, ear-to-ear grin on his face. Then he would ask, ‘Where were you? What happened?’

“I got him back at Riverside [International Raceway in California]. Judy’s [Bobby’s wife] luggage didn’t arrive. So, I gave her a T-shirt we were selling — it had a big portrait of my face. Judy was in the pit stall, and Bobby had to see that shirt every time he came in.”

Jack McCoy

Born: March 24, 1938 | Died: April 14, 2009
54 ARCA Menards Series West wins | Two-time ARCA Menards Series West champion (1966, ’73)

“A quiet guy — Jack was very friendly once you got to know him. He was always there to help anyone out. He and Ray Elder were the cleanest drivers — and that counts as being a great competitor. Those guys would help you be fast — they wanted to race you side-by-side to the finish, with the best driver winning by driving a clean race.”

Ray Elder

Born: August 19, 1942 | Died: November 24, 2011
2 NASCAR Cup Series wins | Six-time ARCA Menards Series West champion (1969, ’70, ’71, ’72, ’74, ’75)

“He won races and championships — a clean, steady driver, who just plain drove fast. Probably one of the best dirt races in my memory was at Skagit Speedway [in Alger, Washington], racing Ray lap after lap, trading the lead back and forth. Every lap we knew we had to avoid a big bump in the fourth turn. We went over and under. On the last lap, he caught the bump and I won the race.”

Dale Earnhardt

Born: April 29, 1951 | Died: February 18, 2001
76 NASCAR Cup Series wins | Seven-time NASCAR Cup Series champion (1980, ’86, ’87, ’90, ’91, ’93, ’94) |NASCAR Hall of Fame inductee (2010)

“We had a different relationship — a very good one. I was older and he treated me with respect. That is something I will never forget. When I did not qualify at Phoenix, he offered me his engine. Then he offered me his spare car at Ontario, [California,] with the understanding that if his other car broke, I would give up the ride. It didn’t break and he won the championship. I was out with a carburetor problem, but I was proud to have driven one of his cars.”