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- McGriff, 95, successfully raced on the West Coast for decades and occasionally competed in the NASCAR Cup Series.
- Kenseth won the Cup Championship in 2003 and has won 39 Cup races.
- Shelmerdine was a standout in the pit lanes of the Cup in the 1980s and 1990s when he managed the crew of Richard Childress Racing and driver Dale Earnhardt.
NASCAR Hall of Fame membership peaked at 61 Friday night with the induction of Matt Kenseth, Kirk Shelmerdine and Hershel McGriff in a ceremony at the Charlotte Convention Center.
McGriff, 95, successfully raced on the West Coast for decades and occasionally competed in the NASCAR Cup Series. He last raced in 2018 at the age of 90 and – apparently – joked on Friday that he would be back on track when he was 100.
McGriff was fortunate to meet NASCAR founder Bill France Jr. in 1950 when they were both competing in the first Pan-American race, a five-day marathon across Mexico. France invited McGriff to venture south to compete in NASCAR, and the Oregon driver made an immediate impression by winning four races in 1954. He had several opportunities to become a regular in the Cup, but decided to stay in Oregon to raise his family and attend to his business interests there.
After his introduction, McGriff shared much of his long life, including driving a hearse, an ambulance, a milk truck, and dump trucks before racing cars.
“My speech shouldn’t be too long because most of the people I want to thank are dead,” McGriff joked.
He said team owners Richard Childress and Bill McAnally offered to build a race car for him when he turns 100. “I hope they both stay healthy,” McGriff said.
Kenseth won the Cup Championship in 2003, winning 39 Cup races and was the near-perfect example of a smart, opportunistic driver who knew the ins and outs of the points race. In his 2003 title season, he won just one race but finished in the top 10 25 times.
Kenseth, whose cup career spanned from 1998 to 2020, won the Daytona 500 twice.
He burst onto the cup scene in September 1998, replacing Bill Elliott at Dover Speedway who missed the race to attend his father’s funeral. Kenseth finished sixth, cementing ideas along the pit lane that he could be a future star.
Shelmerdine was a standout driver in the Cup pit lanes throughout the 1980s and 1990s and managed the crew of Richard Childress Racing as driver Dale Earnhardt won championships in 1986, ’87, ’90 and ’91.
He began his NASCAR career as a crew chief for driver James Hylton’s independent team and later briefly joined DiGard Racing before joining RCR. He won 46 races for the Chevrolet team – 44 with Earnhardt and two with Ricky Rudd.
Shelmerdine called Hylton “one of a kind, a master mechanic-turned-driver who took me from a raw Yankee kid to a decent mechanic in three years.”
Shelmerdine praised Childress as “a good friend and a great leader and like a big brother to me. He gave me leeway to build the car I felt we needed, right or wrong – maybe a bit of both.”
With most of his RCR crew seated at a nearby table, Shelmerdine described them as a “gang of exceptional misfits”. Of Earnhardt, who would win seven championships en route to becoming an inductee in the Hall of Famer, Shelmerdine said, “Sometimes even we thought he was magic.”
Shelmerdine said the racing cars of his day were “stock cars… with big horsepower.” Detroit irons only. Lots of massage, yes, some more than others, but a far cry from what they drive now.”
Also honored Friday night were NASCAR Vice Chairman Mike Helton, who received the Landmark Award for his contributions to NASCAR, and the late photographer T. Taylor Warren, who received the Squier-Hall Award for Excellence in News Media.