NASCAR Hall of Fame, Charlotte, NC — January 21, 2023
NASCAR royalty strolled the red carpet last night for the annual Hall of Fame inductions at the sport’s shrine in downtown Charlotte. King Richard Petty, Dale Jarrett, Jeff Gordon, and Dale Earnhardt Jr. were among the Hall’s members who attended to fete this year’s three new inductees.
Drivers Matt Kenseth and Hershel McGriff, along with crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine entered the elite company of NASCAR’s most honored society.
Matt Kenseth — Cup Series Champion
Over 18 full-time seasons, Kenseth quietly filled his trophy cases, conquering every major milestone on the Cup Series schedule, including two Daytona 500s, the Southern 500, Coca-Cola 600, and the All-Star Race. His 39 Cup wins tie for 21st on the all-time list and includes wins at 19 of the 23 tracks at which he competed more than once.
His crowning achievement was his 2003 Cup Series championship, a thoroughly impressive season in which he led the points standings for the final 32 weeks of the season. And though he ‘only’ captured that one title, Kenseth was consistently in championship contention – he made the Playoffs in 13 of 14 seasons and finished runner-up twice.
Success came early to the 2000 Cup Series Rookie of the Year. He finished sixth in his first Cup Series start and finished runner-up in the standings in his first Xfinity Series season. Kenseth has 29 career Xfinity wins, eighth-best all-time.
Hershel McGriff — 68 Years Start to Finish
His first race was the 1950 Southern 500, in the NASCAR Cup Series’ sophomore season, at the age of 22.
His final NASCAR race was at Tucson Speedway in the NASCAR Pro Series West – in 2018 at the age of 90.
McGriff started 85 races in parts of 28 NASCAR Cup Series seasons, capturing four wins – all in 1954 when he finished sixth in championship points.
But McGriff was one of the best drivers in what is now known as the ARCA Menards Series West. Competing in parts of 35 seasons, McGriff won 37 races, good for third on the all-time West Series wins list.
His signature year came in 1986 when he won the series title, part of a string of 10 consecutive seasons with finishes in the top 10 of championship points.
In 1998, McGriff was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers.
Kirk Shelmerdine — Four-Time Cup Series Champion Crew Chief
At age 25 in 1983, Shelmerdine guided Ricky Rudd to victory at Riverside, the first of two wins during that season. And a scant three years later, he directed Dale Earnhardt to the 1986 Cup Series championship.
More than a flash in the pan, Shelmerdine won four total Cup Series championships with Earnhardt (1986, ’87, ’90, ’91). Over his 16-year crew chief career with Earnhardt, Rudd, James Hylton, and Richard Childress, he won 46 races and posted top-10 finishes in more than half his starts.
In 1987, Shelmerdine won 11 races with Earnhardt, including four in a row and six of seven.
Shelmerdine retired from life as a crew chief in 1992 to pursue a career as a driver. In the cockpit, he made 41 starts across all three NASCAR national series.
While NASCAR provided the bios, the three men talked about their life experiences in acceptance speeches and in the media room after the glamour of the festivities subsided.
At last year’s induction ceremony, another of the early pioneers of the sport, Red Farmer, related a fishing story where it was revealed his secret for catching bass was coating the lure with Preparation H.
Hershel McGriff was asked if he had any fishing stories to share. Indeed he did. As a young man 16-17 years of age, McGriff took a job on a tuna fishing boat. During World War Two, marine traffic near the west coast navigated without lights. On what turned out to be the last night of the war, McGriff was piloting the 36-foot vessel with the boat owner asleep on the floor of the cabin.
They were run over by a victory ship, also cruising without lights. McGriff survived by climbing on top of a floating box from their destroyed boat. Unfortunately, waves tossed the box rolling it side-over-side and dousing McGriff with every swell. Grabbing a long beam floating nearby, he was able to stabilize the box and cling to it until the victory ship circled back with its lights ablaze to see what they had struck.
McGriff insists he has not been fishing since.
Matt Kenseth talked about getting the break that launched his career. Bitter rival Robbie Reiser had battled Kenseth for years on Wisconsin’s short tracks and venues throughout the midwest. Reiser stopped driving and formed a NASCAR Busch Series team where he was the crew chief. When the team’s driver was sidelined with an injury, Reiser called his former nemesis and asked him to drive the car.
Kenseth agreed. Without a contract, on just a handshake, the pair set out to make history. Kenseth noted he often drove without compensation to keep the team solvent. They built a successful operation that morphed into a Cup Series opportunity for the whole team under the umbrella of Jack Roush’s racing enterprises.
Kirk Shelmerdine’s career as a crew chief was remarkable. One-half of Richard Childress Racing’s starts with Shelmerdine leading the team resulted in top-ten finishes. Add to that four Cup Series Championships with Dale Earnhardt behind the wheel, and they were always the team to beat when the green flag dropped.
Asked how they achieved such dominance. Shelmerdine replied, “The best way to race is to not have to race. Have them covered when you get there.” That’s how “the intimidator” earned his reputation.
Mike Helton Received the Landmark Award
Potential Landmark Award recipients could include competitors or those working in the sport as a member of a racing organization, track facility, race team, sponsor, media partner, or being a general ambassador for the sport through a professional or non-professional role.
Helton was the first person outside the France family to be named NASCAR President (in 2000). He started his leadership career with the sport back in 1980 and now serves as a Senior Advisor To NASCAR.
His nearly five-decade-long career in the sport has been spent in a variety of jobs. He was a track operator at Atlanta Motor Speedway and Talladega Superspeedway and even raced a little himself before joining NASCAR.
During his time as President, Helton cemented NASCAR’s presence in major markets within the United States, as well as Mexico, Canada, and Europe.
His hard work on the competition side of the sport included a push to increase safety standards – something NASCAR took the lead on and continues to revolutionize today. His influence is also seen in the NASCAR Research & Development Center in Concord, N.C. – the first such facility owned and operated by a racing-sanctioning body.
Helton currently serves as a member of the NASCAR Board of Directors as well as the Board of Directors for The NASCAR Foundation.
T. Taylor Warren Honored at Squier-Hall Award Winner
This award, which is celebrated as part of the annual NASCAR Hall of Fame ceremonies, bears the names of the first two award winners: legendary broadcasters Ken Squier and Barney Hall.
Each year, eight nominees will be selected by a panel made up of NASCAR executives, NASCAR Hall of Fame staff, and the president of the National Motorsports Press Association, among others. From there, a Voting Panel will select an annual winner of the Squier-Hall Award. The annual award winner is typically announced in early July, just more than a month after the NASCAR Hall of Fame inductees are announced. Squier-Hall Award winners will remain eligible for NASCAR Hall of Fame induction. Likewise, current and future inductees who made significant contributions as members of the media will be eligible to win the Squier-Hall Award.
T. Taylor Warren is the first photojournalist to win the prestigious award. While he is most noted for capturing the finish line photo of the first Daytona 500 in 1959, Warren covered NASCAR during its early years, capturing many memorable scenes through his camera lens.