NASCAR Hall Election Met With Shock, Tears

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 5 2022

Matt Kenseth was elected into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Wednesday. (RacinToday/HHP file photo by Ashley R Dickerson)

By Deb Williams | Senior Writer

CHARLOTTE, N.C. – Three NASCAR champions representing as many different states were announced Wednesday as the 2023 inductees into the NASCAR Hall of Fame.

Selected for induction into the Hall of Fame on Jan. 20, 2023, were 2003 NASCAR Cup champion Matt Kenseth, four-time NASCAR Cup champion crew chief Kirk Shelmerdine and 1986 NASCAR West champion Hershel McGriff.

None of the three were present for the announcement. Kenseth and Shelmerdine were handling at-home activities while the 94-year-old McGriff was riding his motorcycle on the Kyle Petty Charity Ride. All three expressed shock at their selection, but McGriff was the only one who was overcome with emotion, choking back tears at the beginning of his teleconference interview, saying he was “really happy”.

Kenseth, the youngest of the inductees at age 50, admitted he was surprised at his selection the first year he was on the ballot.

“I’m really grateful for everything this sport has done for me,” said Kenseth, a Cambridge, Wis., native, who recently competed in the Boston Marathon. “There’s really never one person, or one big break or one crew member, it’s a combination of all of it. My racing career is like a ladder and every rung on that ladder is of equal importance or I would have never gotten to the top of that ladder.”

Kenseth worked on his father’s race car at age 13 and three years later competed in his first race with a 1981 Camaro in Columbus, Wis. It wasn’t until the 2020 Cup season that he realized he was at the end of his professional racing career. Due to that realization, Kenseth said “it’s not a weird feeling” to be entering the NASCAR Hall of Fame at his age.  

“A couple of years ago it would be a little bit weird feeling because you guys are telling me that I’m done and I don’t feel like I’m done,” Kenseth said. “I know I’m young compared to a lot of people who go in there, but I do feel like my career is behind me.”   

Shelmerdine, who has been on the ballot for three years, said he thought his selection would eventually occur, but not this year.

“I’m still sorta in shock,” the 64-year-old Philadelphia native said about being informed of his selection. “I figured there were a whole lot of other deserving names in that group. I just figured it would be a few more years before it happened. There are some awfully big names to be rubbing shoulders with. I’m happy, surprised and honored. It’s always been a surreal thing for me to be in the middle of all these legends.” 

Shelmerdine was the crew chief for four of Dale Earnhardt’s seven championships. The Richard Childress Racing crew he oversaw was initially known as the “Junkyard Dogs” and then became the “Flying Aces” when Earnhardt’s sponsor switched from Wrangler to GM Goodwrench. He said none of the crew members felt overshadowed by Earnhardt because they were all on the same team. 

“Everybody fit together. Everybody had their role,” Shelmerdine said. “We were each separate people that you probably would never hear of other than the group name. All of the tumblers just fit together.

“I think Bill Brodrick (who was with UNOCAL) invented the name (Junkyard Dogs). They did a photo shoot thing for UNOCAL and they came up with that name.”

Shelmerdine said when he left RCR to pursue a driving career he was “pretty much worn out.”

“Things were needing to change big time and I concluded at the time that maybe I was part of that change that needed to happen,” Shelmerdine explained.    

McGriff, who competed in the inaugural Southern 500 in 1950, had been on the ballot for seven years. He continued to race until age 90, making his career the longest in NASCAR history. 

“Racing has always been in me,” said McGriff, from Brial Veil, Ore. “I just always loved the sport.” 

For the first time since 2019, the NASCAR Hall of Fame voting panel met Wednesday in an in-person closed session at the Charlotte Convention Center to debate and vote upon the 15 nominees for the 2023 induction class and the five nominees for the Landmark Award. 

Ten nominees appeared on the Modern Era ballot, which was selected by the traditional nominating committee. The same committee selected the five Landmark Award nominees. The Pioneer ballot, which included five nominees whose careers began in 1963 or earlier, was selected by the honors committee. Beginning with the 2021 class, each Hall of Fame class features two inductees from the Modern Era ballot and one from the Pioneer ballot. 

Kenseth received 69 percent of the Modern Era ballot votes. Shelmerdine 52 percent. Harry Hyde finished third, followed by Neil Bonnett and Harry Gant. McGriff received 31 percent of the Pioneer ballot votes. A.J. Foyt finished second. Results for the NASCAR.com fan vote were Foyt, Kenseth and Gant. In all, 61 votes were cast.  


Driver Career Bios:

Hershel McGriff

McGriff’s 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 victories – 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.

Matt Kenseth

In 18 full-time seasons, Kenseth conquered 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 him for 21st on the all-time list and include victories 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. Even 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.

Kirk Shelmerdine

Not many reach the pinnacle of their professions as quickly as Shelmerdine. 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. Shelmerdine won four 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. 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.



| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Thursday, May 5 2022
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