Thursday, June 23, 2016

5/16/93: Hershel McGriff bests own record as NASCAR’s oldest last-place finisher; Interview with K&N Pro Series West point leader Todd Gilliland

SOURCE: UMI Publications
On May 16, 1993, Hershel McGriff picked up the 4th last-place finish of his NASCAR Winston Cup Series career in the Save Mart Supermarkets 300 at the Sears Point International Raceway when his #04 J.T. Carriers Chevrolet fell out with a blown engine after he completed 27 of 74 laps.

The finish, which came in McGriff’s 87th series start, was his first since June 10, 1990, when at the same Sonoma track his #04 U.S. Bank Pontiac lost an engine after two laps of the Banquet Frozen Foods 300.  The 1990 race was also the most recent time the #04 finished last in Cup competition.

McGriff’s accomplishments and longevity in the sport of stock car racing are truly the stuff of legends.  His first race in 1945 was barely a month after the end of World War II and three years before the founding of NASCAR.  In 1950, when he was just 22, McGriff made his Cup debut in the inaugural Southern 500 at Darlington.  His Oldsmobile started 44th in a field of 75 and came home an impressive 9th.  He’d been invited to run the event by Bill France, Sr. himself, who saw McGriff win the first Carrera Panamericana on Mexico’s new Pan-American Highway.

In 1954, McGriff drove for Frank Christian, a driver turned owner who nearly won the 1951 championship with Bob Flock.  Running just 24 of the season’s 37 races, McGriff racked up four victories, three of them from the pole, including one at North Wilkesboro.  An offer then came to drive for Carl Kiekhafer, who with factory support from Chrysler was about to create one of the most dominant multi-car teams in NASCAR history.  McGriff passed on the offer and spent more than a decade off the track, returning to his home in Oregon to tend to his timber business.

In 1968, already 40 years old, McGriff returned to racing, running a three-race stint in the Pacific Coast Late Model Division (known today the K&N Pro Series West).  It was in this series that McGriff saw his greatest success, scoring 33 victories and the 1986 championship.  Curiously, the 1986 season wasn’t his most dominant - he racked up 12 of 30 wins in 1972, but ranked just 2nd in the standings behind Ray Elder.

The rest of McGriff’s career would favor this west coast series over Cup, crossing over in the “companion races” where Cup competed on the west coast.  The lion’s share of these “companion races” came at the old Riverside International Raceway in southern California, where he made 33 of his 87 career Cup starts, scoring eight Top Tens and a career-best 5th in 1972.  McGriff’s career spanned such a long period that he was the only driver in the final Riverside race in 1988 who also started NASCAR’s first road course race at the Linden Airfield in 1954.

Riverside closed its doors after the 1988 season, and the Sears Point International Raceway secured its mid-summer spot on the Cup calendar the following year.  Five of McGriff’s final six Cup starts came on the Sonoma road course, starting with a sparkling 14th in the 1989 inaugural when he was 61 years young.  McGriff was fielding his own cars by that point, carrying his West series sponsor U.S. Bank on his white and blue Pontiacs.  Bob Lipseia fielded McGriff’s #04 in 1990 and 1991, then John Strauser in 1992 and 1993.  In 1994, Strauser would go on to enter the #50 Tyson Foods Chevrolet driven by Mike Chase that bested McGriff and the other 13 West Series competitors for the final starting spot in the inaugural Brickyard 400.

Back at Sonoma in 1993, McGriff qualified 42nd in the field of 43, besting only fellow West Series competitor Rick Carelli in his #37 Chesrown Auto Group Chevrolet.  Both bested six other West competitors who made up the entirety of the DNQ list.  Sent home were owner-driver Rick Scribner, who made the 1992 race; 1991 Sonoma last-placer R.K. Smith; fellow series veteran Jack Sellers, who changed his car number from 44 to 48 to match his age; Tony Hunt, husband of Hunt’s Race World shop owner Jeanie Hunt; Scott Gaylord in Jimmy Means’ #52 Pontiac; and future Brickyard 400 DNQ Wayne Jacks.

While Carelli went on to finish 21st, McGriff puled behind the wall after 27 laps, taking the spot from four-time West Series champion Bill Schmitt, who wrecked on Lap 9.  Schmitt finished 31st that afternoon, passing fellow series racer Jeff Davis, whose #81 Van-K Karting Wheels Ford wrecked on Lap 49.  41st-place Bobby Hillin, Jr. wound up the lowest-finishing Cup Series regular when his #90 Heilig-Meyers Ford fielded by Donlavey Racing felt something break in the rear end after 57 circuits.  Also out that lap was 5th-place starter Mark Martin, whose fleet Valvoline Ford had the same issue as Hillin.  Rounding out the group was third-year driver Ted Musgrave, whose #55 Jasper Engines Ford tangled with Butch Gilliland (father of David and grandfather of Todd) on Lap 54.  Musgrave managed to finish under power, thirteen laps behind.

At 65 years, 5 months, and 2 days, McGriff set a record that day in 1993 for the oldest driver to finish last in Cup Series history, beating his own previous record of 62 years, 5 months, and 27 days from the 1990 race.  It was to be McGriff’s final Cup start.  McGriff’s record would stand for more than two decades.  It was passed on March 2, 2014, when Morgan Shepherd parked at Phoenix at 72 years, 4 months, and 18 days.  The all-time record across NASCAR’s top three divisions still belongs to James Harvey Hylton, who on May 6, 2011 trailed an XFINITY Series race at Darlington at 76 years, 8 months, and 10 days.  Hylton last ran stock cars in ARCA, where he retired on October 4, 2013 at 78 years, 1 month, and 10 days.

Hylton’s career lasted longer than McGriff’s, but by then the Oregonian had extended another record.  On June 23, 2012, McGriff returned to the Sonoma Raceway to run the K&N Pro Series West event, the Pick-N-Pull Racing To Stop Hunger 200.  At 84 years, 6 months, and 9 days, McGriff climbed back in the #04 and came home an impressive 18th in a field of 30.


On the complete other side of the age spectrum, 16-year-old Todd Gilliland, the youngest winner in ARCA Racing Series history, talked about how veterans like McGriff have helped rookies like him on the track:

“I think that variety is what makes (the K&N Pro Series West) so tough.  Some of these veterans of the series have been to all these tracks a lot and those are the people you can follow and learn a ton in just a couple laps.  Some of the younger guys you’re out there with are making some of the same mistakes and those are people I’ve raced against since I was five years old in the quarter midgets.  So, it’s cool to move up with all those younger guys and learn with them.”

Gilliland, the current K&N Pro Series West point leader, will make his first road course start at the Sonoma Raceway this Saturday.  He’s the third generation in his family to do so.  Todd’s grandfather Butch Gilliland won two straight races at Sonoma in 1996 and 1997, and followed the latter up with the series championship.  His father David Gilliland, who currently runs the #35 for Front Row Motorsports part-time in Sprint Cup, scored two K&N wins of his own in 2007 and 2012.  Both Butch and David also made their Cup debuts at the track: Butch in 1990 and David in 2006 following his breakthrough XFINITY Series win at Kentucky.  Both have been a tremendous help getting Todd ready for his track debut:

“We watched a bunch of videos of (David) out here and also my grandpa, so it’s crazy to hear all the history about my family in the K&N Series on the west coast going to all these tracks.  He’s definitely been a big help thus far and I’m sure he’s gonna continue to be a big help.  He’s helped me a lot and I can’t wait to get out on track.”

Todd Gilliland drives for veteran race team Bill MacAnally Racing (BMR) based out of Roseville, California.  BMR will enter four cars in this Saturday’s Chevy’s Fresh Mex 200.  Joining Gilliland’s #16 NAPA Auto Parts Toyota are fellow rookies Riley Herbst in the #19 NOS Energy Drink Toyota, Julia Landauer in the #54 Curb Records Toyota, and defending series champion Chris Eggleston in the #50 NAPA Filters / H2O Fire Protection Toyota.

*The #04 would not finish last in a Cup Series race again until June 21, 2009, when P.J. Jones’ Jim Beam / Menards Toyota lost the power steering after 2 laps of the Toyota / Save Mart 350, also at Sonoma.

43) #04-Hershel McGriff / 27 laps / engine
42) #81-Jeff Davis / 46 laps / crash
41) #90-Bobby Hillin, Jr. / 57 laps / rear end
40) #6-Mark Martin / 57 laps / rear end
39) #55-Ted Musgrave / 61 laps / running

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