Ninety-year-old Hershel McGriff may have finished in last place among 18 drivers in the K&N Pro Series West event at the Tucson Speedway in Arizona. But it didn’t matter. He achieved a personal victory Saturday night by becoming the oldest driver ever to compete in a NASCAR-sanctioned race.
In front of more than 6,000 fans, the Green Valley, Ariz., resident raced until the end, finishing six laps behind the winner, 17-year-old Kody Vanderwal. In doing so, McGriff broke a record he last set in 2012, when he was 84. McGriff’s son, Hershel Jr., and granddaughter, Mariah, also were on hand Saturday, competing in separate races at the Tucson Speedway.
NASCAR has no maximum age rule, but drivers do have to pass a physical. Not a problem for McGriff. Following a stress test, he was medically cleared to race.
Oddly enough, McGriff was apparently more nervous about playing the national anthem on his trombone before the event than he was driving on the track.
“Instead of racing young kids at 120 miles per hour, he’s more nervous about playing his trombone,” Tucson Speedway President John Lashley told the Arizona Daily Star. “He’s just wound different than you and me.”
McGriff’s career stretches back all the way to 1950 when he won the Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico, the first victory of his career. Between 1954 and 2002, he racked up 27 wins in 233 tries. In 1989, he became the oldest driver to win a major NASCAR series race at age 61. In 1998, he was named one of NASCAR’s 50 Greatest Drivers. He's continued to race on and off since retiring in 2002 at the age of 74.
“I’ve had a great life. I wouldn’t backtrack for anything. I have family that’s with me and behind me, so it’s great,” McGriff told the Tucson Star.
Also proving that age is just a number is Tom Watson who, at 68, became the oldest winner of the Masters Par 3 Contest last month. The event also featured fellow legends Jack Nicklaus, 78, and Gary Player, 82. The previous record holder was Sam Snead, who nabbed the crown at age 62 in 1974.