CHARLOTTE, N.C. — As NASCAR celebrates its 75th anniversary season, its Hall of Fame inducted three men whose careers collectively spanned from the sport’s beginnings to recent times.
Matt Kenseth, Hershel McGriff and Kirk Shelmerdine were inducted into the NASCAR Hall of Fame on Friday night, becoming the Hall’s 13th class.
Kenseth, 50, won 39 Cup races including two Daytona 500s, and the 2003 series title. He scored 24 victories with what is now RFK Racing and 15 victories with Joe Gibbs Racing. His first Cup start came in 1998. Kenseth drove five races in 1999 and ran full-time from 2000-18. He returned to run most of the 2020 season.
McGriff, 95, ran his first Cup race in 1950 in the inaugural Southern 500 and made his last Cup start in 1993. He won four series races, all in 1954. McGriff finished sixth in the points that season.
Shelmerdine, 64, was a crew chief from 1977-92. He won four Cup titles and 44 races as the crew chief for Dale Earnhardt. They won championships in 1986, ’87, ’90 and ’91. He left his role as crew chief to resume his racing career.
Kenseth opened his speech by thanking the members of the Hall of Fame voting committee, then corrected himself, displaying his dry wit by saying: “I only want to thank the ones that voted for me.”
Kenseth used his speech to thank those for his career, highlighting, among others, car owners Jack Roush and Joe Gibbs and former teammate Mark Martin.
“I am not sure that I would have ever got on Jack’s radar without him,” Kenseth said of Martin. “Mark was a big fan of mine and a big proponent and he certainly helped (crew chief Robbie Reiser) and I get in the door at Roush Racing.”
Kenseth said that was “very intimidated” by Roush when he went to his team but noted Roush did everything he could to help his drivers win.
“Jack, you always treated me with a tremendous amount of respect, which I probably didn’t always deserve,” Kenseth said. “It was a great honor to drive for you.”
Kenseth also noted how he went from one Hall of Fame car owner to another when he moved from Roush’s team to Gibbs’ team.
“Joe Gibbs Racing felt like a family, and I was blessed to be a part of it for five years,” Kenseth said. “I’ll always cherish all the great times we had together. Thanks Coach.”
Shelmerdine strayed from his prepared marks after he was inducted into the Hall of Fame by Dale Earnhardt Jr., saying: “This is cool.”
Shelmerdine highlighted a few individuals key in his career, including car owner Richard Childress and Earnhardt.
Shelmerdine noted that his time in the sport came after the pioneers but when some of the sport’s heroes reigned.
“I’m humbled that my name and picture are on pages beside those of the greats I respect so much, to have the privilege of knowing them and working beside them, traverse that slice of time with them and to have gotten the chance to beat them,” Shelmerdine said.
“And then I was lucky enough to gain the immeasurable honor of being considered one of them. It’s precious to me that all this happened when it did.”
McGriff accepted his honor even though his racing career might not be over. He said that Childress and Bill McAnally both have pledged to provide him a car to race when he turns 100. McGriff quipped: “I hope they both stay healthy.”
McGriff sprinkled humor with history in his speech.
“My speech shouldn’t be too long because most of the people I have thank are dead,” he said.
McGriff noted that his racing career began at age 7 driving a cart “pulled by a goat that I bought from my uncle for $4.”
McGriff twice raced on the Daytona Beach course and noted he was racing against Lee Petty when Richard Petty was “playing in a sandbox.”
Also Friday, NASCAR Senior Advisor Mike Helton was honored with the Landmark Award for outstanding contributions to NASCAR. Helton became the first person outside of the France family to be president of NASCAR in 2000.
The late photographer T. Taylor Warren, whose photo of the finish of the inaugural Daytona 500 in 1959 determined who won that race, was honored with the Squier—Hall Award for NASCAR media excellence. He is the first photojournalist to be honored.
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