Tuesday, July 13, 2010

Hershel McGriff Takes On Chuckwalla Valley Raceway For A Shakedown Run

The Money Shot - "Wheel Up" - This image was captured on July 11, 2010 while Hershel McGriff was taking his first runs in his new 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series campaign car during its first Shakedown Trial held at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CVR). Turns #8, #9, and #10 are a series of curves designed to mimic the challenges posed in the famed "Corkscrew" at Mazda Raceway Laguna Seca. Turn # 9 is an off-camber right, left-hand turn that drops off into the strong right-hand turn #10. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

Hershel McGriff Takes On Chuckwalla Valley Raceway For A Shakedown Run

A funny thing happened on the way to perform a photo shoot of the West Coast Stock Car Hall Of Fame induction ceremony for the class of 2010, held on July 2, 2010 at the AZUSA Greens Golf Club ... I met Hershel McGriff.

Oh sure, Parnelli Jones was sitting at the same table with other presenters, WCSCHOF members, inductees and Master of Ceremony - Vice President/General Manager Iowa Speedway, Craig Armstrong. They were all there to usher in and honor the 7th class of 12 inductees (many posthumously), and the two hour ceremony was truly an honor to just witness ... but I met Hershel McGriff.

We were talking after dinner, before the ceremony and the subject came up about race tracks in the southwest. I told him that I had attended a track opening last April and that this track was very well designed. The track is located between Blythe and Indio off of California Interstate 10, and is called the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CVR). The funny thing was that Herschel then asked me if the track would allow him to make his first shakedown runs in the new car he had put together to compete in the 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series campaign. He mentioned that he was running short on time and it would be of great service to be able to check out the car before he hit the track in Portland to race in the NASCAR K&N Pro Series, Bi-Mart Salute To The Troops "125" event held the weekend of July 17-18, 2010.

Well, I had talked with the President of Chuckwalla Valley Raceway, Micky Grana, back in April. I had also met his wife Aimee and so I figured, why not? Just give it a go!

Micky was gracious enough to have a conversation with Hershel and they put together a time this last Sunday, July 11, 2010 at 7:00 am PT.

When I rolled into the paddock area around 7:15 a.m., the McGriff family was already there with the car rolled out of the trailer transporter, Hershel was suited up in the cockpit, the car was cranking up to start, and it caught the spark and roared to life. Ahhhh the sound of a race engine in a Busch, ahh, er, Nationwide, err, NASCAR K&N Pro Series car (once known as a Winston West Series car).

Hershel took to the track and came back quickly. When he rolled up, he was greeted by the one person who has almost always set up his cars to run over the decades, Hershel McGriff Jr., a credible driver in his own right.

The "Hershels" discuss vibration and possible solutions before the car is put up on jacks. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

McGriff, the senior, complained that there was a front wheel vibration right off the bat as he entered the track so they pulled the car next to the transporter, placed it up on jack stands and went to work on identifying the problem. Herschel Jr., with the assistance of his cart-racing daughter, Mariah, found that at cold, or low tire pressures, the front sway bar's outside bolts stuck out and rubbed the inside wall of the tire.

Shakedown pit captain, Hershel McGriff Jr. and his daughter, Mariah diagnose the problem with the front sway bar. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

After about 30 minutes, the car was ready to resume its Shakedown Trial which it passed with flying colors.

Shakedown pit captain, Hershel McGriff Jr. as he re-shims the front sway bar. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

Inside the McGriff Coach, after the Shakedown, Hershel commented on how he is familiar with the area around Desert Center, California and the Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. He has had a longtime association with Park Corporation which also sponsors his cars. Park Corporation has as part of its business mission the purchase and operation of mining businesses throughout the country.

Hershel talked about the anticipation of being at the Portland event this year. He observed that in 2009 the media crush was very intense due to multiple factors. It was the first NASCAR sanctioned race held at Portland International Raceway since 1986, McGriff had won this last race in 1986 and thus was the defending champion, and at 81 he became the oldest driver ever to race in a sanctioned NASCAR event. ESPN, Associated Press, FOX Sports, and all of the media attention that NASCAR could bring was in the mix ... it is amazing that Hershel had enough time to prepare and finish the race at P13. Some people would say, "Geeeez, from Champion to 13th?, What is that about?" Try asking this of the drivers who had been driving the whole season, every season since 1986 and were only able to finish in 14th, 15th, 16th, 17th, and so on through the field of 27 cars who all came to compete and win.

About the track at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway? Hershel liked the layout and especially liked the dropping "S" turn combination of #11 and #12 after the slow rising straight that follows the mini "Corkscrew". He said that it reminded him a series of turns that he will encounter at Portland next weekend.

Looking back across the track at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway from turn #14 to the long, banked, 180 degree right-hand turn #13 at the southern end of the facility. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

Further, he wished he had more time and less self-imposed restrictions based upon the shakedown trial task at hand because he really wanted to figure out where the best place would be to place the car in the long, banked, 180 degree right-hand turn #13 reminiscent of the long, banked sweeper at the former Riverside International Raceway which he raced on many times throughout his career.

The McGriff family - Hershel, wife Sherrie, Sherrie's daughter-in-law Sharon (Shakedown pit captain, Hershel Junior's wife), granddaughter and future racer Mariah were getting ready to continue on to Portland, Oregon where the next scheduled stop of those riding in the Coach Sunday night was Bakersfield.

Hershel McGriff at the end of a successful Shakedown Trial in his coach parked at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway. Image Credit: Edmund Jenks (2010)

Herschel McGriff at 82, still has the drive and the grace to express a disappointment on not being able to carry enough speed to have his front wheel rise up off of the pavement for a great action photograph of his 2010 NASCAR K&N Pro Series campaign car during the Shakedown Trial at Chuckwalla Valley Raceway (CVR). As one can easily tell, he was even able to deliver on this internal wish (photo evidence at top of posting), in that, he never communicated this desire of his to be able to create a circumstance that would produce such a shot.

Never count Hershel McGriff out once he gets his mind around any goal ... once one meets him and gets to know him on any level, one comes away with the feeling that Hershel may be just the person that could actually deliver on the goal.

... notes from The EDJE

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