Barney Hall’s first NASCAR race as a reporter could have have been his last.
It happened around 1960 when Hall was working as a disc jockey at a small radio station in Elkin, the town he called home for a lifetime.
The station manager at WIFM thrust a tape recorder into Hall’s hands and said, “Barney, go over to Martinsville Speedway and interview some drivers. We’ll use what they say to spice up our broadcast of the race Sunday.”
Hall accepted the assignment. He eagerly approached the first driver he saw along pit road, strapping 6-foot-5 Buddy Baker.
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“Well, I was a bit nervous and I stammered out a question,” Hall recounted years later. “Buddy answered in what I thought was a funny fashion, which was with a bit of a lisp. I figured he was putting me on.
“So when I asked my next question, I did it with a lisp.
“Buddy’s faced turned into a red, furious mask and he said, ‘Why you little squirt, I ought to mop up this track with you!’
“Buddy, I found out, had a natural lisp and he thought I was making fun of him. He was not amused. He was nearly a foot taller than me and outweighed me by more than a hundred pounds. I quickly apologized and got the heck away from him.”
I doubt Barney was very scared because he had experienced far hairier situations as a Navy radioman on a carrier-based jet fighter-bomber during the Korean War.
Despite the daunting experience with Baker, Hall persevered that day as a motorsports reporter. And he continued to do so for more than the next half-century.
Baker, who died in September, was “The Gentle Giant” of NASCAR. Barney Hall became its broadcasting giant as the much-admired, highly professional anchor of Motor Racing Network, his radio home for 45 Cup Series seasons.
Hall passed away Tuesday at age 83. Karen Carrier, the love of his life for 35 years, was at his side. He died of complications from a medical procedure.
“Barney Hall was the true voice of NASCAR,” said MRN president David Hiatt.
“Barn,” as I called my friend, retired after calling the Firecracker 400 on July 6, 2014, at Daytona International Speedway. NASCAR honored him, along with TV motorsports pioneer Ken Squier, by creating a media award in their names. The Squier Hall Award is presented annually during NASCAR Hall of Fame induction ceremonies in Charlotte.
Winston Kelley, the hall of fame’s director and a “teammate” of Hall’s at MRN, has called Barney “the most trusted man in racing” for decades.
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I second that nomination.
Hall was more than a measured, knowledgeable voice extolling the exploits of the drivers and their teams. He was a confidant and adviser to many of them. And a matchmaker. Over the years he was a behind the scenes go-between that led to numerous driver/team owner/crew chief matchups.
Hall is survived by Ms. Carrier and several nieces and nephews. Visitation is Thursday 6-8 p.m and again noon-2 p.m. Friday at First Baptist Church in Jonesville. The funeral will follow Friday at 2 and burial will be in Crestwood Memorial Gardens with full military honors.
Hall counted Hall of Famers David Pearson and Junior Johnson among his closest friends.
Through the years Barney liked to aim good-natured barbs both on radio and as a track announcer at favorite foils. One of his frequent targets was the late Harold Kinder, a NASCAR flagman from Mint Hill.
Once, during a break in Southern 500 practice at Darlington Raceway, Kinder came down from the flagstand to visit a port-a-potty directly across the start/finish line behind pit road. As Kinder emerged, buckling his belt, Barney said in mock excitement over the P.A. system to a packed grandstand, “Folks, our flagman Harold just came out of the john, let’s welcome him back from his fan club meeting.”
The crowd roared and Kinder went to his knees in embarrassment right in the middle of the track.
I know of several fans who through the years watched races on TV with the sound muted while listening to MRN in order to hear Barney Hall.
That voice is silent now, and its equal in NASCAR might never be heard again.