Where Are They Now? NASCAR announcer Barney Hall

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(Photo courtesy Motor Racing Network)

A grandfatherly demeanor, a measured and smooth Southern drawl, and an on-air trustworthiness endeared Barney Hall to millions of NASCAR fans for more than five decades.

One of the sport’s most respected and beloved personalities, Hall –  more specifically, his voice – was a welcome guest in homes, businesses and cars everywhere, most notably from 1979 until last July as the lead anchor for Motor Racing Network’s radio broadcasts of the sport.

That voice is now, for the most part, off the air. Hall retired following last July’s Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway, after being diagnosed with early onset Parkinson’s Disease.

The news of Hall’s retirement caught the NASCAR world by surprise, including Dale Earnhardt Jr., who tweeted when he heard the news, “Barney Hall is a legend. Grew up listening to him. Forever grateful.”

Hall remained a consummate professional in his final farewell broadcast.

“I tried to bring back a lot of memories,” he said. “To walk away from it after 54 years was probably the hardest thing I’ve ever done in my life.

“I miss the people really a bunch, especially the people I worked with. I don’t miss the travel or that sort of thing that much, but I do miss the people and the things we did together.”

Longtime NASCAR fans haven’t forgotten Hall, who celebrates his 83rd birthday today. NASCAR Talk caught up with him recently and took a walk down his own personal memory lane.

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Barney Hall interviews NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Allison in 2014. (Photo courtesy MRN)

MRN bills itself as “the Voice of NASCAR.” And for 35 years, Hall was its lead announcer,

Until TV coverage became widespread, Hall was NASCAR’s verbal Picasso, with his words painting pictures of the sights, sounds and scenes of the sport, as well as its triumphs, defeats and tragedies.

Hall was in the booth when the fight between Donnie and Bobby Allison and Cale Yarborough erupted after the 1979 Daytona 500.

He met, interviewed and bantered on air with Presidents Ronald Reagan and George W. Bush.

Hall was there when Dale Earnhardt finally broke a 20-year jinx when he won the 1998 Daytona 500.

Hall also described the wreck that ultimately took Earnhardt’s life.

Even though Parkinson’s Disease occasionally affects his memory, Hall still recalls countless stories – from funny to poignant to sad – that include NASCAR Hall of Famers Richard Petty, David Pearson and Earnhardt.

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Close friends Richard Petty and Barney Hall shown last year. (Photo courtesy MRN)

It was Petty who offered advice when Hall announced his retirement.

“Richard told me two of the hardest things he ever did was, one, climb the mountain to get to the top,” Hall said. “And the other part was the hardest part of (his) whole career, according to Richard, was coming down the mountain on the other side.

“Going up, it’s kind of slow and you lead the thing. All of a sudden, you turn around and you’ve been doing this for 50 years plus. It takes some getting used to.”

And as for Pearson, Hall said he never played favorites with drivers, but his affinity and friendship with the “Silver Fox” has lasted more than half a century.

“We traveled together all the time and David is a pilot and I was, too, so we flew to all the races together,” Hall said. “We could talk about anything in the world. David was something special. He was one of the best. If not the best, certainly one of the top three of all-time in NASCAR, no question about that.

“One thing people probably don’t know is he helped a lot of drivers get a permanent ride at that time. He was a very unassuming guy. He’d help a lot of them. David was the man and he helped out for a long time.”

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No driver had as much an impact upon Hall than Earnhardt. Hall fondly remembers when Earnhardt won the 1998 Daytona 500.

“That would certainly be one of the two or three (race calls) that you look back on as being one that you’ll be talking about for the rest of your life,” Hall said. “When he did finally win and went down pit road, I think everybody that was at the racetrack got on their feet and applauded him.

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Barney Hall, right, with then-future NASCAR Hall of Famers Rusty Wallace (left) and Dale Earnhardt. (Photo courtesy MRN)

“It was amazing to watch the whole pit road, from Turn 4 to Turn 1, everybody out on pit road shaking hands, reaching in the window or whatever. You could see every pit crew member and NASCAR official down there. You looked down and said to yourself, ‘This is going to be a moment in time.’”

The Intimidator also figured in the darkest call of Hall’s career, the day Earnhardt lost his life on the final lap of the 2001 Daytona 500.

“I didn’t know at the time, for the first 10 minutes or so after that accident happened, that it was as serious as it was,” Hall said. “Because to look at it, even today, most of the guys that have been racing for any length of time will tell you that the accident he had … didn’t look that bad. I thought for sure that he’d climb out of the car and walk away.

“I usually had real close contact with one of the NASCAR safety officials up in the tower. We always had a kind of a deal between us that if it was a bad accident, he’d give me a thumbs up (if the driver was OK). But the thumbs up never came to let us know that it was a pretty serious accident.

“When Kenny Schrader jumped out of his car and went over to Dale’s car and then came back, when I looked over to the safety guy, you could see it eye to eye that this was not going to be good.

“It took about two weeks for that to soak in, that we’ve lost him and he’s not here anymore. When I announced my retirement, the one thing I would have wanted was to have him there because he was a close, personal friend. He could cry on my shoulder, and I could cry on his shoulder.

“It still hurts to talk about that thing.”

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Hall also experienced some rather humorous incidents in his career.

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Barney Hall had one of the most memorable and humorous episodes of his career when then-President George W. Bush visited the 2004 Daytona 500. (Photo courtesy Getty Images)

Right near the top was the time he interviewed President George W. Bush before the 2004 Daytona 500.

“President Bush was scheduled to come up into the booth and talk with Joe Moore, my co-anchor, and me about 20 minutes before race time, visit with us and then go back downstairs – but it didn’t happen the way it was supposed to,” Hall said. “Once he got a hold of the mic, he kept on talking.

“He came in and congratulated us for being with MRN and the years we’ve had and all that. We put a headset on him to talk a little bit. He was saying how great it was to be in Daytona and things like that. All of a sudden, I looked up at the booth clock, it was getting close to just about a minute before they were to start the engines on the track. I realized that Mr. Bush wasn’t going to quit talking and go back downstairs. I gave him the cue to (stop) three or four times, but he just stayed there with the headset on.

“Then, when he left the booth, he still had the headset on and the mic was still live. We went to a commercial break, or we thought we did, and one of our guys in one of the turns asked me what was it like talking to the president. One of the other announcers said, ‘He ain’t no Barney Hall.’

“Mr. Bush still had the headset on, pushed the microphone button and said, ‘Boy, you’ve got that right.’ It was a wild moment. It ain’t every day that the president comes into the booth and puts a hammerlock on you when he greeted you, but he enjoyed the heck out of it. He said it was about as much fun as he’s ever had, and he was serious.”

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These days, Hall still lives in his hometown of Elkin, N.C., a town of about 4,000 residents located 75 miles north of Charlotte. It’s the same place that has kept him grounded his whole life.

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Barney Hall began his role as lead NASCAR announcer for MRN in 1979. (Photo courtesy MRN)

“I stay busy just doing a little cleaning up around the house, catching up on a few things like that,” he said. “Other than that, right now I’m not doing a whole lot. I still do a couple things at MRN like a podcast.”

Then, he adds with a laugh, “I’m still alive.”

He also laughs when asked if he knows how many races he called in his career.

“Lord, I wouldn’t have any idea,” Hall said. “I’m not sure I’d want to know such a thing.”

In 2013, the NASCAR Hall of Fame established the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence, which recognizes significant contributions made to the sport by media members. Hall and veteran TV announcer Ken Squier were the inaugural winners of the award named in their honor.

As he reflects back over more than half a century of broadcasting, Hall admits it’s been bittersweet in the few races he’s attended as a spectator since retiring.

“It’s not the same, you feel like you’re out of place sometimes,” he said. “You feel like when they drop that green flag that you should be somewhere, ready to get to work.

“When you see the green flag and the race gets underway and you’re standing on pit road, it puts a pretty tough feeling in the pit of your stomach to know that I used to do this almost every weekend.”

Then, he added wistfully, “But those days are over.”

Follow @JerryBonkowski

Dr. Diandra: Strategies in making Clash picks

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Crew chiefs must develop their approach to today’s Busch Light Clash at the Coliseum using only last year’s data, plus this year’s practice and qualifying.

Fans wagering (for fun and/or profit) must contend with the same lack of data as they make their Clash picks.

The shortest regular-season track is a half mile. A quarter-mile track is a different beast, even with a year’s worth of Next Gen experience.

“Last year everything was brand-new – the track, the format and the car,” Alan Gustafson, crew chief for Chase Elliott, said in a team release. “We’ll have a little bit better of an idea of what we’re going for this time around, but the track is so unique that even with going there last year, we’re still learning.”

As are the fans.

There are a few changes to keep in mind as you make your Clash picks.

NASCAR increased the field from 23 cars to 27. With 36 drivers entered, only nine will miss the Clash. Even without points on the line, no one wants to head home before the main event’s green flag.

Last year, equipment failures caused four out of five DNFs in the main race. Expect fewer mechanical issues this year.

But perhaps more aggression.

Don’t pay too much attention to practice

Last year’s practice times showed no correlation with Clash performance. Eventual winner Joey Logano finished practice last year with the 26th fastest lap — also known as the 11th-slowest lap. But he qualified fourth.

This year, despite losing about 40 hp to mufflers, Martin Truex Jr. set a fastest lap of 13.361 seconds. Truex’s lap beats last year’s best practice lap time of 13.455 seconds, set by Chase Elliott.

Although only seven-tenths of a second separate the fastest practice lap and the slowest, the change is far from linear.

A graph showing practice times for the Busch Light Clash field

  • The top 11 drivers are separated by just 0.048 seconds out of a 13- to 14-second lap
  • Brad Keselowski, who didn’t make the race last year, had the third slowest practice time.
  • Tyler Reddick ran the most total practice laps with 117. He was followed by Kevin Harvick (116), and Noah Gragson and Ricky Stenhouse Jr., both of whom made 115 laps.
  • Most drivers ran their best times in their first or second session. Austin Dillon, however, ran his best time on lap 109 of 112.
  • The top three in practice also had the three best 10-lap averages.

Qualifying is the key to good Clash picks

Last year, qualifying position correlated well with driver finish in the Clash. If your driver qualified on the front two rows for his heat race, last year’s results suggest that the only thing keeping him from making tonight’s Clash is an accident or mechanical failure.

That’s bad news for Ty Gibbs, who wasn’t allowed to qualify and will start in the back of the field. It’s also a negative for Ryan Blaney, who posted a 40-second lap, however, Blaney has a shot at the provisional and Gibbs doesn’t.

The heat races are only 25 laps, which doesn’t leave much time for passing. Heat race starting position is highly correlated to heat race finishing position.

  • Last year, the pole-sitter for each of the four heat races held the lead for the entire race.
  • Of the 12 drivers starting in the top three for each heat race, nine drivers — 75% — finished in the top three.
  • Only the top-four finishers of each heat race advanced last year. This year, the top five move on. Last year, 16 of the 25 drivers (64%) starting in positions one through five finished in the top five of their heat races.
  • No driver who started a heat race from ninth finished better than sixth. That’s not encouraging news for Blaney and Gibbs, among others.

That means Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron are pretty much guaranteed locks for a good starting spot in the Clash.

The 20 drivers who qualified in the top five for their heat race have a very high probability of making it through to the main — and of finishing well there.

As was the case last year, practice showed little correlation with qualifying. Martin Truex Jr. qualified 22nd despite posting the best practice time.

The Last Chance Qualifiers

Three drivers from each of the two last chance qualifiers fill out the final rows of the Clash starting grid. Last year, drivers were more aggressive in these 50-lap races than the first four heats.

Again, the closer to the front a driver starts, the better his chance of making the race. Last year, both pole-sitters finished in the top three and advanced.

The last chance qualifiers are long enough for a driver starting in the rear to make it to the front. Last year, Ty Dillon came from 10th place to win the second race. He was subsequently disqualified for jumping the final restart and Harrison Burton, who had started seventh, advanced. If you’re looking for long-shot Clash picks, don’t count the back of the field entirely out.

The Big Show

Last year, the 150-lap main had five lead changes and five cautions.

  • Of last year’s four heat-race winners, two finished in positions one and two, while the other two didn’t finish the race.
  • Of the six drivers who advanced from the last chance qualifiers, none finished higher than A.J. Allmendinger in ninth.
  • Allmendinger tied with Erik Jones for most spots gained. Jones started 16th and finished fourth.
  • Excluding drivers who failed to finish the race, Danial Suárez had the biggest position loss, starting fifth and finishing 14th.

If you want to avoid the frontrunners, you might want to keep an eye on Aric Almirola, who qualified fifth, and had the seventh best 10-lap average run during practice. Austin Dillon didn’t put together a strong 10-lap run, but his team found something in the last minutes of practice that allowed him to go from finishing practice in 22nd to qualifying sixth.

And although Bubba Wallace qualified 16th, he ranked first in runs of 10, 15, 20, 25 and 30 laps. He was second in five-lap speed.

Good luck with your Clash picks!

NASCAR Sunday schedule at Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

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It’s race day for the NASCAR Cup Series.

The Clash at the Coliseum will open the 2023 season for NASCAR on Sunday with the featured 150-lap race scheduled for 8 p.m. ET at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

The field for the non-points race will be set by a series of heat and last chance races Sunday afternoon. The top five finishers in each of four 25-lap heat races will advance to the feature, and the top three finishers in two 50-lap last chance races will join the grid.

Joey Logano won last year’s Clash as it moved from its long-time home at Daytona International Speedway to the Coliseum.

The Cup Series regular season is scheduled to begin Feb. 19 with the Daytona 500.

Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum

Weather

Sunday: Partly cloudy with a high of 64 degrees in the afternoon and no chance of rain. It is expected to be sunny with a high of 62 degrees and a 1% chance of rain at the start of the Clash.

Sunday, Feb. 5

(All times Eastern)

Garage open

  • 11 a.m. Sunday – 12:30 a.m. Monday — Cup Series

Track activity

  • 5 – 5:45 p.m. — Four heat races (25 laps; Fox, Motor Racing Network, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 6:10 – 6:35 p.m. — Two last chance qualifying races (50 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)
  • 8 p.m. — Feature race (150 laps; Fox, MRN, SiriusXM NASCAR Radio)

NASCAR Clash heat race lineups

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley, Kyle Busch, Christopher Bell and William Byron will start on the pole for their heat races Sunday at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum. 

There will be nine cars in each of the four heat races. Here’s a look at each of the those heat races.

Clash heat race starting lineups

Heat 1

This heat has four drivers who did not make last year’s Clash: Alex Bowman, Aric Almirola, Chris Buescher and Ty Dillon. Almirola starts second, Bowman third, Buescher eighth and Dillon ninth. This heat also has defending Clash winner and reigning Cup champion Joey Logano, who starts fifth.

Heat 2

Richard Childress Racing teammates Busch and Austin Dillon start 1-2. This race has five former champions: Busch, Kyle Larson (starting third), Kevin Harvick (fourth), Martin Truex Jr. (fifth) and Chase Elliott (eighth).

Heat 3

Toyota drivers will start first (Bell), second (Denny Hamlin) and fifth (Tyler Reddick). Ryan Blaney starts last in this heat after his fastest qualifying lap was disallowed Saturday.

Heat 4 

Byron will be joined on the front row by AJ Allmendinger in this heat. The second row will have Ross Chastain and Bubba Wallace.

The top five in each heat advances to Sunday night’s Clash. Those not advancing go to one of two last chance qualifying races. The top three in each of those races advances to the Clash. The 27 and final spot in the Clash is reserved for the driver highest in points who has yet to make the field.

Justin Haley tops field in Clash qualifying

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LOS ANGELES — Justin Haley posted the fastest lap in Saturday’s qualifying for the Busch Light Clash at the Los Angeles Memorial Coliseum.

Haley will start the first of four heats on the pole after a lap of 67.099 mph (13.413 seconds). The four heat races will be held Sunday afternoon, followed by two last chance qualifying races and then the Busch Clash on Sunday night.

Clash qualifying results

“I feel pretty confident about where we are,” Haley said. “I’m not sure why we’re so good here.”

The top four qualifiers will start on the pole for their heat race.

Kyle Busch, who was second on the speed chart with a lap of 66.406 mph, will start on the pole for the second heat. That comes in his first race with Richard Childress Racing after having spent the past 15 seasons at Joe Gibbs Racing.

Christopher Bell, third on the speed chart with a lap of 66.328 mph, will start on the pole for the third heat. William Byron, fourth in qualifying with a lap of 66.196 mph, will start on the pole in the fourth heat race.

The pole-sitters for each of the four heat races last year all won their heat. That included Haley, who was third fastest in qualifying last year and won the third heat from the pole.

Ty Gibbs was not allowed to qualify because of unapproved adjustments his team made while making repairs to his car after the door foam caught fire during practice. NASCAR deemed that the Joe Gibbs Racing team made adjustments to the car not directly related to the damage.

Ryan Blaney‘s fastest qualifying lap was disallowed after he stopped the car in Turn 4 and turned it around and to go back to the backstretch and build speed for his final lap. NASCAR disallowed the time from that final lap for the maneuver.

Section 7.8.F of the Cup Rule Book states: “Unless otherwise determined by the Series Managing Director, drivers who encounter a problem during Qualifying will not be permitted to travel counter Race direction.”

The top five finishers in each of the four 25-lap heat races advance to the Clash. The top three in the two 50-lap last chance races move on to the Clash. The final spot in the 27-car field is reserved for the driver highest in points not yet in the field.