The motor racing world lost one of its all-time greats this week — a man from Elkin who gave NASCAR its voice.
Barney Hall passed away late Tuesday night at the age of 83, but not before creating a legacy for NASCAR nobody can ever replicate. Hall, a longtime anchor for the Motor Racing Network, called Elkin his home since his birth, June 24, 1932. While in sixth grade, Hall recalled that his first race he ever attended as a fan was at Jonesville Speedway (now Lila Swaim Park). His ties with the Elkin area remained a constant through the years, as after serving in the Navy for more than four years, Hall began work as a disc jockey for WIFM in 1958.
“It was great for us to have someone like Barney,” said Leon Reece, the former general manager for WIFM. “He liked to keep to himself and do his work.”
During that time, Hall received press releases from NASCAR promoting various races across North Carolina, not realizing they’d ultimately serve as invitations to a lifelong career in America’s No. 1 spectator sport. In his first year with WIFM, Hall had the opportunity to cover a race at Martinsville Speedway in Virginia. With a portable tape recorder in hand, Hall got to work interviewing drivers and began airing them on the station for his race reports, his first interview was with racing and broadcasting legend Buddy Baker.
“Barney was the true voice of NASCAR,” NASCAR #GarageCam host Matthew Dillner said after hearing of Hall’s passing. “Barney has been music in my ears throughout my career while working at NASCAR races. To say he’ll be missed is an understatement. He verbally painted pictures of our sport that captured the imagination of radio listeners across generations!”
Hall called his first Daytona 500 in 1960 and only missed The Great American Race four times over his 54-year career. Additionally, Hall was the first PA announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway, which he often called his home track. Hall joined the Motor Racing Network in 1970 as a turn announcer, and would later become the anchor in 1979. His first race as anchor, the 1979 Daytona 500, is often called the one that put NASCAR in the spotlight. At the conclusion of that race, a fight between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison caught national attention.
From there, Hall’s legacy grew with a conversational style and an ability to paint the picture of high-speed billboards on wheels. He carried those traits through his final race up in the broadcast booth, the Coke Zero 400 in 2014. Hall continued to contribute as an analyst on various programs for MRN up until his passing. He served as a mentor and role model for anyone who wanted to get into broadcasting, many of whom are still calling the shots today.
“The first thing I really cherished about working with Barney was that he was such a professional,” MRN video producer Eric Morse said. “You knew as a race fan if Barney was telling you something, you could trust it.”
Hall was an original member of the NASCAR Hall of Fame Voting Panel, and was honored by the same organization as the co-namesake and inaugural co-recipient of the Squier-Hall Award for Media Excellence. Hall was inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association Hall of Fame in 2007, and received the Myers Brothers Award from that organization in 2009.
His final award came earlier this month, as he was honored by the NMPA with a first place award in the category of “Topic Oriented Feature,” which provided perspective on Daytona Rising, a 29-month renovation of Daytona International Speedway.
After hearing of Hall’s passing, drivers and media members alike took to social media to pay respects for one of NASCAR’s greatest broadcasters. Dale Earnhardt Jr. said on Twitter after Hall’s final race in the booth in 2014 that Hall was a legend, and that he grew up listening to his race calls.
“Barney Hall was a legend. He was the nicest, most genuine and funniest man I’ve ever met,” four-time Sprint Cup Series champion Jeff Gordon said.
“Barney’s impeccable delivery and incredible storytelling skills left an indelible mark on the sport that he so clearly loved,” NASCAR chairman Brian France said in a press release Wednesday. “His legacy remains through an honor that rightly carries his name — the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence. It will remain a constant reminder of the skill and passion that Barney brought to his work.”
Funeral arrangements can be found on page 2 of today’s edition.
Ryan DeCosta can be reached at 336-258-4052 or via Twitter @rsdecosta.