PORTLAND, Ore. – Ever the gentleman, Hershel McGriff was good-natured about finishing 13th in a NASCAR-sanctioned race at age 81.
"My competition was faster," he deadpanned.
Although he certainly would have taken a victory, McGriff seemed nevertheless pleased with his showing on the road course at Portland International Raceway, part of the NASCAR Camping World West Series.
Jim Inglebright of Fairfield, Calif., won the race, which featured a late caution for a green-white-checkered finish. He edged fellow Californian Greg Pursley, who slipped partially off track on the final turn.
McGriff was the defending champion in Portland winning the only other time the series — then known as Winston West — visited the track in 1986.
The odds were against him before the race started. Although he automatically qualified as one of 26 drivers in a race that had 28 spots, he had to start at the back of the pack and one lap down because of changes he made to the car after the qualifying session. He replaced the carburetor.
"I really didn't have a lot to lose," he said. "I did not want to go out there and flop around."
He certainly didn't, said Ingelbright.
"There were a lot of other cars out there that were a lot slower," the winner said. "He did a great job."
Inglebright suggested that any concerns about an 81-year-old's reaction time in a dangerous sport do not necessarily apply to the youthful McGriff.
"I followed him for a little while and I couldn't get around him," Ingelbright said.
McGriff, who last raced in 2002, broke his own record as the oldest driver.
In a career that has spanned more than six decades, he has four NASCAR Cup series victories —all in the 1954 season — and 37 wins on the West series. He is a member of the Motorsports Hall of Fame.
McGriff, who spent most of his adult life in Oregon but now lives in Arizona, drove in his first race in the family sedan on a dirt track at Portland Speedway in 1945 at age 17. The next year there, with the track newly paved, he won his first race.
In 1950, he won the Pan American Road Race in Mexico and met NASCAR founder Bill France, who invited him to run in the first Southern 500 at Darlington. Over the years, he competed in 85 races on the NASCAR Cup series.
But he eschewed NASCAR's premiere series because he wanted to be closer to his family and business in Oregon, and focused instead on the West series — where he competed in 233 races between 1954 and 2002.
McGriff won the 1986 Winston West championship, was named one of NASCAR's 50 greatest drivers, and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006. He retired from racing twice, first in 1954 and then again in 2002.
He made his last Cup series start at Sonoma in 1993 when he was 65, but did not finish.
McGriff, who hadn't raced in seven years, entered three events this summer. He did not qualify for a June 20 race at Sonoma's Infineon Raceway. He was expected to try and qualify again for an Aug. 1 race in Tooele, Utah.
David Mayhew of Arascadero, Calif., was the polesitter for Sunday's race. His shop put the decals on McGriff's No. 04 Park Corporation Chevrolet.
"It's awesome," Mayhew said of McGriff's accomplishment. "The first time I saw him he was jumping into a seat at the shop and I thought, that guy's not 81 years old," he said.
Pursley, who is from Newhall, Calif., finished in front of Brian Wong of Newport Beach, Calif., on the 1.98-mile road course.