For more than 50 years, Barney Hall was the man who helped fans enjoy stock car racing – and make sense of the chaos that can break out when cars hurtle around a track. An integral part of the Daytona 500 and other iconic races, Hall died Tuesday from complications following a medical procedure.
From the first running of the Daytona 500 in 1959, Hall missed calling the race only four times. He set the tone for covering NASCAR on the Motor Racing Network from the very start, joining MRN in the year of its founding in 1970.
From MRN President David Hyatt:
"In a world that can have its share of egos, Barney's humor and humility kept everyone around him firmly grounded. His smooth and easygoing delivery was the mark by which others were measured. His co-anchor, Joe Moore, once commented that 'Barney was the calming force in the midst of a raging storm and simply by listening to him, you knew there was safe passage through it.'"
Calling Hall "the voice of NASCAR," NASCAR Hall of Fame Executive Director Winston Kelley says, "He was not just a trusted voice to listeners and race fans, he became what many believe is the most trusted journalist in NASCAR by the sport's competitors for decades."
Winston Kelley added, "Whether you met him or not, you felt like you knew him. His easy, conversational delivery made you feel like you were listening to one of your closest friends or relatives tell you a story."
In one of the fastest-moving sports in the world, Hall was revered for navigating any situation — high-speed crashes; confusion in the pits; lead changes; the scramble for the checkered flag – with steady intelligence.
In contrast to the excited style of many TV sports announcers, Hall urged his colleagues to concentrate on being precise and informative. His career was an example of that, and he was credited with guiding younger broadcasters along the same path.
"Just because the cars are going 200 miles per hour, doesn't mean you have to," is the advice Hall gave to many journalists, according to an interview with MRN reporter Alex Hayden in Motor Racing Digest.
As ESPN's NASCAR commentator Alan Bestwick once recalled, "He and I were sitting down one night, and he said, 'Alan, there's nothing wrong with doing things with a little class and a little dignity.' "
Hall called his last full race at Daytona in 2014 – seven years after he had been inducted into the National Motorsports Press Association's Hall of Fame.
In 2012, not only did NASCAR and the NASCAR Hall of Fame announce that they would give a new award for media excellence to Hall (along with another longtime broadcaster, Ken Squier) — they also named the award after the pair.
Hall was a native of Elkin, N.C., a town he called home throughout his life. He first worked in radio after enlisting in the Navy, where he worked with Armed Forces Radio. He then landed a job as a disc jockey for local station WIFM.
"Dumb luck," was how Hall once explained that turn of events:
"I was in a bowling alley... and the manager of the local radio station was on the team I was on. He was just sitting there on the bench, and he said, 'You don't know where a man could get a good radio announcer, do you?'
"And I said, 'Yeah.' He said, 'Where?' I said, 'You're looking at him: me!'
"He said, 'Do you have experience in radio?' and I said, 'Yes sir — which was kind of a fib.' "