MRN's Barney Hall begins journey toward new role
July 05, 2014, David Caraviello, NASCAR.com
RELATED: Photo gallery: Barney Hall through the years | '84 meeting with President Reagan
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DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. -- Barney Hall has always believed there are only three simple things a radio broadcaster needs to do to call a good race -- tell the listener what's happening on the track, cover the pit stops, and make sure everybody knows who's leading.
"If you do those three things, you can't do a bad job," he said. "You really can't."
It's a philosophy that's served Hall well over a broadcasting tenure that's spanned more than half a century, and made him as familiar to NASCAR fans as Dale Earnhardt or Darrell Waltrip. And it's a belief Hall will surely carry with him into the next chapter of his storied career, which will begin following Sunday's Coke Zero 400 at Daytona International Speedway -- the final event he will call from the booth for Motor Racing Network.
"To have been in this stuff for 54 years, I've gotten to know everybody at one time or another," Hall told NASCAR.com. "It's a pretty good feeling to go in that garage and hear somebody at some point go, 'Hey, Barney Hall, how you doing?' That makes you feel good. It really, really does."
Hall isn't going away -- he's transitioning out of the booth and into other projects for MRN, the network he's been with since its founding in 1970. But that doesn't lessen the magnitude of the moment, so significant that NASCAR President Mike Helton announced Hall's plans to competitors in the drivers' meeting on Saturday night.
Hall, who started out at a radio station in western North Carolina, broke into motorsports by what he called "dumb luck" in 1960, when he became the public address announcer at Bristol Motor Speedway. When MRN was founded in 1970, Hall started as a turn announcer before moving into the booth, where he's been a fixture ever since. His impact on the sport's media landscape has been so pronounced, the Squier-Hall Award for NASCAR Media Excellence was co-named for the veteran broadcaster and colleague Ken Squier when it was founded in 2012.
Among race fans, there might not be a more popular media figure than Hall. "I learned a long time ago, listen to the fans," he said. "If you do what makes them happy, you're pretty much OK. If not, ain't nobody happy."
It's perhaps appropriate that Hall's final call comes in the summertime race at Daytona, where 30 years ago this week he called Richard Petty's 200th career victory and chatted with Ronald Reagan, then the first sitting president to attend a NASCAR race. That was a landmark moment for the sport, but Hall's ties to the track's July event are also personal ones, given that this was one of the first races he called in the booth as a broadcaster.
"It started here, more or less," he said. "Some of the best times we've ever had at the network have been in the summertime when you come here to Daytona. It used to be really great when they started the race at 10 o'clock (in the morning) and you'd have the afternoon to stay on the beach. If you’ve got the beach and the race track, you've got a pretty good deal, right there."
Hall looked up at the Daytona Rising project looming above the existing grandstand, and remembered how different it all was when he first came to Daytona more than 50 years ago.
"For one thing, we'd be sitting out in the middle of the bushes right now, because the whole infield, or almost the whole infield, was palmetto bushes and swamp and Lake Lloyd back there," he said. "And two-thirds of this area where they park the cars and trucks and everything, it was just plain ol' Daytona grass back in those days. And we used to swim out there during the Firecracker, go to Lake Lloyd and go swimming. Been a long time ago. We found out somebody turned an alligator loose, and we said, forget that."
According to MRN, Hall will continue to have a large and relevant role at the network once he transitions out of the play-by-play position. He'll be involved in special segments, commercial reads and features. For the past two seasons, MRN has used three announcers in the booth for races in which Hall has worked, and Joe Moore and Jeff Striegle will continue to serve as MRN's co-anchors for the remainder of this year.
What will Sunday's broadcast feel like for Hall?
"Honestly, I don’t know," he said. "I'm sure they’ve probably got some notes on when we came down here, when we did this, all that. It blows your mind to have been here that long, and come out here and look at what's here now as compared to 1959 and '60. Just hard to believe. Technology for calling races has changed probably 50 times. Equipment has become 99 percent bulletproof. There will be a race every now and then when we have a problem, but not many."
Odds are, he'll continue to lean on the principles that have helped guide his stellar career. Of course, speaking live on the air, he's not immune to making a mistake every now and then -- and when he does, fans let him know it. "If as a broadcaster, I say Dale Earnhardt Jr. has 17 wins -- well, maybe he has 18 or 24, and I mean those phones will jump off the hook," he said. "'You tell Barney Hall that Dale Jr. has 18 wins,' or whatever. And nine times out of 10, they're dead on the money."
All these years later, he still enjoys the work. "It's still fun," he said. Even after departing the booth, he'll continue to work for MRN because he can't imagine doing anything different.
"When you walk away from it, I'm sure you'll miss the devil out of it," Hall said. "One thing, I could not go home and sit down and not do anything to begin with anyway. To be here with people that like you and appreciate what you do, it's a lot of fun."
Hall recalled a recent conversation with Petty, with whom the broadcaster is forever linked because of that landmark race at Daytona involving the King and the president the summer of 1984. "I said, 'How much longer are you going to do this?' He said, 'As long as the good Lord lets me,' " Hall said. "When he retires, I'll retire. Fair enough."