The word legend in sports is thrown around often, some times deserving, others maybe a little to early. Those that define their craft whether on the field of play or for the ones behind the microphone painting a picture are deserving of the title and never questioned.
Names such as Cosell, Carey, Keith Jackson, Ernie Harwell and Vin Scully qualify without question, but when it comes to the world of NASCAR, one voice reigns supreme: “The Voice”– Barney Hall.
Barney passed away on Tuesday due to complications from a recent medical procedure that he had been enduring for the past couple years. Many said it would take an act of God to get Barney Hall out of the broadcast booth. It was failing health that eventually took him from the spot he occupied for 50 years, but not out of the sport last July following the Coke Zero 400.
Many stories were shared about Barney Hall over his career that saw him make his first call of the Great American Race in 1960. During that span, he only missed four races with the last coming in 2012 which was won by Matt Kenseth.
Drivers, fans, his co-workers at the Motor Racing Network, and every person in the garage knew Barney. In fact, he was called a friend before he was called a colleague. Even some of the best names in radio and TV that cover NASCAR today followed in Barney Hall’s footsteps, including Eli Gold, whose booming voice is almost as recognizable on the football field at the University of Alabama as it is around a race track or with some of the legends to grace a microphone in any other sport.
Gold once told me when sitting at a picnic table outside of the MRN trailer prior to the Truck Series race at Eldora, “I leaned on him (Barney) for all sorts of input, ideas and direction and he was very generous to keep giving it.”
That is a sentiment that you would hear echoed from anyone that ever got a piece of advice from Barney.
The legacy of Barney Hall will be shared in many ways by many people. He touched those that knew him best in ways they have a hard time describing. He had influences on people that he never knew and may have never met. But for those that did get to meet him, even if for just a minute, they left having their lives touched.
It’s not hard to see his reach on fans of the sport and the business of broadcasting and reporting.
In 1994 as I sat in a Mass Communications class, my professor asked each student who in the field of broadcast journalism influenced them the most, and who would they most like to emulate in their careers. Some had pretty basic answers but all were someone that was tops in their field.
I had no question in my mind that when he got to me my answer on both parts was Barney Hall.
From the first moment I cracked a mic at the age of 14, I wanted to one day have the subtle yet strong voice that Barney presented. I wanted to have the magic of turning something that couldn’t be seen into something so majestic that it couldn’t be forgotten, and I told Barney that in the media center at Chicago in 2013.
I approached Barney with the intent on doing something that was considered taboo in the world of NASCAR media–ask for an autograph. I had Barney’s book Tales From Trackside that I was hoping to get signed, so as he was standing picking up the practice sheets. I approached him, introduced myself and said I’m about to ask something that could get me kicked out of here, but it’s worth the risk.
“Could you sign your book?” I asked.
He smiled and said, “Don’t worry, if anyone asks, I was just writing down a few tips and notes for you.”
It was an ice breaker that turned into nearly a 20 minute conversation standing in the back of the Media Center, one that brought about a memory that would last for a lifetime and concrete proof that I wanted my career to emulate his. I asked, “You’ve given a lot of advice to a lot of people so what is the most important thing that trumps all else?”
He said to me, “I’ll give you two. First is slow down, the fans want the cars to go fast, not you.” The second piece of advice was one he wrote down and told me to carry it with me.
“Respect–It’s the hardest thing to earn and the easiest thing to lose.” Simple and powerful. Just like the man himself.
He added in regards to that respect, “If they know I’m being genuine with them, they know they can be genuine with me.”
You’d be hard pressed to look around the NASCAR industry and find someone that wasn’t influenced in some way by Barney. Joe Moore, who worked alongside Barney for some 30 years, said his voice was what drew him in to the sport. The two of them side by side in the booth worked better than pretty much any married couple and as a fan, we always looked forward to hearing those words from the pair of them Joe handing off with “…And for the call, here’s MRN Radio’s, Barney Hall.”
Then that smooth voice leading them down at a constant pace and then just as fast as the cars themselves, ramps it up with that “Green Flag Is In The Air, And We’re Underway At The World Center Of Racing.”
Those couple seconds set race fans all around the world to their feet for 50 plus years.
Barney Hall was a voice that could calm a mob in chaos and brought clarity to what some call “controlled chaos:” NASCAR Racing. His calls added to some of the most memorable moments in the sports history from Richard Petty’s 200th win that fellow radio announcer Doug Rice said on his Facebook page today, “I never got the chance to work with Barney directly, but, He remembered a time driving, “I pulled over to side of the road so I wouldn’t lose the signal and listened to Barney and his MRN team call the finish of the Firecracker 400. That was Richard Petty’s 200th win and a lifelong memory for me.”
Barney Hall was NASCAR to millions of fans over the last half century.
MRN Radio Pit Reporter Alex Hayden said that same day at Eldora, “Every story you’ve ever heard about Barney Hall, I could echo and you could almost run a recording for everyone that talks about him. He’s that genuine of a guy.”
Hayden added it was surreal for him the first time walking through the garage at Daytona as a colleague and that a lifelong friendship had developed from that moment on.
It’s sentiments like these that exploded over social media since the news broke last night from MRN President David Hyatt.
On Twitter today, here are some of the drivers reactions to the passing of Barney Hall.
Thank you Barney. You were a blessing and will be missed.
— Dale Earnhardt Jr. (@DaleJr) January 27, 2016
Barney Hall was a legend. He was the nicest, most genuine and funniest man I’ve ever met! He will be greatly missed.
— Jeff Gordon (@JeffGordonWeb) January 27, 2016
Sad to hear about the passing of Barney Hall. Such a legendary voice and factual commentator for MRN. Thoughts and prayers to his family.
— Kyle Busch (@KyleBusch) January 27, 2016
Very sorry to hear of the passing of Barney Hall. He did so much for the sport. Such a legendary voice.
— Joey Logano (@joeylogano) January 27, 2016
Barney Hall did so much more in our sport than most people realized. He is a legend and will be greatly missed. Thoughts and prayers!!!
— Jeff Burton (@JeffBurton) January 27, 2016
Well said @MRNRadio. He will forever be a part of @NASCAR folklore. May he rest in peace. #BarneyHall
— Kurt Busch (@KurtBusch) January 27, 2016
#BarneyHall, #Nascar’s greatest storyteller. His folksy delivery WAS racing to millions of fans. Very proud to work with such a great talent
— Mike Joy (@mikejoy500) January 27, 2016
No one painted pictures with his words like Barney Hall did. He made me feel like I was there, at the track, right where I wanted to be.
— Michael Waltrip (@mw55) January 27, 2016
Maybe no one said it better than his friend and Executive director of the NASCAR Hall of Fam Winston Kelley.
Barney Hall – the Rembrandt and Picasso of painting a picture of NASCAR. The Hemingway and Twain of telling the story. RIP my dear friend.
— Winston Kelley (@WinstonKelley) January 27, 2016
“The fabric of Barney Hall’s career is woven into the history of the International Speedway Corporation and NASCAR, dating to 1960 when he worked in the radio booth at the Daytona 500 for the first time. Through the years, he became a trusted journalist, a familiar voice and a great friend to everyone in our industry. We have lost a cherished link to our past. Our condolences extend to Barney’s family, friends and his millions of fans.”
International Speedway Corporation CEO Lesa France Kennedy
Richard Petty said the following in a statement:
“Barney will be forever the original voice of NASCAR. He may not have been there at the first race, but he was at a lot of them and is a pioneer of the sport. He helped grow the sport nationally. He made it come to life, gave it excitement and made everyone feel like they were right there at the track, even if you weren’t.
“He defined calling the races over the radio and was the best at what he did in his field for a long, long time. He was there loudly during some of our greatest times and there silently during others. He was our voice and our friend. He will be missed.
“Our thoughts and prayers are with Barney and his family at this time.”
MRN President David Hyatt said today that MRN is the “Voice Of NASCAR, but Barney Hall was the Voice Of MRN!
He was “The Voice” and every time the green flag waves over a NASCAR race, you will here him say “Green flag is in the air, and we’re underway.”
Death didn’t silence the voice, it just gave it a better view to call from.
We lost a legend, a mentor, a professional but most of all — a friend.
Barney Hall will be dearly missed.