Barney Hall, A Legend And Hall Of Famer As Seen Thru The Eyes Of His Friends And Colleagues

HHP/Rusty Jarrett )
HHP/Rusty Jarrett )

Written by Stephen Conley
July 31st, 2014

In every athletic platform you have “Sports Professionals” and “professionals in the sport”. For most, they fall under the first category, play the game and leave, but for some—Professionalism in their field defines who they are.

MRN Radio’s Barney Hall is not only a Professional in the sport of NASCAR, but he defines the word.

In fact, Webster’s dictionary defines Professionalism as “the skill, good judgment, and polite behavior that is expected from a person who is trained to do a job well”. Barney Hall had the skill, as good of judgment as anyone, and there may never be a more polite person that you could come across.

For over 50 years Barney Hall has been behind a microphone, starting out in a small town radio station of Elkin North Carolina, Which Hall said was dumb luck. He said that about a lot of his early starts actually. “I was in a bowling ally one night and the manager of the local radio station asked if I knew a good radio guy. I said yeah, you’re looking at him. The manager asked me if had any radio experience.” Well like many that would follow, twist the truth just a bit, Barney told him of course, which Hall admits later the closest he had been to a radio station was a few years prior in Okinawa Japan…The Armed Forces Radio Network.

And like Barney had said on many broadcasts over his career—“The green is in the air”, and a Legendary career would take flight.

From Bristol Motor Speedway’s track Public Address system and over 150 live broadcasts from the “World Center of Racing”, The Daytona International Speedway, Barney Hall’s voice carried throughout the country, giving race fans young and old a sight of what was unfolding on the race tracks. From small transistor radios on the beaches of North Carolina to Satellite Radio in the mountains of Alaska, The “Voice” of NASCAR set us at ease for a couple hours every Sunday.

Barney’s career spanned decades and many different colleagues. Ken Squier, who Barney said probably, helped him as much as anybody. Squier and the late Bob Montgomery were both anchormen in the booth and they impressed me by bringing a little class and dignity to the sport. They didn’t scream and holler. They just told it, and when they got excited their voice went up. Those two guys had a big influence on me.

That influence that was imparted on Barney just trickled down the line, even guys like Eli Gold, who’s booming voice fills not only race tracks, but every Alabama Crimson Tide football game throughout the college football season said “I leaned on him for all sorts of input, ideas and direction and he was very generous to keep giving it.” Eli Gold’s voice is nearly as iconic in minds of race fans as Barney Hall, for over 30 years calling races for MRN as well as hosting the weekly NASCAR Live that was a staple in many households for years. Eli first met Barney in May of 1976 he said, “It was my first broadcast, which was the world 600, now the coke 600. Barney and I were the turn announcers in those days.”

From his days in the turns with Eli, to his final broadcast in the booth on July 5th at Daytona, every broadcaster, like Eli has a story about Barney, whether it be how he inspired someone to come in to racing, or just how generous he was with his time, Barney Hall was loved by his peers, but most of all he was respected for his love of the sport.

Barney’s longtime co-anchor Joe Moore said on an episode of Raceline, Joe’s weekly TV show that highlights the race weekend and behind the scenes stories, “I was lucky enough to work with Barney for the last 30 years, I was saddened to hear the Coke Zero 400 at Daytona was going to be his last. Barney’s voice on the radio was what drew me into this sport, His mentoring and friendship has always been a constant, we’ll miss him at the race track but the friendship will continue and you can hear him from time to time on the Motor Racing network.”

That sentiment of he will be missed in the booth is echoed by everyone around the sport, from drivers, to team owners to his colleagues at MRN and most of all—the fans.

HHP Photo/Tom Copeland
HHP Photo/Tom Copeland

Barney’s call of a race was as genuine as he was as a person. MRN pit reporter Alex Hayden said that “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.” Alex added about the first time he met Barney, “February of 1997 Daytona. I was literally brand new with the network, I had auditioned at Disney world speedway in January of that year at a truck series race.”  Every member of MRN that I talked to said their first encounter with Barney was at their audition or a day following. Alex added that “It was surreal” Like many before him, Alex grew up a fan of the network and Barney Hall. And to that day he added.

“I was walking thru the garage, Just trying to stay out of the way” hey laughed, “But Barney knew it was not only my first broadcast, but my first Speedweeks at Daytona. He was very accomindating, asking if there was any assistance he could give me and anything he could do to help me out.”

Barney’s willingness to help and give advice to young broadcasters, and even writers goes on and on throughout the garage area. Personal experiences, stories, we all have them and how Barney had an effect on their careers, that goes even for myself, like Alex and many others I grew up a fan of MRN. When going to college for my journalism degree my first professor asked each student who in the business we would like our careers to emulate, without a second thought I said MRN Radio’s Barney Hall. When asked why he was my choice, it came right back to respect. Barney worked very hard to get where he was, he was respected by his peers and most of all, he could explain something so smooth that you knew without a doubut you were seeing in your mind, what he was saying. A lot of of sports broadcasters talk very fast, get over excited at times. Barney’s voice very rarely fluxuated, didn’t need to scream to show excitement, but used the right words to describe it.

When I first met Barney in 2012 at Chicagoland Speedway I talked to Barney about racing, his book, (Tales From Trackside) and advice. Since I was a writer he gave me this advice for someone new in the garage. “Respect–It’s the hardest thing to earn and the easiest thing to lose.” Simple and powerful. Just like the man himself.

Eli Gold, Alex Hayden and Kurt Becker all said the same thing about Barney when it came to advice he gave them. “Just because the cars are going 200 miles per hour, doesn’t mean you have to.” Alex explained this saying “first and foremost you have to slow down.” He went on to say, “you’re not going to out talk a race car going at that speed. So often broadcasters and even local track PA announcers try to out talk the race cars and you simply can’t do it. That was one of the things he really emphasized and pounded in to not only me but everybody who ever came along even after me.”

It seems as if Barney’s advice paid off, as you listen to MRN broadcast. Each announcer has perhaps their on unique style. Steve Post on pit road sounds like he’s talking directly to you in a casual conversation sitting in lounge chairs. Mike Bagley in the turns has a level of excitement that is rivaled only by a jet in a air show diving to the ground and pulling up seconds prior to certain doom, yet it’s clear and precise. Dave Moody, veteran and lead turn announcer is as precise in his call and the words  he uses as a NASA computer prepping for launch, and Joe Moore who has spent the better part of his career in the booth with Barney has that same smooth as glass presentation. All of these traits in each and every announcer was influenced by Barney and his advice. That is why every weekend for NASCAR’s top three divisions, fans tune in to their local MRN affiliates, Log on to the MRN webpage or dial up on their phones to listen in to “The Voice Of NASCAR”.

The experience of everyone at MRN as the guys have said came from Barney, Eli said that he helped broaden my racing vocabulary. I didn’t know anything about racing. He taught me how to accurately and adequately how to cover a disaster on the racetrack. Someone losing their lives or a hellacious accident where there was doubt to the man or woman’s safety. I learned a lot of that from Barney.” From the veterans and ones that have been calling NASCAR races from nearly the beginning to the future voices of NASCAR, such as is Tony Stevens, Tony is a long time short track PA announcer as well as some big tracks like Charlotte Motor Speedway and Rockingham Speedway. Tony has recently been given the oppourtunity that many announcers dream of, a spot on an MRN broadcast, in fact this weekend at Iowa will be Tony’s third stint with MRN. From the carousel at Road America for a sports car race to pit road at Iowa, Tony tells us that even though he has yet to have the chance to sit down and talk with Barney in person, his inspiration for choosing this career path was all in part to the Hall of Famer. “When I decided I wanted to make this  a career, or at least a side job to puruse, I always look at the top guys.  When you’re going to do something, the best thing to do is mimic those that are at the top of their game, The NBA it’s Michael Jordan or Lebron James. You want to be that top guy.” Tony went on to add “The thing I remember from when I was kid growing up at the beach listening to countless number of races on the radio and hearing Barney and Eli Gold and all kinds of people that you grow up idolizing in a way. You pick up on different things from each one of them that you may like or don’t like and Barney was always so good at being able to describe something, the way he said just painted a picture in your head that you always could come up with exactly what was going on, on the racetrack in your own mind. It was so vivid. It was kind of the cool part, keep them short and sweet and that was something he did so well.

Tony would also go on to say that, There won’t be another Barney Hall, just like there won’t be another Wayne Gretzky, or Michael Jordan or so many other greats in sports. They were all great in their own ways and in their own time. Anyone that is going to be great will embody some of his qualities and things that he did, but no one will ever be able to mimic him.

Luckily for race fans they won’t lose Barney completely, as Joe said earlier, he is still with MRN and I know currently working on a new show, in fact the first one was just recorded this week where Barney sits down with Glen Jarrett and others in the sports to just tell stories. That is something fans and his colleagues alike loved. Alex Hayden called these moments “Story Time With Uncle Barn” Alex added “When Barney talked, people took notice and listened. When he talked everyone stopped. It was amazing”

Fans would tune in to hear the call and hopefully catch a quick witted comment from Barney, or even better one of his thousands of stories that he was so famous for. One such memory and story came from Kurt Becker, turn announcer and co-anchor for many of the Camping World Truck Series races. Kurt told us that one of his favorite memories of Barney was not something he said, but what he did. “We would go to Michigan International Speedway and Barney loved to go to the Jackson dairy bar in Jackson Michigan where they serve enormous servings of ice cream. It was always fun because he wanted us to all go along. That to him was fun, it was one of those times when he wanted to get the crew together and wanted everyone to enjoy the ice cream as much as he did and we did. I always enjoyed the Jackson Dairy bar with him.” I’m sure as the final Michigan race approaches for the 2014 season, one day during the weekend you will find the entire MRN Radio crew in Jackson Michigan taking down large quantities of ice cream in Barney Hall’s honor.

It never took much for the guys to have a memory or a story regarding Barney, in fact when we first sat down to begin the interviews I asked Eli about his early memories, before he answered Eli, Steve Post and MRN President David Hyatt had a good chuckle as Eli said that reminds me of something, and they went on to talk about a friend of Barney’s wanting to congratulate him on the change and send him a letter, special people surrounded Barney Hall and his colleagues knew it. They enjoyed it.

When it came to memories, or advice, no one is at a loss for words when it comes to Barney. He made the new guys good and veteran broadcasters even better, and he did it in the simplest ways. Kurt Becker said that Barney told him on his first broadcast, “You’re young, you will make mistakes, the main thing is learn from them and don’t make them again.” Simple advice, but advice Kurt says really stuck with him.

And when it comes to the simplest and most important advice, Alex told us that. “The number one thing he taught me and I think it’s the same for everybody—you have to have fun, you have to enjoy what you are doing. You have to be able to laugh at not only yourself on the air, but a place or two in the broadcast, you’ve got to be able to have fun and that came from Barney Hall.

From the memories, the stories and advice, it’s clear that to be the best, you have to work and even play with the best. The best when it comes to calling a race from a turn position or an anchor position is Barney Hall—Ask anyone, especially the men and women he worked with for over 50 years.

From all of us at Motor Racing Digest—Barney Hall we thank you for your love and dedication to the sport of NASCAR.

As said by David Hyatt, President of MRN Radio. MRN is the voice of NASCAR, Barney Hall is the voice of MRN. And that is why Barney Hall alongside his friend and longtime broadcast partner Ken Squier are the namesakes of the Squier-Hall Award for Media Excellence that is handed out each year as part of Hall of Fame ceremony.

Photo credit NASCAR Hall of Fame
Photo credit NASCAR Hall of Fame