While TV coverage of NASCAR has changed greatly, fans can tune their radios to the Motor Racing Network and hear one familiar voice coming over loud and clear. Barney Hall’s voice is welcomed like an old friend, and his reporting style is warm, concise, insightful and entertaining. In this interview with Stock Car Racing, Hall reflects on his stint in radio and the changes he’s seen on and off the track.

SCR: Let’s start at the beginning. How did you get started in radio and racing?

Hall: I guess I started in radio back in 1958. I worked at a little local station here in my hometown of Elkin, North Carolina. In the first year or so they got me into sports doing some local high school football and whatever. Back in those days, Bill France Sr. was doing everything he could to promote NASCAR. They had a couple of guys that were headquartered down in Greensboro and Charlotte that sent out releases to radio stations. And, of course, they would encourage you to come to the race and send you a ton of free tickets back in those days. I got started going just because I got free tickets, truthfully. Then I figured, if I’m doing a sports show, I might as well interview some of the drivers. So I started a little bit of that. There was a gentleman named Hal Hamrick who used to work at the local radio station and Bristol Speedway. They started building it (Bristol) in 1959, and they needed a P.A. announcer. He asked me to come up and do that. And I had never done any P.A. on racing or anything. He said, “Well, it ain’t no big deal. We’ll pay you $75 for the weekend.” And I was making $45 a week, I think, at that time so I said I’ll be there.

SCR: Where did your career go from there?

Hall: In 1960 there was a fellow named Ted Webb, who used to work with NBC radio and the NBC Monitor series. It was a weekend show that was kind of like a newsmagazine. They did sports and feature stuff. Ted was up there doing a deal on stock car racing. He was also the anchor announcer for the old Daytona 500 network, which originated in Daytona by WNBD. They had about 10 or 12 stations on the network. He said they were going to hire two new announcers and asked if I would come to Daytona and audition for it. I didn’t have the money and basically, I told him that. I said, “You know, I can’t get off from work and I don’t have the money.” And he said, “Well, I like your voice. I think you could do it.” To make a long story short, he sent me $100 and said, “I want you to come down and do this.” So I went down and he said, “If we use you, we’ll pay you $125 to do the qualifying races, the Saturday race, which was Grand National or Sportsman at the time, and the Daytona 500.” They kept me. I still have part of that old tape where my voice was cracking. I was scared to death and had a paper in my hand, trying to read names and numbers and that sort of thing.

SCR: What are some memorable moments you look back on?

Hall: You have some good ones and bad ones. Some of the finishes in races will always stick out in my mind. In 1979 that finish between Cale Yarborough and Donnie Allison when they had the fistfight over in Turn 3. I was working over there in Turn 3 and had a bird’s-eye view of that. You don’t ever forget that. David Pearson and I were very good friends all through the early ’70s. I flew with David quite a bit. His ’76 finish with Richard Petty, you have to remember that. I always think about Bill Elliott winning the Winston Million in 1985, which at that time, for a stock car driver to win a million dollars was unheard of. And he did everything he could that day, probably, to lose the race and won it anyway. For me, one of the most personally satisfying races that just thrilled me as an announcer, which you almost felt like a fan, was when Earnhardt came from about 17th or 18th last October at Talladega and won that race.

SCR: And those bad memories?

Hall: I guess the bad memories would be of friends that you lost in racing over the years. We all say we don’t get that close to each other, but you really do when somebody gets hurt on the racetrack. You realize how close you are to them. It’s kind of like Earnhardt. I had a hard time, a very hard time, and still have a hard time with it. The first three or four days, you just try to make sense of it, I guess. When we lost Davey Allison, who was a very close friend, and Neil Bonnett, who I had known for years and years, I guess I believe like a lot of people do that you have so much time on this earth and when your time is up, you’re going to leave regardless of what you’re doing and where you are.

SCR: How have you seen the sport change from your viewpoint?

Hall: The coverage, obviously, nowadays is certainly universal. NASCAR has become one of the premier sports on our planet. But back in the early days, you only had a few writers. Basically the writers that came to cover racing in the late ’50s and early ’60s, if you happened to be running in Darlington, would be from within a hundred miles. And then it started picking up and picking up. I think once radio got into it, not necessarily MRN, but back in the old days they had an old Victory Lane Speedway Network, and a lot of people would listen, and they had never seen a race, and they’d say, “That sounds like a heck of a deal. I think I’ll go.” I remember I was the only one for the first, probably, three or four years, in the early ’60s, that had a recorder, that I ever saw, in the garage interviewing a driver. You’d see a few guys with note pads, writers doing some stuff with them. But for the most part, electronic media, unless there was a tragedy or something really bad, then, of course, they would cover it. But other than that, not the case. Now days I can’t believe how many people we do have covering the races. In fact, it’s become a major problem for some of the tracks. I guess it’s a good problem to have. It’s like having too much money. But some tracks just absolutely cannot handle all the media that want to cover the event. It’s changed a great deal in that respect.

SCR: How have you seen the racing itself change over the years?

Hall: It’s gone through three or four cycles. Back in the ’60s, when I first started doing it, there legitimately were probably only three or four cars that could win a race unless a wreck happened that took out the favorites, or the three or four guys that really had good equipment. But it was still good racing. It’s like the fans have always said, and like I’ve always held to, it only takes two guys to really be getting with the program to give you a thrill. And the other guys were there just mostly to have fun. Of course they wanted to win or finish as good as they could, but it wasn’t a big deal if they didn’t. It didn’t cost that much money to go racing back in those days. Probably in the mid ’60s, when the factories were in a while and then they were out a while, is really when it started changing as far as what it meant to win. If you were a factory driver for Ford or Chevrolet or Chrysler, or whoever happened to be in it, they expected you to win. There was a lot of pressure on guys, probably as much as there is now. And that changed the sport. In the early ’70s, we had a new wave of drivers come in. About that time, about 1970 or ’71, that was the big topic in the garage. “Where are we going to get new drivers when these different people retire?” Then it was the same thing in the early ’80s. Guys were getting ready to leave like Cale, and Richard was talking about retiring. The deal went through cycles as far as drivers.

SCR: What about the equipment?

Hall: When they started downsizing the cars is when the sport, to me, really changed. I guess that would have been around ’82, ’84, somewhere in that range. The cars became a lot more important, so to speak, than the drivers did. Up to that point, to me, the driver was the difference in who won and who lost. Cale Yarborough would take a fifth- or sixth-place car and win with it sometimes. Or he’d darn sure finish top two or three. Bobby Allison would do the same thing. Pearson would do the same thing. But those guys were hungry. They didn’t make a whole lot of money. They had the tenacity, to me, that Earnhardt showed in all the years he was in there with some of those guys. They were about as hard-nosed racers as you’d ever come across.

SCR: So how much longer is Barney Hall going to work?

Hall: I don’t know. I really don’t. I started to retire three years ago.

SCR: How does one “start to retire?”

Hall: Well, I was going to cut my schedule back. Instead of doing about 36 to 40 events, I was going to say I’d like to do 30. And then the year after that I was going to say, “Well, this year I’d like to do 20.” As Richard Petty says, taper off. Then they said, “Well, why don’t you do this many? And we’ll leave the door open if you want to keep doing it.” I think the thing that probably will determine when I go out the door is two things. One would be my health. Thank the good Lord I’m in pretty good shape right now for an old rascal. And the other would be my mother. Although she’s doing well right now, she’s 87 years old. I spend all the time I can with her. If and when, I hope I’ll know when it’s time to walk away from racing. Radio is still fun to me. I have a lot of fun with the guys I work with. I have the freedom to say what I want to. Honest to God, I’ve never really known if I do a good job or a bad job. The one thing that makes me feel like I get by is if I feel like I’m having a good time, the listener’s having a good time. It’s always been my philosophy. When I was a disc jockey, if I entertained myself, I felt like I was entertaining the other people. I guess it works. As an old announcer told me one time, if you can’t convince ’em, confuse ’em and it’s worked pretty good so far.