PORTLAND, Ore. (AP) — At 81, Hershel McGriff’s reasoning for making a racing comeback came down to a simple question: Why not?

“I haven’t had anyone tell me that I’m crazy,” he laughs.

McGriff will attempt to qualify for a NASCAR Camping World West Series race this Sunday at Portland International Raceway. If he does, he will become the oldest driver ever to compete in a national NASCAR series race.

“I guess it’s a new venture in my career,” he said.

McGriff feels good about Portland, considering he is the defending champion at PIR. He won on the road course in 1986 the last time the series – then known as Winston West — visited the track.

McGriff spent much of his adult life in the Portland area. He drove in his first race in the family sedan on a dirt track at the old Portland Speedway in 1945 at age 17. The next year there, with the track newly paved, he won a 100-lap race and was hooked.

In 1950, he drove in the Pan American Road Race in Mexico and met NASCAR founder Bill France, who invited him to run in the first Southern 500 at Darlington. He drove the car he raced in Mexico to South Carolina, and finished ninth.

Over the years, he competed in 85 races on the NASCAR Cup series, winning four. And like his first trip to Darlington, he often drove his race car across country to participate.

“How I ever did that, with numbers on my car — I’d be embarrassed to death to do that today,” he said.

But he eschewed NASCAR’s premiere series because he wanted to be closer to his family and business in Oregon, and focused instead on the West series — where he competed in 233 races between 1954 and 2002. He won 37 times.

McGriff collected many accolades. He won the 1986 Winston West championship, was named one of NASCAR’s 50 greatest drivers, and was inducted into the Motorsports Hall of Fame in 2006. He retired from racing twice, first in 1954 and then again in 2002.

He made his last Cup series start at Sonoma in 1993 when he was 65, but did not finish.

Now living in Arizona, McGriff doesn’t look anything close to 81. He credits running four miles a day during his prime for his youthful appearance. And perhaps racing had a bit to do with it, too, he mused.

“I don’t live a normal life — compared to a lot of my friends, anyway,” he said.

McGriff, who hadn’t raced in seven years, entered three events this summer. He did not qualify for a June 20 race at Sonoma’s Infineon Raceway. If he doesn’t make the field at the Bi-Mart Salute the Troops 125 at PIR, he’ll try again on Aug. 1 in Tooele, Utah.

He’ll attempt to make the field in Portland in qualifying a few hours before Sunday’s race. But he knows what he’s up against when it comes to today’s drivers.

“These young kids, they’re going faster,” he said. “Isn’t the theory that as you get older, you get faster? It doesn’t work that way.”

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