A 72-year old in auto racing? Are you serious? No, you don’t need your eyes checked; Morgan Shepherd not only drove a race car in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race in New Hampshire, he also found himself in some unwanted headlines as a result of his wreck that took out a contender, Joey Logano. The idea of someone driving a race car along with 42 others who was born during the FDR administration seems preposterous…unless you think it through a little further.
This driver, who debuted in 1970(!), is not just any senior citizen. The bootlegger-turned-born-again-Christian is the envy of most his age. You can number Shepherd among those of the AARP set who maintains an active lifestyle of physical activity, free of substances that dull the senses. In fact, he has been known to thrown a set of roller skates to tool around pit road on race day. We’re also told Shepherd likes to dance, and he’s pretty good at it.
Let’s also not forget that yes, Joey Logano, just like you, Morgan Shepherd has to undergo a physical examination to drive. Want to take about testing? Let’s not forget he did qualify for the race, and was maintaining a minimum speed throughout Sunday’s event, otherwise he would have been black-flagged. Yes, he was several laps down, in part because Shepherd was driving a race car he was describing as “wicked.” While Logano may not have overtly suggested the wreck was caused because of his competitor’s age, that has been called into question by members of the racing media and fans, who seem to think they know more than those who provide clearance for a driver to race. From here, it looks like anyone could have caused that wreck- whether they were 72 or 32. Regardless of whether you buy Logano’s version of events, or Shepherd’s, there’s no way you can know for sure whether or not age (and thus a slower reaction time) was the determining factor in the collision.
It’s not like this was Shepherd’s first rodeo, or his first rodeo in 20 years. When combining his record from all three of NASCAR’s major series, he was over 900 starts to his credit, including 143 since the beginning of 2009. A lot of it has been starting and parking, and while his best years are way behind him, there have been few complaints about his presence on the race track. In fact, it wasn’t more than a few seasons ago, three-time champion Tony Stewart helped kick in support for racing tires for Shepherd’s Victory In Jesus Racing. Think about it, this is Tony Stewart.
With four Cup victories and 15 Nationwide/Busch victories, no one will ever confuse Shepherd with Stewart, but if you think about it, his victory totals dwarf those of more than a couple of drivers with whom he shares the track. All this to say, this isn’t just any old Joe off the street, and there’s scant evidence that Morgan Shepherd has ever done anything to warrant taking him out.
Another thing that uptight types aren’t discussing is the fact that it isn’t like Shepherd just showed up and muscled his way into the race. The 33 car he drove was property of Circle Sport Racing. Not only did the owner Joe Falk not have a problem putting Shepherd behind the wheel, the sponsor apparently (Thunder Coal) didn’t either. They got to be a part of history; and guess what, if they have a problem with Shepherd as driver, you had better believe the folks at Circle Sport will have little problem finding somebody else to drive the car.
Should there be an age limit on racing a three-thousand pound machine? It’s an interesting discussion, but where do you draw the line? If you can meet the standards, what difference does it make? There are people half Shepherd’s age who should never climb into a car to race it. There does indeed come a time when you just CAN’T any more. When that day comes, even if NASCAR’s lovable uncle figure can’t figure it out, there will be team owners, officials, physicians and Shepherd’s family to help him see that. Arbitrary limits aren’t necessary.