Morgan Shepherd: NASCAR’s outlier

Photo by Todd Warsaw/Getty Images
Morgan Shepherd sits in his Nationwide ride at Dover International Speedway. The 72-year-old Shepherd will drive the
Circle Sport Racing No. 33 car in Sunday's race.


By Brandon Caldwell
Editor
July 11, 2014
theracingexperts@aol.com

 

 

Disclaimer: Opinions expressed are solely those of the writer.

 

What if I said Danica Patrick can’t drive because she’s a woman? That’d be sexist, correct?


My stereotype may be based on many women I know, struggling behind the wheel of a street car. That would be inaccurate since I’m talking about just one professional racecar driver and a gender doesn’t entail whether or not someone can or should drive.

All of us know that old guy who’s still with it. My history professor in college was in his late 70s, had two hearing aids and thick glasses. But the guy was still on top of his game. He’d e-mail me back right away, and still knew the material well. He was old, looked old, but was still very capable of doing his job.


This is why I can’t figure out why people have a problem with Morgan Shepherd, the 72-year-old driver, driving in the NASCAR Sprint Cup Series race this weekend.


Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Shepherd's car at Phoenix International Raceway. Shepherd finished 43rd.

The journeyman driver, who is the oldest driver to ever start a Cup race, will continue to make his already NASCAR record a little more untouchable with his start Sunday.


Shepherd has gotten some flak from fans, and most notably, ESPN commentator, Jim Noble who tweeted about the journeyman driver being in NASCAR. He made reference that Shepherd shouldn’t be driving at that age.


Why should Morgan Shepherd stop racing just because he’s 72? He’s still with it mentally, in fact, NASCAR actually goes to Shepherd to talk about how to make the racing more competitive in the smaller series, because he is an owner driver.


Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Shepherd walks pit road at Phoenix International Raceway.

Physically, Shepherd is in tip-top shape. In 2011, Shepherd, at the age of 70, was able to run down a shoplifter at a Wal-Mart and restrain the suspect until the police were able to apprehend him. If he can run down a shoplifter and hold him down, then I would think he’s able to drive 300 miles on a Sunday.


There have been a lot of naysayers for Shepherd, because fans think he’s too… well old. Really? We’re going to take age into consideration.


Let’s take a look around all the racing series around the country. We’ll start with ARCA. Does anyone know who the reining ARCA champion is? That’s right, Frank Kimmel, who was 51-years-old last season when he won the championship. Maybe he should think about stopping soon, no?


What about Mike Stefanik? Last year the 56-year-old driver won two out of 14 races in the NASCAR Whelen Modified Tour. If you remember, it was him that Steve Park bumped out of the way in the Battle at the Beach in Daytona in 2013. Stefanik was leading that race, and the only way for Park to get around him was to bump him. That’s still a guy who can turn the wheel.


The K&N Pro West Series has a 46-year-old driver named Greg Pursley, who is leading the point championship this year. And my local dirt track has a guy in his mid 60s still winning and winning. Same with dirt track legend, Brett Hearn, who is 55-years-old this season, and has eight wins across the country.

So let’s go back to Jim Noble. He’s a respected writer, who knows what he is talking about. I’m sure he’s worked hard to get where he is. So what if someone in his industry were to walk up to him and tell him that he can’t work passed the age of 72? If he wanted to continue to work, he should, and no one can tell him any different.


Photo by Benjamin Palmer/TheRacingExperts.com
Morgan Shepherd turns laps at
Phoenix International Speedway.


Imagine if I didn’t take Peter Gammons’ writing seriously, or Vin Scully’s commentating seriously because of their age? That would be crazy. Both of those guys, regardless of their age can still do their job, and do it well.


I understand that NASCAR would be a disaster with forty-three 72 year old drivers in the field, because 95 percent of them probably couldn't do it. Just like the 99 percent of broadcasters who quit before Vin Scully did. But there are always outliers in the field, and in this case Morgan Shepherd is the outlier. Back when he was in competitive equipment he was an outstanding driver, and that’s the reason why he’s still around today. If fans and/or commentators want to have a certain age for drivers to retire, then you’re going to have a driver’s union start up.


In a sport that has so many issues that the team owners needed to start an “alliance,” I bet one of the items on their new agenda is not getting rid of Morgan Shepherd. There are many bigger problems then having one driver at an advanced age, trying to hang on to something that he loves.


That’s something we should respect. Not repent. Maybe attitudes like that are why the sport is in as much trouble as it is in now. 

How will Morgan Shepherd fare at New Hampshire this weekend?
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