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Thursday, September 3, 2009

Sadly, Shepherd’s long journey in NASCAR may be coming to an end

Atlanta holds a special place in Morgan Shepherd’s heart, as it’s the site of an emotional Cup win he claimed in 1986.

This weekend, sadly, reports indicate that Atlanta could also be the site of his last race in NASCAR’s top levels.

Shepherd is 67 years old, so retirement is a word that others have thrown at him for many years, as they wondered when the seemingly ageless driver … who somehow continued to come up with strong finishes in inferior equipment … might hang up his steering wheel.

But the way his season has played out is a very tough situation, and I hope he can summon a miracle of some kind and at least keep racing until the end of the season.
Shepherd has missed three straight races, and had a serious mechanical failure in one of his cars last week at Montreal and failed to qualify. To put it point blank, he’s out of money and likely can’t go on after Atlanta. Even qualifying for that race will be hard, as he has laid off almost everyone who worked for him, including his crew chief. Only one shop mechanic and a track crew member remain.

"We will go to Atlanta and I will just have to do it pretty much by myself," Shepherd said. "We just can't pay people when we don't have anything coming in."
He says the future does not look promising unless some money starts to come in. Shepherd has gotten some help with tires, engines and other costs from Tony Stewart and Kevin Harvick, but he has still failed to qualify for 8 of the 25 races run so far this year.

Anyone who has spoken to Morgan knows he is a genuinely good man whose love of racing is second only to his strong religious faith. I have no doubt that Morgan is praying for a miracle to keep his decades-long career going, and unfortunately that might be what it takes to keep him on the track.

When I last spoke to Morgan, he gave no hint of when he might want to stop racing, saying that would be decided by someone much greater than him.

Unfortunately, it appears that end may be very near, if not already here. While Morgan has plenty to offer the world besides his racing ability (such as his commitment to charity), and will likely take the end of his racing career better than most drivers would, it would still be a big loss for the fans of the little guys in this sport to see Morgan – one of the best at running with the big guys in less-than-stellar equipment – out of the sport.

I know the odds are long, but I am still holding out hope that I will be watching Shepherd race beyond this weekend.
He’s more than just a relic; he’s a reminder of the blood, sweat and tears that lesser-funded drivers have always put into their cars in an effort to stay alive while the sport got bigger and bigger.

He doesn’t need to race till he’s 100 years old, and I will support him if he decides at any point to say he’s chosen not to drive anymore. I just don’t like the idea of him being forced out mid-season due to lack of money.

It just leaves a bad taste in my mouth.


Anonymous Richard in N.C. said...

You might have added that Morgan would probably be in much better shape if he had played the start-and-park game, rather than coming to race every week. I hope people like MSRP are happy with the money they've made and the harm to real racers like Morgan.

September 3, 2009 at 5:16 PM 

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