Mr. 1,000: Why 76-year-old Morgan Shepherd is still racing

Oliver Wendell Holmes Sr., known as one of our country’s greatest intellectuals, once said: “Men do not quit playing because they grow old; they grow old because they quit playing.”

That couldn’t be truer for Morgan Shepherd and his decades-long racing career. The 76-year-old will make his 1,000th start in a NASCAR national series in the

“He’s a racer’s racer,” president Eddie Gossage said. “There’s a lot of people who don’t know of him or saw him like I did when he was a threat to win Cup races every week. He was a big name back then and it’s amazing to me that he’s still doing it.

“Morgan’s not going to win, but you have to admire that he’s putting up the effort.”

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The first campers arrive Saturday at Texas Motor Speedway, where they will wait 8 days for the O‘Reilly Auto Parts 500 on April 8. Max Faulkner

Yes, Shepherd has no delusions of contending for the checkered flag. After all, he only has a couple people helping him on race day – his crew chief, Nick Hoechst, a spotter lent from another team and his wife.

Shepherd has attempted to run in all five Xfinity Series this season and has qualified for four of them. The most laps he’s completed is 56 of 200 last month in Phoenix, and his best finish is 37th.

But, hey, Shepherd hasn’t finished dead last yet. He’s always had a better day than a couple cars that wrecked out early on.

For Shepherd, though, his racing days have a bigger calling for him.

“I’m amazed that the Lord has blessed me and I’ve been here this long and I’ve had the opportunity to serve by being here with all the NASCAR fans,” Shepherd said. “Our charity is going into 32 years and it started out with one person and now we help many thousands. I’m just blessed.

“When I was in my 20s, I started racing. I had no idea. I thought 40 years old was old. Here I am, 76, and I’m still dancing in my roller skates and still driving a race car 200 mph. So what a great opportunity to reach people all over the world.”

Shepherd is a born-again Christian who serves as a lay minister to the racing community. His No. 89 Chevrolet Camaro for Shepherd Racing Ventures carries a massive Jesus logo with a cross on the hood, hoping to spread his message of faith to those viewing on television and at home.

“Just knowing that we can encourage people to better their lives,” Shepherd said. “Feb. 23, 1975, I accepted Jesus Christ as my savior. God has blessed me so much with my health and being able to do this … that’s what encourages me.

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“Retirement is not in my plans. When I retire, my toes will be turned up.”

Shepherd made his NASCAR debut in the Cup Series on June 20, 1970 at Hickory Speedway in Hickory, N.C. He finished 19th in the race that was won by future NASCAR Hall of Famer Bobby Isaac.

Others in the field included NASCAR Hall of Famers Bobby Allison, Benny Parsons and Wendell Scott.

Shepherd went on to win his first Cup race in 1981 at Martinsville Speedway. He has four career Cup victories, including as a 51-year-old in Atlanta in 1993. That’s the last time he visited Victory Lane.

But, as stated, Shepherd has become a staple at NASCAR races in the years since. He has started 517 Cup races; 425 Xfinity Series races; and 57 truck races. Saturday marks career start No. 1,000.

“I just always had the love for automobiles,” Shepherd said. “Ever since I was 10-years-old, the first thing I bought myself was a Whizzer motorbike and then I got my first car when I was 12. A ’37 Chevy, that’s where I learned to mechanic on.”

He’s been around cars ever since and has no intentions of slowing down. He’s got a higher purpose than just winning races.