If you say Morgan Shepherd is too old to race, there’s plenty of others even older than him that would disagree

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It’s easy to understand Joey Logano’s frustration at being clipped by 72-year-old Morgan Shepherd in Sunday’s race at New Hampshire.

But the criticism of Shepherd that has resulted, including numerous media outlets saying he’s too old to drive a race car competitively, has been most unfair.

Just because Shepherd and Logano get into a wreck, it becomes big news because one is 72 years old, while the other is 24. And the 24-year-old said some not so nice things about the 72-year-old after their on-track incident.

Didn’t Logano’s parents ever tell him to respect his elders and not badmouth them?

I find it rather humorous at all those who criticized Shepherd for running into Logano. I don’t know what race they were watching, but it surely could not have been the same one I was.

It was v-e-r-y clear that Logano cut down on Shepherd going into the turn. Now, in 99.9 percent of similar instances, Shepherd could also have moved down or gotten out of the throttle.

But instead, he stayed in the gas, Logano dropped in front of him and contact was made.

If it had been, say, Dale Earnhardt Jr. and Logano, someone would have been apologizing afterward.

To his credit, Shepherd did not apologize, and he’s to be commended for standing his ground.

Just because someone is 72 years old or 15 laps down at the time of a wreck doesn’t mean he’s automatically at fault for any incident that occurs – or can’t drive competitively any more. Granted, his car may not have had all the bells and whistles that Logano’s Team Penske Ford had. And critics seem to forget that it’s, again, v-e-r-y easy for a slow-moving car to get down several laps fairly quickly on New Hampshire’s flat one-mile track.

But unless Shepherd can be medically proven to be incapable of being able to drive competitively, there’s absolutely no reason for him not to be behind the wheel. Heck, it takes guts to be 72 and go up against the sport’s best. No one else has had those kind of guts like Shepherd has, being the oldest active driver in NASCAR Sprint Cup history — a mark he resets every time he takes the next green flag.

One other thing people seem to forget is that Shepherd was essentially out of his normal domain at New Hampshire. He typically races in the Nationwide Series. Sunday’s race was only his third Sprint Cup race since 2006.

As an aside, Shepherd hasn’t won a Cup race since 1993, and a NNS race since 1988. But he goes out year after year, race after race (well, on a part-time schedule, that is) because he loves the sport, makes a decent living and is able to utilize racing as part of an overall religious ministry that he preaches from.

And when was the last time anyone complained about Shepherd in a Nationwide race? I can’t recall any in years. He simply goes out and runs his race, quietly and tries to draw as little attention to himself as possible.

I especially found it interesting that Tony Stewart reportedly said over his team radio, “(Shepherd) needs to just call it a day with that thing.”

What happens if, by some twist of fate, Stewart is still racing when he’s 72? That’d be 29 years from now. Would Stewart like it if some young driver would publicly say he needs to quit racing?

I’m giving Stewart the benefit of the doubt that he didn’t mean Shepherd should stop racing permanently, but that the septuagenarian’s car was just not up to competitive racing that particular day.

Would Stewart tell one of his best fishing buddies, the legendary Red Farmer – who will be 82 years young this fall, and was one of the charter members of racing’s fabled “Alabama Gang” – to stop racing in short track events across the South?

Surprisingly, Farmer isn’t the only octogenarian still racing these days.

Over in the straight-line world, “Big Daddy” Don Garlits is still drag racing at the age of 80, even though his vehicle of choice these days appears to be experimental electric dragsters, which he already has gotten close to nearly 200 mph in.

And then there’s the legendary “Golden Greek” from Chicago, Chris Karamesines, who is still racing Top Fuel dragsters.

At 82 years old. And at 300-plus mph.

(Which by comparison to the speed Shepherd was doing at NHMS – about one-third of what Karamesines typically does – made Morgan look like he was in a go-kart race.)

And yet no one has told Karamesines – who turns 83 in November and looks like he’s in his early 60s, at best – that he’s too old to still be competing.

In fact, the National Hot Rod Association revels in Karamesines’ popularity and the attention he attracts to the sport.

And he’s still as competitive as he’s ever been, always a risk to pull an upset of some of the better-funded drivers on the Top Fuel circuit.

Like Shepherd, Karamesines and Garlits still have their wits, their faculties, their encyclopedic knowledge of racing, their reactions, decent health and the fever to still race even if they’ve been doing it for nearly 70 years.

Going back to Farmer for a second, I came across a story that was written about him less than two years ago by Doug Demmons of the Birmingham (Ala.) News.

According to Demmons, Farmer still races despite an artificial left knee, a replaced left shoulder, screws and rods in his back and enough arthritic joints that would otherwise stop an army.

Yet Farmer continues racing for the pure love and joy of it, much like Shepherd, who is 10 years younger.

Check out some of the quotes from Farmer at the time. If you didn’t know they were from him, they could easily have been spoken by Shepherd:

* “I’m gonna wear out, not rust out.”

* “My reflexes are as good as they were 30 years ago.”

* “I’ve never stopped. If I stopped, I’d lose it. If I became a couch potato, I’d be gone in six months.”

* “I do it because I enjoy it (at the time the story was written, Farmer had recorded 17 top 10 finishes in his previous 25 races – at the age of 79!). I don’t have to win races to be happy.”

* “I feel pretty good for 80 years old.”

So for all those who criticized Shepherd for an accident that was not of his fault, particularly Logano and other young drivers, remember one thing: God willing, you’re going to be Shepherd’s age one day. Let’s see how you’ll feel when somebody says you’re too old and shouldn’t be out there.

Follow me @JerryBonkowski

Schmidt Peterson aiming high with Hinchcliffe, Wickens

Photo: IndyCar
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The new Schmidt Peterson Motorsports duo of James Hinchcliffe and Robert Wickens expressed a high amount of confidence during Wednesday’s confirmation of Hinchcliffe’s return and Wickens’ signing, as the pair looks to return the Sam Schmidt and Ric Peterson co-owned team to prominent status within the Verizon IndyCar Series.

“We’re hoping to give Toronto and Ontario and Canadian sports fans in general something to cheer about over the next season,” Hinchcliffe quipped during a teleconference on Wednesday.

Granted, there are likely to be several challenges to overcome, notably for Wickens, who returns to single-seater competition for the first time since 2011, when he was a champion of the Formula Renault 3.5 series and served as test driver for the now defunct Manor Racing (then known as Marussia Virgin Racing).

Having spent every year since then in DTM, where he won a total of six races and finished as high as fourth in the championship (2016), Wickens knows returning to open wheel competition will be an adjustment. However, he explained that the history of Schmidt Peterson Motorsports, specifically its Indy Lights history, speaks to their ability to help a driver adapt, and he rates the program they’re putting together very highly.

“I think Schmidt Peterson Motorsports have a fantastic driver development program. They showed that in their multiple Indy Lights championships along the way. I think we will have a strong program in place. I have a feeling that the simulator will be my new best friend,” Wickens said when asked about getting reacquainted with an open-wheel car.

Of course, having an experienced teammate like Hinchcliffe to lean on will undoubtedly help the transition, something Wickens readily admitted.

“I’m very fortunate that I have James as my teammate because he’s so experienced, I can learn off him. Because we already have such a good off-track relationship, I feel like you can just take his word, trust him, kind of move forward with it,” he revealed.

They’ve been teammates before, both in karting where they first met in 2001, and then in the now-defunct A1 Grand Prix series in 2007-2008, a series that pitted nations against each other in spec open-wheel cars. Funnily, that A1GP type of vibe returns as Schmidt Peterson Motorsports now has that with its “Team Canada” mantra while all four of Andretti Autosport’s full-season drivers are American.

For Hinchcliffe, Wickens’ background, even if it hasn’t been in the single-seater realm since 2011, was a big selling point in adding him to the team.

“In Robby, we have a proven winner at a very high level. The level of technical expertise that he comes with from his time in DTM is very impressive,” he said of Wickens’ technical background.

Hinchcliffe added that Wickens’ ability to analyze the car and its setup was evidenced in two outings: one at Sebing International Raceway in March, in part of a “ride swap” between the two longtime friends, and a second at Road America, when he subbed on Friday practice for Mikhail Aleshin.

Wickens sampled Hinchcliffe’s No. 5 Arrow Electronics Honda earlier this year. Photo: IndyCar

Hinchcliffe revealed that Wickens’ feedback to the team and his ability to quickly adapt to the chassis took everyone somewhat by surprise.

“We did our ride swap. He had two hours in the car, hardly anything even resembling a test day, and his performance was pretty impressive. No doubt the time in Road America helped because that really gave us a better sense of his technical feedback, integrated with the team a little bit more. Everybody was happy to work with him on that day,” said Hinchcliffe.

Further still, Hinchcliffe is firm in his belief that the 2018 aero kit and its reduction in aerodynamic downforce will fall right into Wickens’ wheelhouse, based on Hinchcliffe’s own take after sampling Wickens’ DTM Mercedes earlier this year.

“In all honesty, I was saying earlier today, the 2018 car is probably better suited for him than the 2017 car because of the experience he’s had the last handful of series,” Hinchcliffe asserted.

“The (aero kit) was such high downforce, it would be a big change coming out of DTM. But with the loss of downforce that we’ve seen, the car is moving around a little bit more, brake zones, things like that, it won’t be as big a transition I think. Just based on the experience that I got in our ride swap, I think he’s going to adapt very quickly, be comfortable very quickly, and as a result be competitive very quickly. So it’s going to be exciting.”

As for expectations heading into next year, team co-owner Schmidt did not mince words and expects the team’s performance to resemble what they did in 2012, 2013, and 2014, when they won a total of four races (with driver Simon Pagenaud) and finished in the top five in the championship each year.

“We had a stint in ’12, ’13, ’14 where we finished fifth in the points (or better. I think we want to get back to that level of competition,” Schmidt added. “We felt like we were missing things in having two cars with equal funding and equal drivers and equal capabilities. We think this gets back there.”

Follow @KyleMLavigne