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