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At 71, age no barrier for Shepherd in Cup race

July 13, 2013, Holly Cain,

Veteran driver made first premier series start in 1970

LOUDON, N.H. -- Only eight of the 42 drivers Morgan Shepherd will be competing against in Sunday’s Camping World RV Sales 301 were even born when the 71-year-old made his first NASCAR Sprint Cup Series start on June 20, 1970 at Hickory, N.C.

Five drivers -- Ken Schrader, Mark Martin, Jeff Gordon, Bobby Labonte and Dave Blaney -- had ever made a Cup start at the time Shepherd last visited victory lane (Atlanta, 1993).

Twelve drivers on the New Hampshire Motor Speedway starting grid weren’t yet racing at the Cup level when Shepherd last ran a Cup race in 2006. Even fewer -- six -- were racing Cup when he scored his last top-10 finish in 1997.

"This is truly a milestone, a great opportunity and I want to thank all who are involved to help make this happen,’’ said Shepherd, who will roll off 42nd Sunday in the Brian Keselowski Racing No. 52 Toyota.

"This is truly a milestone."

-- Morgan Shepherd

“This will be my first Sprint Cup race since 2006. It will be good to be back for such a historical day, and I love the New Hampshire Speedway.’’

Shepherd’s great pride in becoming the oldest driver to start a Cup race is understandable. -- and so is his competitors’ amazement.

“We talk about how amazing it is to see Mark Martin out there being competitive over 50 years old, but to just go out there and do what he does as far as Morgan is concerned at 71, that’s amazing,’’ four-time Cup champ Jeff Gordon said. “And no, you will not see me out there doing that at age 71.’’

Gordon’s reaction was typical this weekend, with most drivers unable to even imagine themselves competing at NASCAR’s highest level at an age when many senior citizens are retired and finding time to finally do what they enjoy.

But then again, Shepherd -- famous for roller skating down pit road and for displaying his deeply-held religious beliefs on the side panels of his race cars -- clearly doesn’t fit the stereotypes of the aging.

And while no one suggested NASCAR needed to institute a maximum age requirement, it was still almost unfathomable to the drivers -- most several decades his junior -- that they could still be competing at Shepherd’s age.

“I don't know that I could do that when I'm 55,’’ Martin Truex Jr. said. “That's 22 years from now, so I'm not sure I could do it. It just depends. I think it's more individual.

“I think NASCAR obviously looks at the individuals, their track record, what they've done lately and if he's (Morgan Shepherd) been a hazard on the race track for the past couple weeks then obviously they wouldn't let him run.

“I'm just going to tell you that I've got enough gray hair and I've only been doing it 10 years. Not sure I can make it until 70. That's pretty awesome."


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