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NASCAR’s Nationwide Series is an interesting collection of drivers and teams. It’s a place for youngsters like Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., and Justin Allgaier to gain invaluable experience on their way to the Sprint Cup level.
It’s also a place for underfunded teams to work towards solid financial footing. Often referred to as “start and park” operations, they usually partner with older, more established drivers like Mark Green, Jeff Green and Joe Nemechek.
And of course, there are the Sprint Cup guys who still love racing both series just for the sheer competition of it all–drivers like Carl Edwards, Brad Keselowski and Paul Menard.
Then there’s a guy like Morgan Shepherd. He does still love to race and he still has a competitive drive, although he rarely has the kind of equipment that allows him to contend for top 10 finishes. But Shepherd is really out here for one reason and one reason only–to share his story of salvation, grace and hope.
Shepherd turns 70 years old today. Most drivers don’t last past their late 30′s or early 40′s. Even 50-something year old Mark Martin is a rarity in modern day NASCAR. Shepherd, who has won a combined 19 NASCAR races and once dominated the now-defunct Late Model Sportsman division, is amazed to still be racing every week.
“I would have never imagined it,” Shepherd told me last Tuesday while traveling to Kansas Speedway. “But I still have great passion and a love for the sport. Undoubtedly the Lord wants me to be out here because I wouldn’t be out here and able to do it (otherwise). I don’t (physically) run out of gas. I can withstand the heat better than anybody out there. God has kept me tough.”
Ultimately, it’s his commitment to ministry (and the support he receives for his charitable foundation) that drives him.
“I think all of it’s because of faith,” he said. “I hope my life is an encouragement to somebody else to maybe get up and do something with their life. It’s not about us. It’s about being an influence and helping others.”
When I talk to other drivers and members of the NASCAR community, I often ask about their thoughts on Shepherd. Since today is his birthday, I thought it would be appropriate to compile some of those comments as a tribute to his ongoing legacy:
“To come out here and travel and do the things that he has to do, I don’t know how he does it. I don’t think I would want to put myself through that kind of stress. But I think that shows dedication. This isn’t an easy sport whether you’ve got the most money and the best equipment in the world or whether you’re in Morgan’s situation. So to go out and do what he does, I’ve got to give him credit for that for sure. He would have quit 10 or 15 years ago if ‘Racing with Jesus’ had not been on the car.” — Justin Allgaier, driver of the #31 Nationwide Series car
“Back in the day when (Morgan) was in his prime, he was a legend. He was very respected and he still is respected. He’s an old school guy and he’ll always be an old school guy. You have to respect a fellow who is at that stage in his career and continues to come out here and compete. He can still race…He’s trying to promote winning people to Christ. That’s what he’s about at this stage in his career.” — Tim Griffin, former Motor Racing Outreach chaplain
“What inspires us (about Morgan) is that he’s so dedicated to what he’s doing. He spends every dime he has to come out and support NASCAR and support the Nationwide Series. A lot of times he’s his own crew chief and his family is part of his crew. He’s learned to do a lot with very little…It’s hard not to fall in love with Morgan and what he’s doing. He’s one of the most positive people I’ve been around. It doesn’t matter how bad your day is. When Morgan comes around and he’s talking to you, you kind of forget about how bad your day is and you realize you’re helping somebody who truly deserves the help.” — Tony Stewart, driver of the #14 Sprint Cup car
“He’s amazing. I’ve known Morgan a lot of my life. He’s come a long way, as have many of us. Where he started in his life and where he is today is an amazing story. It’s incredible. And he’ll tell you he’s not out here to win races. He’s out here to win souls. If he finishes 43rd every week, he still wins, because somewhere in the garage area, someone has walked by and asked him, ‘Hey, what’s that cross on your car mean?’ And he gets to tell them. He couldn’t do that sitting at home in Conover, North Carolina. He does it here.” — Dr. Jerry Punch, ESPN NASCAR race reporter
“What really impresses me about Morgan is that he’s obviously putting God first because he’s out there and he’s not worried about being competitive. He’s out there with ‘Racing With Jesus’ on the hood. He’s not making an effort to be out there to get recognized by Gibbs or Childress and get picked up for a full Cup ride. He’s already done it. For somebody to go from doing it and winning races to humbling himself to run in the back and have ministry number one of their list is very impressive and encouraging for guys like me coming up in this sport.” — Blake Koch, driver of the #81 Nationwide Series car
“Morgan is one of the most unique individuals I’ve ever known because he’s passionate about sport, but he’s driving for another purpose. I asked him recently, ‘Morgan, why are you still doing it? You’re 70. You could be retired.’ And he said, ‘Because I’m a believer and this is the only way I can think of to introduce people to Christ. I’m going to do the thing I was made to do for as long as I can do it.’ To me, he’s one of the most consistent and faithful Christians I’ve ever met. He’s absolutely who he is. He’s walked a hard road to get there and so grateful for what Christ has done for Him. He’s going to spend the rest of his life pouring himself out.” — Stephen Keller, Motor Racing Outreach chaplain
“I never would have guessed he was turning 70. It’s cool to see him living it out with a purpose. It’s fun racing against him. Obviously he’s not as a competitive as he used to be just because of equipment and funds, but in his heart he’s still competitive and he wants to be out here. It’s awesome to see that drive.” — Trevor Bayne, driver of the Daytona 500 championship #21 Sprint Cup car and the #16 Nationwide Series car
To stay up on the latest Morgan Shepherd news or learn more about his foundation, visit his official website by clicking HERE.
You can also check out a great video released by NASCAR.com celebrating Shepherd’s birthday by clicking HERE.
Be looking for a full interview with Shepherd coming soon, plus interviews with other NASCAR drivers such as Trevor Bayne, Ricky Stenhouse Jr., David Gilliland, Joe Nemechek, Blake Koch, Parker Kligerman and David Reutimann.