On lap 211 of the Camping World RV Sales 301 at New Hampshire Motor Speedway, second place Joey Logano was “taken out” by 72 year old veteran Morgan Shepherd. The two made contact in turn 3. The accident has sparked lots of controversy instantly. Morgan Shepherd and his #33 Thunder Coal Chevy was 13 laps behind the leaders at the time of the accident and ended the race 27 laps behind. Throughout the race weekend the 33 car was consistently the slowest car. In practice sessions as well as qualifying, Shepherd was at least 2 seconds slower then the top cars. After going to races at NHMS for the last 6 years I have never seen from the naked eye, a car that visibly slower then the rest of the field but if you look at NASCAR’s rules, he was always meeting the minimum speed. The events of this weekend and the slow 33 car have raised the question of whether or not NASCAR should set a age limit to compete in Sprint Cup Racing.
Let's make this short and simple, maybe. First, look at Morgan himself. He’s a great guy. One of the kindest, most giving man to ever walk (or even skate) throughout the garage in NASCAR. He has been a highly religious driver car since a series of personal issues he had early in his career in the mid 70’s. He has since been using his outlet in racing to express his love for Jesus but not pushing Christianity on drivers or fans. He simply used NASCAR to do good in the world. He ran a self-owned Nationwide team for years. The plain green #89 car was a constant seen in the second tier series for nearly a decade. He also ran a few cup races with the car until 2006. So much of the money collected in start and parking was given to charities. He has his own charity he puts a lot of effort into. All while his team struggled to stay above water he continued to support other needy people other then bettering his own racing program.
So Morgan is a stand up individual so we all got to give him that. But let's face it. His best years are far behind him. That's putting it lightly. He has been racing in Cup since 1970! That's 44 years! In those years, he has put together 4 wins and 168 top tens. In his prime, he was a really great driver. I have seen clips of good ole Morgan going door to door with the likes of Earnhardt, Petty, Allison, and Elliott. But it is safe to say he has little chance to get behind the wheel nowadays. His team shut down after a extreme lack of funding. He has since been piecing together a few one off rides in Cup and NNS. At 72, he still won’t give up living his dream. Last year at NHMS, he drove for the #52 Hamilton Means racing team and did a start and park. The start made him the oldest driver to start an event in Cup. But does a start and park with only 43 attempting cars really a good way to end a 40 plus year career? Not to Morgan, it isn’t.
He came back to New England this year trying to give his fans and himself one last good run to put into the history books. He wanted to break his own record of oldest to start a Cup race and actually compete in the event and run fairly well. He teamed up with Joe Falk’s #33 Circle Sport team to do this. The weekend did not go very well obviously. A distant 43rd in time trials on Friday made it clear that it was not to be a great run on Sunday for the old guy. Many then said he should just park it early to be safe. But Morgan got some tire money from sponsors and some fans so he went for it. He ran around the bottom all day, staying well out of the way like he has done for years. With the exception of a few complaints from spotters of the fast guys, no one was going to say much about Morgan until the lap 211 crash.
Joey has a right to be upset obviously. He was on the way to finish a one- two for Team Penske until the contact. Morgan was so loose, he could barely hang on all day. When Joey went flying around him as close as he did, Morgan had no chance to save it. You can’t blame Joey for that but the question became this:
Was Morgan Shepherd the only driver out there that could have had this happen?
Answer: Not at all! Anyone out there can get loose under a car at Loudon. Its the nature of the track. It is hard to pass in case you haven’t noticed. The progressive banking makes it extra hard to get as much grip on the bottom. With a car on the outside it is even worse. It just set up a perfect storm for a wreak and thats just what happened. I can’t see how age was a factor at all in this crash.
Because of a 72 year old being involved in a crash, people are saying NASCAR needs to make stricter age limits and polices with more criteria to be a driver in Sprint cup. I mean, I agree the Sprint Cup Series should have a full field of the 43 best drivers in the country. But Morgan Shepard has met all the criteria. NASCAR didn’t get to be what it is today by letting anyone on the track although we all can name a laundry list of exceptions in our opinions. But they are smart people who have put together a solid system of rules in place that has worked for decades. Medically speaking, Each driver took the same pre season physical and took all the same necessary tests. If you pass these then you can drive the car. No difference if you are Jimmie Johnson or Morgan Shepherd. It’s just the debate on if it should continue to be the same for all.
The biggest point I want to make here is that its not all driver out there. It is not like they are all racing the same equal 43 cars against each other every week. Joe Falk’s #33 team is a struggling single car, small operation. They do not have sufficient resources, man power, and equipment to provide the on track product to contend. In 2014, the 33 under the Circle Sport banner has finished no better the 26th. The closest to the leader the team has been this year has been 2 laps down and that was at Fontana when they were under the RCR banner with Brian Scott driving. So frankly, it runs about that bad regardless who is in it. Timmy Hill has finished no better then 38th and Stremme no better then 35th. Out of all the many critics of Timmy Hill after the embarrassing crash at Bristol hitting Kenseth under yellow, none of them were blaming age, just ability and equipment.
So I would say no the idea of age limits for now. Let's just focus on maybe looking at higher minimum speeds. Instead of setting a specific MPH for each race, have a certain interval compared to the leader. Say you must be within this amount of difference in speed compared to what the leader is running. Like if the leader ran this, you must run that. Keeping the minimum relative and could create much safer racing with lap cars. If you can’t meet this you must go to the garage. Since NASCAR copied F1’s qualifying idea they should look at their 107% rule. if the car is not within 107% of the fastest time, they are black flagged. Racing is a sport of many factors, not just one element that is always the issue.
Let's give a guy a break and let this all go and look to next week! Also keep in mind that Eldora dirt race for trucks is coming up too! :)
Author's Notes : The thoughts and opinions expressed in this piece are of the author and do not reflect with the organizations mentioned or of TPF - hope you enjoyed this piece!