Sometimes I wonder if some of the newer fans of NASCAR understand, or care to understand, the sport’s past. That’s not a knock on newer fans; a lot of NASCAR’s history is easily lost in the shuffle of network broadcast and young gun drivers. For instance, there have been drivers out there in recent years whom I have heard fans criticize as “has-beens” or “field-fillers” because their past achievements are often overlooked when the only mention they get is when they are being lapped on the track. I often heard people say these things even about three-time Cup champion Darrell Waltrip late in his career when he struggled in sub par equipment. How did people not realize Waltrip’s remarkable career achievements: the 84 wins, the championships, the ten times he swept the season at a track, including a three-year stretch in which no driver other than Waltrip entered Victory Lane at Bristol Motor Speedway?
Amy Henderson · Thursday August 25, 2005
The answer is, of course, that the networks don’t think we need to know this stuff, so we don’t hear it. It’s too bad, because there are some remarkable stories out there. Darrell Waltrip’s Bristol run aside, the half-mile bullring is home to some interesting records, to be sure. One that might surprise people is the record for wins at the track in the NASCAR Busch Series. Since that series took its current form in 1982, no driver has conquered Thunder Valley more than one Morgan Shepherd. Yes, that is the same Morgan Shepherd who sometimes attempts a Nextel Cup race and makes a few laps without fanfare before retiring for the afternoon. Four times Shepherd took the checkered flag at Bristol. Shepherd also boasts eleven other Busch Series wins-his total of fifteen ties him for ninth all-time in that category. He is a champion in the series’ predecessor, the Late Model Sportsman division, taking the honors in 1980. Shepherd also boasts four Cup wins in a career that has stretched thirty years and more since he made his Cup debut. He has graced the stage at the Waldorf-Astoria with points finishes as high as fifth in 1990. The veteran driver has raced for the likes of Petty Enterprises, Bud Moore, the Wood Brothers, Chip Ganassi, Richard Childress, and Junie Donlavey among many more.
Morgan Shepherd might surprise the race fan who doesn’t look beyond the badly underfunded racecars making laps whenever the team can afford to be there. The surprise might come in the form of the ten-year-old kid who could rebuild a race engine. It might come in the top-five Cup season, or on the roller skates. Yes, roller skates-Shepherd is an accomplished figure skater on wheels and still enjoys a spin when time allows. Shepherd is also a devout Christian who chose religion over alcohol thirty years ago after a personal crisis. When his team is unable to find sponsorship, Shepherd wears his heart on his sleeve, or at least his hood, with the “racing for Jesus” logo. Proceeds from souvenir sales go to charity. He has run the Morgan Shepherd Charitable Foundation since 1986 in an effort to help those less fortunate. Shepherd is also a regular participant in Kyle Petty’s Charity Ride Across America and the Race Against Drugs.
It’s easy to overlook Morgan Shepherd. After all, sometimes the only TV coverage Shepherd gets on race day is a mention of his spot in the starting grid or as one of the drivers who has missed the race. Yes, it’s easy to overlook Morgan Shepherd, and others like him, racers who have traded past glory for present anonymity because they simply want to race, racers whose time on the track is past but whose accomplishments stand, racers who have left their mark on the sport in some small way. Yes, I hope that fans do understand their place in NASCAR’s past, because there are some remarkable stories to be told. And that’s history.
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