It’s my first time at the Indianapolis Motor Speedway. Morgan Shepherd is about to finish is qualifying lap.
45 drivers trying to qualify for 43 spots. Morgan only had to beat out two other people.
Surely a driver with Morgan’s experience….
…someone who won 21 out of 29 races in 1970
…who was the Jimmy Johnson or and Dale Earnhardt Jr. of the NASCAR world during his prime
…would be able to beat out just TWO people right???
As he finished his lap I look up at the screen that displays every driver’s speed.
“It’s not looking good” said one Hyland’s Executive as he walked by us on Pit Row.
Not looking good would have been a compliment. 163.185 was dead last.
But there’s a reason for that.
“How you feeling about today?” I asked Morgan before he took his qualifying lap.
“Not too good” Morgan responded. He then mentioned how he didn’t have a good, reliable motor to help him out today.
The fact that Morgan is still competing at a high level for so long is an accomplishment none of his current competition might never reach.
But you can only do so much with a limited amount of funding.
A man who once ruled the NASCAR world failed to qualify for one of the biggest races of the season.
The team regrouped at Morgan’s Hauler. Morgan dressed out of his purple jumpsuit and instead wore a dress shirt, jeans and some of the shiniest and fanciest Alligator Skin Boots I have ever seen in my life.
He slumped down in a lawn chair two seats away from me.
He crossed his leg over the other, hand to mouth and looked down at the ground. Morgan did NOT feel like talking.
But it only took one look at his face for me to see:
At the age of 70 years old and after 45 years of driving professionally, his competitive fire burns just as bright as it did when he was in his prime.
Morgan HATES losing. There’s a reason he won 21 out of 29 races in 1970.
He knows he can beat all 44 of the other drivers. He just needs to get on an even financial level.
Morgan has a fierceness that you can only see in elite level athlets like Kobe Bryant (And I’ve covered Kobe and the Lakers for almost two years now).
And despite having the smallest team in all of NASCAR, Morgan’s competitive attitude trickles down to the entire team.
NOBODY in Morgan’s hauler was the mood to talk. Everyone knew the same thing Morgan did: If they can just get the kind of funding everyone else has, Morgan would be able to finish top ten every race no problem.
This is why Morgan is one of the greatest sports stories in America. A once glorious racer is now an under-funded competitor who makes no excuses to continue to roll with some of the best in the racing world…..at the age of SEVENTY!!!
Even the announcer at the track said, “This guy is going to be SEVENTY ONE later this year! Can you believe that?”
When it’s race time, Morgan dons his uniform, gets in his car and puts the petal to the metal. He leaves it all on the race track.
Morgan is an example to us all. He does what he loves to do. And as long as he’s alive, he will continue to do what he loves to do.
I can’t help but wonder…..what IF Morgan got the kind of sponsorship everyone else has. How much would his performance improve?