At 76, Morgan Shepherd is driven to inspire others

Morgan Shepherd is on the verge of becoming the eighth NASCAR driver with 1,000 national starts. Robert Laberge/Getty Images

Morgan Shepherd doesn't know how long he will continue racing.

As far as years, that is.

"I'm not never stopping," the 76-year-old Shepherd said. "When I stop, my toes will be turned up."

Shepherd, assuming he qualifies for Saturday's Xfinity Series race at Texas Motor Speedway, will make his 1,000th career NASCAR national series start.

"I don't keep count," Shepherd said. "I enjoy the race fans and the racing. God has blessed us being here this long."

Only seven drivers have made 1,000 career national series starts. Richard Petty leads them all at 1,185 -- all in the NASCAR Cup Series.

He is followed by Mark Martin (1,143: 882 Cup, 236 Xfinity and 25 Truck), Joe Nemechek (1,139: 667-430-42), Kevin Harvick (1,081: 616-342-123), Michael Waltrip (1,072: 784-279-9), Terry Labonte (1,017: 890-124-3) and Jeff Burton (1,005: 695-306-4).

Shepherd has 517 Cup starts, 425 Xfinity starts and 57 Truck starts.

"It's more or less an opportunity," Shepherd said. "We carry the cross on the hood of our car and we're ministry-minded. I try to encourage people to get up off the couch and do something with their life.

"That's what I do."

He said the ministry that drives him possibly keeps companies from sponsoring him, although he has had some support from Visone RV and race fans.

"It's hard to find people when you've got the cross on the hood," Shepherd said. "We do have race fans that help us. ... We don't do big deals, but we keep coming.

"We know we can't go but so many laps because you can't buy the tires and the engines with the money you're going to get."

He has not finished a race since 2013, a span of 74 Xfinity races, and has failed to qualify for 28 races over that period. He has not had an average finish higher than 30th since 2011. He has just one employee.

So why do it?

"I won't let myself go sit down and not do anything," Shepherd said. "I'm blessed at this age.

"[At Phoenix] in the race, I was passing all these young guys and they've got to think, 'This old man is outrunning me?' It's encouragement to others -- a lot of people think they're dead after 40."

Shepherd does enough just to keep going on the track. Last year, Shepherd went 1,125 miles on one engine, changing valve springs at 600 miles. The major Xfinity teams use the same engine and valve springs for two races. When including practice, that likely would be under 600 miles.

He has three cars. One of them is a 2009 Richard Childress Racing chassis. He has a car with a chassis that Chip Ganassi gave him last year that is getting the new Xfinity composite body on it.

Shepherd has four career Cup wins, and he finished as high as fifth in the Cup standings (1990). He has 15 career Xfinity wins, the last coming in 1988. His last Cup win was 1993.

His first Cup race was at Hickory, North Carolina, in June 1970. He's still racing 48 years later. And he has heard all the talk that he is too old to race -- his last Cup race, in 2014, included a wreck with Joey Logano as Logano tried to pass the much slower Shepherd at New Hampshire.

"It was there for a while," Shepherd said. "People would go, 'You're too old.' We're actually getting stronger with our qualifying and our runs.

"God has blessed me with my talent. I believe Sarah [in the bible] had a baby at 90 years old. So I think Morgan Shepherd can go to 127."