How old is too old to compete in a NASCAR event? That is the question being asked this weekend at New Hampshire Motor Speedway.
When the green flag waves on the Camping World RV Sales 301 Sunday, 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd will become the oldest driver to start a Sprint Cup Series race. He will surpass the previous mark held by Jim Fitzgerald, who at age 65 started the June 1987 race at Riverside International Raceway.
But at an age when many are forsaking driving due to safety concerns, is it a wise idea for Shepherd to be on the track against drivers who in many cases are more than half his age?
After all, Shepherd last won a Cup race in 1993. He hasn't posted a top 10 finish in any NASCAR national series event since a 10th in a Nationwide Series race at Rockingham in 1999. And in four Nationwide starts this season, hasn't placed better than 35th.
But despite reasons for skepticism, the majority of the garage supports Shepherd.
"I think a doctor and Morgan are the ones that decide that and I think that should be the case with every individual," Jeff Gordon, 41, said Friday. "Should there be a little bit more strenuous type of workout to pass that physical examination to make sure that you are prepared at that age? Maybe.
"But I think if you're out there capable of doing it and you are willing to do it and you pass the physical then I think you should be allowed to do it."
NASCAR does not have a mandatory retirement age for drivers. All drivers, young and old, are required to take a physical prior to the season and must be medically cleared by a physician.
"I don't know that I could do that when I'm 55," said Martin Truex Jr., 33. "I think it's more individual. I think NASCAR obviously looks at the individuals, their track record, what they've done lately and if he's (Shepherd) been a hazard on the race track for the past couple weeks then obviously they wouldn't let him run."
Typically most NASCAR drivers compete well into their 40s. Dale Earnhardt won his last Cup race in 2000 at the age of 49 and finished second in points that season. Bobby Allison and Harry Gant are among those who won races into their 50s. And Mark Martin, 54, is someone many point to as a recent example of a driver who can still be competitive despite being significantly older than his peers.
"We talk about how amazing it is to see Mark Martin out there being competitive over 50 years old," Gordon said. "But to just go out there and do what he does as far as Morgan is concerned at 71, that's amazing."
Shepherd was slowest among 43 cars in practice Friday, more than 3 mph behind 42nd-place J.J. Yeley, and in qualifying he was last among drivers who posted a time without incident. He will start Sunday's race 41st.