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George Diaz: Morgan Shepherd age-discrimination matter of common sense

By George Diaz Orlando Sentinel (MCT) • Jul 16, 2014 at 7:00 PM

NASCAR scheduled a race in New Hampshire and an AARP rally broke out spontaneously.

There are obviously a lot of old-school NASCAR fans smitten by a 72-year-old competing in sport’s most challenging series, presumably without his left-turn blinkers flashing incessantly.

Sorry, that wasn’t very nice of me. Morgan Shepherd, the driver in question and the man who got entangled with and knocked out Joey Logano’s car on Sunday, certainly deserves a lot of respect after competing in the sport for 44 years.

But age doesn’t give you a free pass in life.

At last check, Joe Montana still isn’t tossing footballs for the San Francisco 49ers and Cal Ripken Jr. hasn’t extended his Iron Man streak to 32 years.

Stuff happens when you get older. Age affects your cognitive reaction time — an older person takes longer to process incoming stimuli than a younger person does.

I wouldn’t want Shepherd out there driving a stock car, God bless his competitive soul. By the way, that comes into question, too. Shepherd is a part-time driver and hasn’t been competitive for years, so chances of him getting to the front of the pack are just about nil.

Since 1998 Shepherd has led a grand total of 10 laps in 48 Cup races. Of course he is underfunded. Of course he doesn’t have the best equipment. Of course his team isn’t bankrolled by Rick Hendrick or Joe Gibbs.

So what exactly is the point?

Wrecks happen all the time in NASCAR, but there’s always going to be extra eyeballs taking a peek if it involves a 72-year-old driver, which leads us to the incident in question. Shepherd was a bit of a slowpoke, running more than 10 laps down and possibly going under the minimum speed limit in New Hampshire when he bumped into with Logano, who was running second at the time of the incident. Logano finished 40th.

Logano wondered out loud if Shepherd should pass some sort of driving test to be approved to race, triggering the Internet crossfire.

Ultimately, all of this falls on NASCAR’s lap. The sport doesn’t have any age restrictions in place beyond the 18-year-old minimum age of a driver. And NASCAR may find itself caught in a legal pickle if it imposed age limits. But shouldn’t reasonable restraint come into play, too?

“You take a physical at the beginning of the year,” NASCAR vice president of competition Robin Pemberton said. “You pass your physical. You pass inspections with your car, you qualify for the race and you run the event. So he met everything he needed to meet.”

And at the end of the day, he’s still 72 years old.

All those NASCAR fans raising their voice in support of Shepherd should consider this hypothetical:

Suppose Shepherd is competing in one of the designated Chase races and wrecks Dale Earnhardt Jr., NASCAR’s favorite son. Takes him out of the hunt for his first Cup title. Boom. Just like that.

Assuming he could skedaddle out of the track on time, Shepherd likely would have to enter the Witness Protection Program to avoid retribution.

That’s one train wreck that NASCAR could never survive.

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