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Tue, Sep 23, 2014

WOODY: Fire-balling seniors provide inspiration

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When 71-year-old Morgan Shepherd became the oldest driver to start a NASCAR Sprint Cup race earlier this month, there was a national outburst of Geezer Pride.

Morgan strapped himself into his stock car and went whizzing around New Hampshire Speedway, racing against whippersnappers who were in diapers when Shepherd ran his first race back during the Lincoln administration.

That’s a slight exaggeration; Morgan actually ran his first big-league race in 1970. That’s impressive, but consider this: James Hylton had been racing for six years before Shepherd took to the track.

Hylton, 78, is still racing, although not in stock car racing’s top divisions. He competes in the ARCA Series.

I recently interviewed Hylton for a magazine feature and he is as feisty and spry as ever, racing out of his shop in Inman, N.C.

Asked about living in the fast lane at almost 80, Hylton chucked and said:

“That race car don’t know how old I am.”

James says he’s going to retire at the end of the season. He’s been saying that for the last 10 years. But every year the pull is too great, and he treks back to the track, an old fire-horse answering the bell one more time.

I think it’s great. Health experts say it’s good for old folks to stay active, and zinging  a race car around a track at 180 mph is about as active as you can get.

Race fans enjoy getting to see some of the golden oldies up and running, which is why a few years ago a promoter considered launching a NASCAR Senior Series. It was to be designed along the lines of the PGA Senior Tour.

It didn’t get off the ground, for a number of reasons -- starting with the fact that not many old timers were interested in risking their necks on a regular basis.

There are several significant differences between a senior golf tour and a senior racing series, starting with the fact that golf carts don’t go 200 mph down the fairway.

When a golfer hits a ball out of bounds he simply drops another ball; when a race driver’s car goes out of bounds they call an ambulance.

Having one old-timer out on the track is interesting and inspirational; having a full field of senior citizens jockeying for position could be asking for trouble. Remember, they aren’t squabbling over a parking space at Kroger.

Imagine the field coming to the starting line with several left-turn blinkers inadvertently turned on and some of the drivers fumbling with road maps spread on the dash.

Instead of racing decals, they’d have geriatric-themed bumper stickers saying, “I’m Spending My Grandkids’ Inheritance,” “Old But Hot,” and “Growing Old Ain’t for Sissies.”

And even if their car wasn’t up to speed, they’d still putter along and refuse to get out of the fast lane.

But even if having a NASCAR senior tour isn’t such a good idea, there’s nothing wrong with having an occasional seasoned veteran like Shepherd or Hylton still racing like a gray streak.

It’s great to see gritty grandpas retain their getty-up and refuse to swap their stocker for a rocker.

Let’s hoist a Geritol toast to those stubborn old fire-ballers who won’t begrudge an inch to Father Time. They refuse to slow down and act their age. More (horse) power to them.

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Larry Woody, NASCAR, Racing, Sports
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