Morgan Shepherd’s Greatest Weekend is Off the Race Track
By Heidi Krumenauer
CBN.com - For more than 40 years, NASCAR driver Morgan Shepherd has been climbing in a stock car and heading to racetracks across the country. Starting his early career on the local circuit, Morgan had made his NASCAR Winston Cup debut by 1970. Each weekend Morgan’s thoughts are consumed by practicing, strategizing, racing, and then starting all over again the next weekend, hoping to get to the front of the pack and earn a living. That, alone, is a full-time job for most drivers, leaving very few moments to gather your thoughts for other things, but Morgan’s passion to share the message of Jesus with others is what keeps him moving long after he has left the track.
After the season has finished in mid-November, Morgan, like many other husbands, is given a “honey-do list” by his wife, Cindy, to complete during the short three-month hiatus. Morgan says he gently reminds his wife that those chores will have to wait – he has other work to do. While most drivers are already gearing up for next year’s races, Morgan steps out of the car at Homestead Miami Speedway in Florida and steps into charity mode.
Each December for the past 22 years, Morgan’s Charitable Fund hits the road to deliver gift bags to handicapped persons and children in the Virginia Mountains. Last year they filled about 1,500 gift bags with racing t-shirts, jackets, diecast cars, haulers, hats and more from the Craftsman Truck, Nationwide and Sprint Cup Series. Local companies also contribute socks, gloves, candy, snacks, and Goody’s Headache Powder. Because they need to be considerate of certain dietary needs for their handicapped friends, Morgan says they do a lot of planning to ensure the bags are safe for everyone.
This year, Morgan and a group of approximately 80 friends will continue their charity work on December 15. “It’s a wonderful day, and it’s something we look forward to all year. We prepare during the race season for this moment. It all comes down to crunch time right now to pull it all together.”
Morgan’s Charitable Fund started as a simple comment to his good friend, Ken Lanter, 22 years ago while they sat outside of his race shop. “I told Ken that I’d like to seek out a family that needed some help and help them at Christmas. Ken said, ‘Morgan, I got the perfect person.’” And Ken proceeded to tell Morgan about a 50ish man he’d met by the name of Billy Shough. Billy was humped over and walked with a cane. Ken had asked Billy what he’d do with $1,000 if he had it; Billy said he’d never had that kind of money, but if did have it, he’d paint and fix the roof on his house trailer. Morgan quickly agreed, saying, “That’s what we’ll do!” Morgan called a friend and a painter, and took a load of Quaker State racing merchandise to Billy’s house. “Then we bought him a year’s supply of gift certificates for food from the grocery store, and we called the oil company and asked them to fill the tank and send us the bill. They sent it to Ken,” Morgan laughs. “And that was the beginning of the charity.”
Billy worked at PARC Workshop in Stuart, VA, a private non-profit organization that provides handicapped adults with job and daily living skills, making $20 a week. Morgan visited PARC, and the next year he took gifts. “It grew from there,” Morgan says. By the third year, Morgan and his group ventured off to the neighboring community of Galax, VA. “In Galax, we seek out families and spend about $5,000 to help people with groceries, filling oil barrels and turning on power. We’ll probably see a couple thousand people on this trip, but most of our money will go to the people at the PARC Workshop where there are a few more than 30 people. Most of our money goes there…about $20,000 to $30,000…about one-quarter of our funds. People like them really need our help,” Morgan says.
Morgan feels blessed to help people with disabilities, having avoided a crippling life himself. At 12 years old, Morgan was diagnosed with polio but was one of the lucky few who underwent treatments for a few years and has lived with pain but was not crippled from the disease.
In the mid-1990s, Morgan met Betty Archer who had been crippled from polio and provided her with a furnished double-wide modular home, specifically designed for her special needs. “We tried to put a little heaven in her life while she was here on earth.” A few years ago, Betty passed away, but since Morgan kept her home in the charity’s name while she was alive, they were able to take her home and transfer it to the PARC Workshop where it now serves as a mobile unit used to train the handicapped how to clean a house. “We’ve made good use of that home,” Morgan adds.
During their one-day trip on December 15, Morgan will fill his bus with musicians, comedians, preachers, a radio personality, a Barney Fife impersonator, and maybe even a few surprise visits from NASCAR’s driver roster. In past years, Morgan has been joined by Ken Schrader, Dennis Setzer, Kyle Petty, Ricky Rudd, Ned Jarrett, and Dale Jarrett. “When we go to see these people, we don’t want any sadness. We only want joy. It’s about bringing Jesus out and telling them about what Christmas is. I always let people know that we don’t know the moment of time we’ll be leaving this earth, and I really lay it on them that I wouldn’t want to leave here without knowing Jesus. ”
As Morgan talks about his Charitable Fund in his soft, compassionate voice, it’s hard to remember that he is the same man who can dodge aggressively between race cars at nearly 200 mph. So, what’s more gratifying – winning a race or taking his Charitable Fund on the road? “Well let me tell you,” says Morgan. “I’m a very competitive person and even at my age, I take things to heart. We don’t have the up-to-date engines to be as competitive as we should be. And after not qualifying and missing the last three races, I was really bummed.”
But Morgan found out that God smiles even on the worst days. After the season’s final Nationwide race at the Homestead Miami Speedway, Morgan talked to one of the Nationwide/Sprint Cup drivers, congratulating him on a great run. He also spent a few moments to remind his fellow competitor not to take the day for granted and shared a few moments about life in general. A few moments later, Morgan ran back to his motor home. While there, he grabbed a couple charity brochures and gave them to the driver, sharing a few details about the upcoming December trek. “He’d heard about the charity, but he didn’t know that much. Still after listening to a few facts, the driver told Morgan, “Well, I’ll give you $10,000.” Morgan said, “I’m not believing this! I grabbed his hand and gave him a hug and that was a $15,000 hug because he said, “I’m gonna come off of that and give you $25,000. I couldn’t believe it.”
And in that moment, Morgan realized that God had him exactly where he needed to be that day – off of the track. “You know, sometimes we’re competitive and we get into what we’re doing and we get off track about our purpose. And if I would have gotten in the race – which we really needed for the team – this driver and I never would have crossed paths that day…and the handicapped people in our charity wouldn’t have gotten the $25,000. It’s like God took it all off of me. The depression that I was in from not getting in the race…instead I felt glorified.”
At the end of the day, Morgan Shepherd is always exactly where God needs him the most!
For more information in Morgan Shepherd’s Charitable Fund, go to www.MorganShepherd.com or www.racewithfaith.com .
During Part II of my interview with Morgan in January, learn more about Faith Motorsports and his #89 “Racing With Jesus” Dodge.
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