Though Shepherd had to pull out of the Sept. 18 race for mechanical problems, he has experienced many successes as a NASCAR driver, both winning races and finishing among the sport's top 10 drivers several times.
It's not been easy for the North Carolina native to keep going all these years. He is his own driver and mechanic, and he relies on a volunteer pit crew to keep his No. 89 “Victory in Jesus” car on the NASCAR tracks. He knows a major sponsor is unlikely to support him because of his age, but Shepherd's partner Dana Tomes and the Faith Motorsports team keep plugging away.
According to Shepherd, his love for Jesus keeps him going—he sees the race track as his mission field. His goal is to form a well-established team and then put a young driver in the seat so he can continue his ministry as a car owner.
”We have a great opportunity to reach people and be an influence on their lives,” he said.
Shepherd has come a long way since his younger, wilder days in racing. After his wife left him and he had a particularly bad hangover one morning, Shepherd thought, “If all this is so great, how come I feel so bad in the mornings?”
Looking back, he said, God “let me get to the lowest point in my life, and I had to change one or another.”
So in 1975, Shepherd started praying.
Now Shepherd tells fans that when they accept Jesus as savior, “he'll carry you through” the inevitable problems in life.
That's also the message Shepherd conveys through the Victory in Jesus Racing Ministry and the Morgan Shepherd Charitable Fund, which helps people in the Appalachian Mountain region of Virginia.
“Our ministry is personified by the race team and Morgan Shepherd's witness,” Cindy Caldwell, Shepherd's daughter, said. “Some racing fans would never step into a church. We take the ministry to them.”
The outreach is not without its critics. Potential sponsors have eschewed the Shepherd team because Sunday races “might keep people from going to church.” Caldwell, who leads the Victory in Jesus Racing Ministry, disagrees.
“Most races do not begin until noon,” she said. “If [churches] have an early service, [fans] can still attend church and then come to the race. Also, lots of area campgrounds have services. Many times, my dad shares his testimony there.”