I think I should talk with Morgan Shepherd. I don't know Morgan Shepherd, but I read this week that at age 71 he is going to become the oldest driver ever to compete on the NASCAR grand stage when he runs the Camping World RV Sales 301 on Sunday at the New Hampshire Motor Speedway. Like I said, I think we should talk.
I'm not as old as Morgan yet, but I'm not that far away, either, so we certainly could share memories of where we were when JFK was shot and how cool it was when Elvis appeared on the Ed Sullivan Show, even though the black-and-white cameras showed him only above his waist. We're in the same ballpark, the one with the paint peeling on the walls, if you know what I mean.
So NASCAR ...
At the age of 71 ...
"I have a pamphlet here, Morgan," I might say, after we agree that the teacher's instructions to crawl under our desks in second or third grade in case of a nuclear attack were probably not based on the soundest thinking. "I looked it up. Just for you. It's from the AAA, the Triple A. The title is 'Drivers 65 Plus: Check your Performance.' Have you ever seen it?"
I suppose there could be a pause for a guffaw from Morgan here.
Followed by a second pause for a second guffaw.
Then I could read a little from the brochure.
"Think about what tasks you do every time you get behind the wheel of a car." (This is how the Introduction starts.) "You must coordinate the actions of your hands, feet, eyes, ears and body movements. At the same time, you must decide how to react to what you see, hear, and feel in relation to other cars and drivers, traffic signs and signals, conditions of the highway and the performance of your car…"
I know this is basic stuff. I know.
The thing to point out, though, is that AAA is worried about people who are Morgan's age -- OK, my age -- simply getting to the supermarket and back without trouble. The pamphlet points out little facts about declining vision, a natural occurrence, like the fact that a 60-year-old requires 10 times the light required by a 20-year-old to see and the fact that a 55-year-old takes as long as eight times as long to recover from glare as a 16-year-old and, yes, the fact that around 70, peripheral vision just goes all to hell.
There is no mention of NASCAR anywhere in all of these facts, I will admit, but maybe there should be a little concern. I mean peripheral vision might be important in NASCAR, all those cars whizzing every which way at a couple hundred miles per hour. And if it's sunny, you know, in New Hampshire, well maybe there will be a little glare.
"As a mature driver, you bring a wealth of experience to the driver's seat; that is why, on average, drivers in their fifties and sixties have just about the lowest crash rates of anyone on the road," I would continue, more reading, maybe with a quick break to discuss whether Howdy Doody ever really did like Buffalo Bob Smith. "However, as some of the skills required for optimal driving performance begin to decline at older ages, research shows that crash rates begin to increase as drivers reach their late 60s or early 70s, and increase more rapidly after about age 75.
"Additionally, your body is not as resistant to injury as it might have been 30 or 40 years ago. If you are involved in a crash, you are likely to suffer more serious injuries as compared to a younger person in a similar crash. This makes it increasingly important for you to do everything you can to keep your driving skills sharp and to minimize your chances of being involved in a crash in the first place."
This also would seem to have some NASCAR importance, this business of crashing. I have seen a number of these races and crashing seems to be a major part of the production. If a driver over 65 crashes more -- and if he gets hurt more every time he crashes -- then maybe that is another thing to consider.
AAA has a list of 15 suggestions for drivers 65-plus to consider before they take to the road. I don't think I would bother Morgan with all of them -- advice like "wear a seat belt" is pretty basic -- but after a debate about who was better in center field, Mickey, Willie or the Duke, I suppose I would mention a couple.
Like "Intersections bother me because there is so much to watch from all directions." Does Morgan ever have that feeling? How about "I find it difficult to decide when to merge with traffic on a busy interstate highway?" Or "I think I am slower than I used to be in reacting to dangerous driving situations?" Or "when I am really upset it affects my driving?" Or "my thoughts wander when I drive?" Or "I check with my doctor or pharmacist about how the medications I take affect my driving ability?"
This could be important stuff.
I have a couple other concerns of my own I might mention -- like the importance of a young man's hearing, for instance, in working with the spotter in the press box, and then there's that dastardly bladder/prostate concern for men of this certain age -- but I suppose Morgan's going to do what he's going to do. He's been doing it all of his life. I wouldn't do it and most people my age wouldn't do it, get on that race track with those young and crazy hard chargers, but then again we wouldn't have done it when we were their age, either.
So in the end -- maybe after we talked a little bit about Watergate and Haldeman and Ehrlichman and Tricky Dick -- I probably would just wish Morgan good luck. And maybe tell him to kick a little butt for the old guys.