Morgan Shepherd interview





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As the NASCAR Winston Cup Series approaches it's next tour stop at North Wilksboro, times are changing for Wilkes County, known for producing poultry, moonshine and stock car racing legends, like six-time champion car owner Junior Johnson and 1973 title holder Benny Parsons. Last year, dramatic events began to change racing in Wilkes County. North Wilkesboro Speedway owner Enoch Staley died and the future of the track he left behind now is in question. And Junior Johnson, a NASCAR icon as a driver, team owner and moonshiner, sold his race teams and retired, Only one of the county's natives remains active on the track: Morgan shepherd, who was born in his family's small house in Ferguson, N.C., in western Wilkes County. His family relocated to Conover, in neighboring Catawba County when he was eight, but his family roots remain in Wllkes County.

MORGAN SHEPHERD -75- Remington Arms Thunderbird-- I was very young when I lived in Ferguson, but I remember a little bit about that time. I can remember when my father, when I first saw him. I was somewhere around three or three-and-a-half years old. My mother said, your daddy's coming home.' He'd been in prison for a year for making moonshine. I can remember him walking down the dirt road Coming home. We had no paved roads in Ferguson.

"I remember the little house, which seemed big at that time, but now that I've grown up and gone back over there, It was kind of like a cracker box that we lived in. When you grow up and you look at things you don't realize the size things really are. When you're a kid, everything seems large. People seem big. Ferguson is kind of a spot in the road. It had two service stations and the mail came to my grandmother's house. They didn't have a regular place for the post office. Those are the things I remember about the county and Ferguson."

Once Shepherd's family left Wilkes County one thing didn't change: "When we moved to Conover I can remember the federal officer; coming and searching out stills, and they came to our house because they heard my daddy had a still. And so we had a creek down below our house and we had some hogs and hog pins[pens]. That's where you'd dump your mash to get rid of it. They searched the barns, searches the whole place. We were all standing in the basement and they couldn't find the still nowhere. They didn't know they were 10 feet away from it. They turned the place upside down but never could find the still. It was back in a corner of our basement in a little small room, and they never thought about it being there, so they left. And my dad had a dream on Sunday night that they were going to come back on Monday, but he didn't take the still down. And they came back and found the still. They had him open that room, they found the still, and of course, they carried my dad off.

"He was just an old mountain man and that was a way of life for him, He never worked six months at public work. When you live back in the mountains, it's a long way to go get a job. He logged and had a little country store, and it was hard for him to make it in a 'big city' like Conover. So he still made moonshine. He went back over in the mountains, and I remember I was about nine and I went over to where he was staying and he had three stills. They were in the mountains and there was one at the bottom of each stream. But that was a way of life for the mountain people.

"I remember he bought him a brand new '53 Ford truck and he would always put a case of liquor on each side of the motor and go to town and sell the moonshine. The revenuer stopped him one day, and even though he didn't catch him when he had his truck loaded, he had a Pepsi bottle sitting on the seat with some moonshine in it. He forgot about it, and they took his pick-up truck away from him, because he had that one little of moonshine in there."

In the mountains, they say "acorns never fall far from the tree," so it shouldn't be surprising where young Morgan turned for money: "when I was growing up, I started working when I was 10. I was working on the farm, picking up hay. I've picked a little cotton, strung some tobacco, more or less supported myself since I was about 10. I bought my first car when I was 12, an old '38 Chevy. That was the car I paid 12 dollars and a half, two flying squirrels, a grey squirrel and a 20-gauge shotgun for.

"As I got up to about 16, I reckon I did follow in my father's footsteps a little bit, Because a friend of mine, Clifford Baker, we built us a still and did the same thing. We made some moonshine. One day we were going down to the still and we heard this big explosion. The revenuer[s] were down there. Luckily they blew it up before we got anywhere near it. We took off running, jumped in our car and cut out. They blew up our still and luckily they didn't catch us there. And we used to haul some moonshine out of Icard, N.C., up above Hickory. The last time I did that, I had a '59 Pontiac and when we went up there to pick it up I thought, 'Something's not right.' I saw some plain cars sitting on Interstate 40 and when we got up there, the batch wasn't ready. So, we were coming back down the road and noticed that things just really didn't seem right. We got down past Hickory Speedway, down past Conover, and they waited until we got past the last exit above Hickory Speedway there. And there were no more exits until you got to Conover. And, buddy, the Law -- revenuer, Conover law, Hickory law, everybody -- and would you believe the same type deal that happened to my dad...? We had a Pepsi bottle on the seat with some moonshine in it. And, Clifford was driving, and I told him. 'When you pull over off the edge of the road, just keep driving along and I'11 knock the cap off the top off this.' I knocked the cap off it and I said, 'Just keep driving, don't stop until I get it emptied,' I just kinda of cracked the door open and poured it out. After I got it emptied, I threw the Pepsi bottle out and we drove another 100 feet and stopped. And boy, they knocked on the roof, they beat on the quarter panels, they was up under it, they were all over that '59 Pontiac. But we didn't have anything. That was the last time Morgan Shepherd was ever involved with dealing with any moonshine. And that's as close as I ever came to getting caught, so that was the end of my moonshine days. Like- my father, a Pepsi bottle full or moonshine almost cost me my vehicle."

Todey, Shepherd is a born again Christian who won't touch a drop of alcohol, but he still has strong feelings for Wilkes County: there were a lot of moonshiners and racers that came out of those hills. The 'Thunder Road' movie with Robert Mitchum was made on the old road that goes over Wilkes Counts. They've put a new road through there but you ten still see parts of the old road that crosses the mountain where they filmed on all those sharp curves. Racing and moonshining are sort of what people know Wilkes County for. Now, the talk is that Wilkesboro may lose its races. Anytime you start to lose race tracks, it's got to be a very sad affair for the community. People who realize what racing does for the community know there are businesses that rely on racing. That's the biggest thing that will hurt Wilkes County. They're going to lose a lot of money that comes in and helps all the businesses. That's the sad part about a race leaving North Wilkesboro."

It's possible shepherd may be racing's final tie to Wilkes County: "I hope and feel like I'm going to be in racing for [a] long time, but I'm the last of the Wilkes County natives still out here. I have no desire to leave racing. I know we have potential as a team and I know that the potential is still there for Morgan Shepherd. I can still drive a race car and God blesses me well, I'm still a heck of a race car driver,"

Jack Durbin Motorsport News International (Moderators for "") Homepage

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About this article
Series NASCAR Cup
Drivers Morgan Shepherd , Benny Parsons , Junior Johnson