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McGaha Honoring Shepherd At Motorplex

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 18 2020

Chris McGaha is piloting his Pro Stock Camaro in a wrap honoring Lee Shepherd this weekend in Texas. (Photo courtesy of the NHRA and Phil Burgess)

ENNIS, Texas _ He is the last surviving partner of the Reher-Morrison Racing Engines triumvirate that won four consecutive NHRA Pro Stock world championships in the early 1980s.

David Reher spent countless hours collaborating with Buddy Morrison and Lee Shepherd on carburetors and clutches and chassis setups at Texas Motorplex during their heyday. Absent from The Plex since 2016, Reher has returned for the 35th annual AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals to reminisce with some West Texas racers and to check out a special hot rod.  

Chris McGaha and his Harlow Sammons team from Odessa have unveiled a Reher-Morrison wrap on their Chevrolet Camaro this weekend in honor of Shepherd, the Fort Worth native who scored his consecutive NHRA world championships from 1981-84 in various Camaros.

The tribute look is spot-on _ primarily white with red lower accents and blue striping and Reher-Morrison Racing Engines in black on each door. Shepherd Racing Heads decals sit atop the front wheel openings, as in the past. The roof over the driver’s door carries the name Lee Shepherd. The roof on the rider’s side carries the name Buddy Morrison.

“I think it’s a fabulous look, personally,” Reher, 70, said inside McGaha’s hauler between qualifying sessions Saturday down the all-concrete surface. “Part of it is hard for me to do because of the sadness and part of it, I’m proud of it, you know? So I’d say really I’m proud of it. We accomplished a lot. National Dragster published an article earlier this year that said Lee Shepherd had the highest winning percentage _ he had a short career _ but the highest winning percentage of any Pro Stock driver in history.”

Shepherd was pursuing a fifth championship when he was killed while testing in Ardmore, Okla., on March 12, 1985. Morrison died on Dec. 15, 1998 after a long battle with cancer.

“It feels good to have done this,” Reher said. “These are great people, I’m talking about the McGahas. They’re great people. And drag racing is just like any other slice of America _ you either like the people or you don’t. I mean, that’s just the way it is.”

McGaha said he began talking about the project in 2015. “And then I kinda swept it under the rug,” McGaha said. “This year with (NHRA celebrating) the 50 years of Pro Stock, a bunch of us talked about doing something for Indy (during the U.S. Nationals) and nobody followed through except Jeg Coughlin.”

Sitting in his motorhome at Gainesville (Fla.) Raceway during last month’s Gatornationals, McGaha decided, “I need to do it. I started talking to some different wrap guys…and it was short-notice because everybody wanted diecast models and t-shirts. We’ll do a t-shirt deal eventually.

“But I’ve always lived in Texas. I was very young when Lee died _ I was only 6. But I can remember my dad (Lester) had a model of Lee Shepherd that we were putting together when I was 4 or 5-years-old. And I always heard their name and we even had a Reher-Morrison engine ourselves in those days. It was in an Altered running Comp. We had a little bit of a connection there.

“I knew who Lee was and they were the guys, I mean they were from Texas, that everybody wanted to beat. And even after Lee passed they were still a premier team in Texas. I was a Pro Stock fan for years, and it’s always what I wanted to do.”

Reher recalled that he, Morrison and Shepherd met while attending classes at the University of Texas at Arlington. Morrison had watched Shepherd compete on the eighth-mile Kennedale Raceway and convinced him he would make more money working on cylinder heads at RMRE _ and race professionally fulltime _ than remaining at his job with Texas DOT.

“He was shy,” Reher said of Shepherd. “He wasn’t an aggressive-type person; he was pretty aggressive when he was driving. Otherwise, he’d just be sitting there reading a book in-between rounds. I’m serious. He’d be reading a paperback.”

Shepherd’s fatal crash occurred at approximately 4 p.m. on that Monday at Ardmore Raceway, a onetime airport that has been converted into a drag strip.

“Yeah, we were about done,” Reher said. “We’d been running eighth-mile passes and Lee was kinda disgusted with them and said, ‘I want to run a full-quarter this last run.’^”

Shepherd had completed the pass and deployed the car’s parachute when it went out of control, aided by windy conditions, according to a report filed by Ardmore Police Det. Butch Kinslow. The car rolled several times and landed on its top. Shepherd was ripped from his five-point harness and ejected 163-feet. The car was destroyed, with only the driver’s roll cage remaining intact. Shepherd, 40, was dead on arrival at an Ardmore hospital.

“We were planning to keep on going,” Reher said. “I don’t know that we’d still be going now, but we would have gone for quite a while. He was looking for his fifth (NHRA) championship. Plus he also won two IHRA championships, so he actually won six championships. Back in those days, IHRA was a big deal. They had the Winston sponsorship first. Winston Drag Racing started in the IHRA and then they came over to NHRA.

“A good number of us (NHRA regulars) ran both in Fuel and Funny Car but only a couple guys ran both in Pro Stock. Lee won championships in NHRA and IHRA concurrently two years in a row (1983-84). So he was on a streak.”

Shepherd, who won 26 NHRA national events, was honored by his Pro Stock peers with a missing man formation prior to the Gatornationals at Gainesville Raceway _ the event he was testing for when he crashed_ with an open spot on-pole.

Reher and Bruce Allen, the driver who replaced Shepherd, last competed in Pro Stock at The Plex 15 years ago. Allen escaped serious injury on Oct. 7, 2005 in a violent wreck during a qualifying pass and never returned to the cockpit.

Allen was running opposite Kenny Koretsky when his Pontiac Grand Am lost control halfway up the strip and swerved onto its side, colliding with Koretsky’s Dodge Stratus. The collision split Allen’s car, causing an explosion that sent its 500-cubic-inch engine rolling down the strip.

Allen is a 25 percent partner in RMRE, specializing in machine shop work. “That’s what he wants to do,” Reher said. “He doesn’t want to talk to people on the phone. And he does things I could never do. He did a real good job (driving), won quite a few national events (16).”

Reher pointed out that he and Allen already had decided to quit racing in the summer of 2005, months before Bruce’s Motorplex crash. “We had decided mid-year it’s getting out of hand,” Reher said. “Expenses are too great for what we can generate in proportion to what you pull in. Everything’s so expensive. You run championships on $1,500 shocks, now everybody’s got four or five pairs of $20,000 shocks. And clutches are $12,000 to $15,000. And I was tired, and Bruce was tired and let’s quit.

“Pontiac at the time was giving us some money, it made racing possible, and Speedco Truck Lube, we had a pretty good deal with them and some smaller things. I called them all and said we wanted to call it quits _ do you want to end our money right now or what? They said go to Indy and we’ll finish paying you for the rest of the year. We qualified at Indy and came to Dallas on our own.

“And the wreck, it was terrible, but it happened. People think he chickened-out with the wreck. Well, he probably wouldn’t want to drive again but that wasn’t the motivation behind it. It was a decision we already had made.

“But we had a lot of fun. We had a real good run and Bruce was thrown into a tough situation. We continued to do Pro Stock stuff until we quit. At times we were running as many as five or six (customer) engines. Either you go all-in or you’re not. It’s not a casual thing. And then we had a really, really good run on building Pro Mod engines. We built 100 of them, and those are $100,000-plus engines.” Spec Sportsman engines, a brainchild of Reher and Morrison, remain a staple of the business.

Reher said he heads to RMRE every day, typically between 9:30 and 10 a.m. He lives approximately 12 minutes from the shop at 1120 Enterprise Place in Arlington. “You probably won’t find me there after 4. I’m a five-to-six-hour a day guy,” Reher said. “We’re not doing the volume we once were but guys are getting paid.”

McGaha said he knew Reher was excited about the tribute when he explained the idea to him over the phone. “I plan on running it the rest of the year…at Houston and Vegas and I may run it at the Gatornationals next year,” said McGaha, 41, the winner of eight Pro Stock finals. “That way people can see it, people want to get their picture made by it.

“We’re going to give it everything we got to park it in the winner’s circle. If I make one person smile out of this whole deal, then I have done my job.”

###

REVISED REMAINING 2020 NHRA CAMPING WORLD DRAG RACING SERIES SCHEDULE:

Oct. 14-18 _ AAA Texas NHRA FallNationals, Texas Motorplex, Ennis

Oct. 23-25 _ Mopar Express Lane NHRA SpringNationals presented by Pennzoil, Houston Raceway Park, Baytown, Texas

Oct. 30-Nov. 1 _ Dodge NHRA Finals presented by Pennzoil, The Strip at Las Vegas Motor Speedway

 

| Senior Writer, RacinToday.com Sunday, October 18 2020
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