Amanda says – reflections on retirement

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Some decisions in life are harder to make than others. Some decisions in life are harder to hear than others. But some decisions in life shouldn’t have to be made at all.

(The following is from Amanda Shepherd, who has been reflecting on the retirement of her father Bob from drag racing. We felt it deserves the front page treatment! You can discuss it more and wish Bob all the best on the forum thread here.)

We’ve all been there and we’ve all had to make a life altering decision somewhere along the line. I feel my Dad has just made the hardest and biggest decision of his life. Dad has decided to retire from Drag Racing, a sport he’s grown up in and a sport he’s known for 46 years. A sport that has seen him mature into a highly respectable and talented Drag Racer. A sport that has witnessed his many high’s and low’s – A sport that has given him enjoyment and excitement for the last 46 years.

The decision to retire from Drag Racing is rather bittersweet for the entire Shepherd Racing Team. Some of us have followed Dad through a life time of unforgettable memories and have been by his side from the moment he first stepped onto the race track and are still with him on the team today. Some of us have been with Dad, watching him race since he entered the ‘Top Fuel’ scene. Yet for some of us, we were born into this scene. We were born into a scene of big engines, fast cars and lots of noise. We were born into a scene of having to share a coke can with Dad whilst bopping away to Johnny Horton’s ‘North to Alaska’ (which by the way I know EVERY word to) on an interstate trip at the tender age of 2, while Mums passed out in the passenger seat from an exhausting weekend of Racing. Little did I know, this was just the beginning of many unforgettable road trips with Dad. Road trips that would be talked about for years to come, and road trips where all I remember Dad saying is “run Moo, run down the street and stay there until I call you, this place is about to blow” as he finds a petrol leak on the truck on a stop to Willowbank Raceway at the petrol station. I’ve never run so fast in my life.

At every pit stop, Dad would get out of the truck and about 500 coke cans would fall onto the ground as he opened the door, and it had only been a few hours since the last pit stop. Yep, that was Dad for you. tongue

I could go on and on about the ridiculous conversations we’ve shared while on our way home from Willowbank Raceway in the truck at 3am in the morning after an enormous and exhausting weekend of racing… they were such typical “Shepherd” conversations. Lots of dribble, and lots of “oh yeah” that didn’t really fit into the context of the conversation, so I knew Dad didn’t have his hearing aids in.  lol

I don’t remember much of the first ‘Gambler’ Funny Car he raced prior to 1997 (burgundy and white). Although, the memories I do have will stick with me forever. I had my own little red hooded jacket (just like Dad’s) with ‘little gambler’ embroided on it. He would pick me up after every run and put me inside the funny car with him and I would ride alongside him proud as punch while he was being towed back from every race. I loved it and I thought I was such a princess, sitting high and proud alongside my Dad – The Big Gambler and The Little Gambler. Little did I know that I would grow up to follow in his footsteps.

Then came the BB Funny Car painted red, white and blue. I think Dad hit almost every wall at Eastern Creek Raceway in this beast in 1997. He burnt his face and hands to a point where we thought he’d never fully recover. Dad got his first ride ever in a helicopter to the hospital (he was unconscious though and missed the entire flight). Dad then sold every little piece of the car and swore to Mum he would never race again. 2 years later he purchased a Top Fuel Dragster. Lesson #1: Never listen to what Dad says.

The Top Fuel days are what I have the most memories of.
Dad’s first 4 second pass at the Summernationals in 2006 at Sydney Dragway brought the house down. Dad clocked the magical 4.97 second pass, backing it up with a 4.99 second pass. The Veteran of Australian Drag Racing had accomplished a huge milestone in his life; one that I was honoured to share with him, our family and the rest of the Shepherd Racing team.

I was only 12 when Dad purchased the Top Fuel Dragster and I couldn’t believe it when he asked me to be on the pit crew. That’s when it all started – I became so involved with many aspects of the engine, how it worked, why it did what it did, and the in’s and out’s of the vehicle that I realised I wanted to drive it one day. In 2007 Dad let me get my licence in the Dragster and gave me the opportunity to compete in Top Fuel brackets for 2.5 years. We would get excited together, we shared the car together, but most of all we shared our experiences together. Everything I described to Dad about racing and driving, he could relate to. It’s an indescribable feeling when you can share such memories and experiences with your Dad – it’s priceless.

Dad’s contagious smile and his ‘never say never’ attitude is always with him at the track, hence the ‘1/4 mile smile’. Whether he would win a round or make a complete mess of the car with one of his famous explosions, Dad was constantly smiling and on cloud nine.

At one stage, Dad was known as “BBQ BOB” because he was constantly blowing up engines. Run after run we would see the back end of the car completely immersed in flames. Other times he’s known as “Bob The Builder” because he thinks he can fix everything with a hammer. Dad attacked everything in Drag Racing with a mix of extraordinary genius and naive incompetence, but we loved him for it.

Dad always has time for his fans and appreciates their support and encouragement throughout his 46 years of racing. “I do it for the crowd” he always said, “because without them, it wouldn’t be the same”.
The relationship that Dad has with other drivers, crew members and everyone at the track is admirable. The other Drag Racers may forget what Dad said, but they will never forget how he made them feel.

To hear the decision that my Dad, Bob the ‘1/4 Mile Smile’ Shepherd is retiring from Drag Racing after the Fuchs Australian Nationals at Sydney Dragway  next weekend was the toughest thing I’ve ever had to hear.
Dad has achieved incredible things over the past 46 years of Drag Racing, and has become the hero & legend that we now know as the ‘1/4 Mile Smile’. The decision is certainly bittersweet for all of us at Shepherd Racing, but no matter what happens, he will ALWAYS be the ‘Masked Hero’… because he’s a legend! 

23 years after my first experience at the Race Track as a new born, here I am sitting at my laptop typing up a story that I never thought I’d have to write. A story that shouldn’t have an ending, because the memories will outlast the photos and movies. A story that many people, for years to come will sit down and read, laugh at, cry at, smile at and read to their children’s children. So I’ve decided to leave you with just that – the never ending story… because who knows what Bob will get up to next!

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