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AGE: 55.

CAR: No. 1 Pontiac Grand Prix.

HOMETOWN: Conover, N.C.

NOTES: Two weeks ago, Shepherd posted Pontiac's best finish of the season _ third _ at the Primestar 500 in Atlanta, his second top 10 in four starts this season. Sunday's TranSouth 400 at Darlington Raceway is scheduled to be his 450th career start. On Friday, Shepherd qualified 23rd, but second fastest among the Pontiacs, at 168.671 mph.

Q: How did you get into racing?

A: I've always loved the automobile. The first car I ever owned was a '37 Chevrolet coach. When I was 12 years old I gave $12.50, two flying squirrels, a gray squirrel and a 20-gauge shotgun for it.

Q: How did you hook up with owner Richard Jackson?

A: At the end of the season, whenever a driver has a bad year, he doesn't have as many people look at him. At my age, that hurts you in racing, even though my ability is still there and I can still win races. Richard Jackson was struggling also. He was without sponsorship for his team. He and I got together and kind of committed ourselves to each other.

Q: Do you feel some sort of vindication from your early season success?

A: If you got up every single day and the sun was shining and it was always like that, all of a sudden it wouldn't be so pretty every day, because you'd see that pretty picture every single day. If you have bad days where it's pouring down rain, I think if you didn't have those days, then this day wouldn't be so beautiful.