Many have said Carroll Shelby was the greatest
single influence on America's racing posture in the post-1945 period. If
nothing else, there can be no doubting his motorsports achievements and
The son of a Texas mail clerk, he refurbished the
image of American road-racing drivers in Europe, and, with no engineering
background, he created a race car which ended Ferrari's domination of the
World Manufacturer's Championship. Then he created a sports car which
became a sensation and forced General Motors to refine the Corvette into
the fine automobile it is today.
Born in Leesburg, Tex., on January 11, 1923,
Shelby's interest in automobiles and racing were nurtured not long after
his family moved to Dallas. After working as the owner of his own dump
truck business, an oil-field roughneck and a chicken farmer, he drove an
MG in his first race at an air station in Texas.
From there, he expanded his activities, eventually
landing a ride with the Aston Martin team which would take him to Europe.
By 1954, he had driven in his first 24 Hours of LeMans and had won his
first event in the Monza 1000. He moved on to win 10 more times in 1955-
in various cars - and won still more in 1956, driving mostly for John
Edgar. In 1957, Shelby was recognized as America's top road-racing star.
During one stretch of the year, he won 19 straight events in gathering his
second SCCA title.
He would go on to win many more races, but by '57,
the idea of an American sports car had been firmly planted in his head and
he would talk about it to anyone who would listen. By 1961, a year after
he retired as a driver due to heart problems, the idea came into reality.
Shelby joined forces with AC in England and, utilizing a lightweight
cast-iron Ford engine, thus was born what eventually became the Ford Cobra
- Shelby's American Sports Car.
Cobras became popular with the performance-minded
public and on the race tracks as well, gaining more than their share of
victories against the archrival Corvettes in SCCA competition and holding
their own against the international competition, giving Ferrari fits in GT
In January of 1965, the smaller Shelby GT Mustang
made its debut. Meanwhile, Shelby kept his racing operations in order and
Cobra won the GT Manufacturer's Title that year, the first American
conceived car to do so. By 1966, Shelby had joined with Dan Gurney to form
All-American Racers for the express purpose of building a car that could
challenge for the Indianapolis 500 and the World Championship. It did
neither, but Shelby kept at it, overseeing a Trans Am operation which
utilized the Mustang.
By 1970, Shelby had all but given up
active race participation, but by that time, his legacy was firm. His
American Sports Car had made its mark and his contributions to Ford helped
spark an increase in muscle car production. That aside, he would have
stood as a giant in motorsports if for no other reason than his
accomplishments as the most influential and successful road racer of his
Carol Shelby, Inducted 1991