International Motorsports Hall of Fame Member: Carroll Shelby
Class of 1991
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 versatility.
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 class.
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 time.