Before there was the car, there was the man. His name is the stuff of legend. His accomplishments, the envy of every kid who fell in love with cars and driving and courage and performance.
As a 37 year old race car driver burdened by heart disease, he would defy death by downing nitroglycerine pills at high speed. Not just to stay in the race, but to stay alive. Shelby's vision of what an American sports car could be has shaped an entire generation of high-performance automobiles. To this day, his legacy continues. On a fast track, of course. Carroll Hall Shelby was born in Leesburg, Texas. Living life in high gear, he would become a flight instructor during World War II.
He would drive his first race behind the wheel of a hot rod fitted with a flathead Ford V8. Would break land speed records at the Bonneville Salt Flats in 1954. Would finish a respectable second place driving an Aston-Martin DBR3 against C-type Jags at Aintree. Would ride with the Aston-Martin team at LeMans in 1954. Would win at Torrey Pines with a 4.1 liter Mexico Ferrari. Would become Sports Illustrated's 1956 "Sports Car Driver of the Year". And the magazine's "Driver of the Year" in 1957. Would win a 100 mile race at Riverside in a V8 Maserati. Would co-drive an Aston-Martin DBR 1/300 and win the coveted 24 hours of LeMans. Would drive a Scarab to first place at Continental Divide Raceways in 1960. And in his last year of racing, would win the USAC Driving Championship for 1960. Unable to compete with a deteriorating heart condition, his final lap in racing was now history. Fortunately for car lovers, a new path was about to begin.
His racing career now over, Shelby set his sites on automotive design. On creating cars that would be faster, lighter, more nimble, and able to win against the world's best.. The result of this quest: The Shelby Cobra. In 1965, the Shelby-American Team, racing Cobra's at the 12 Heures De Reims in France, scored enough points to win the prestigious FIA World Championship of GT cars. Taking the title virtually owned by Ferrari for a decade. Building on their success, the Shelby-American Team began racing Ford GT40's in international competition. The result? A win at the LeMans 24 hour race In 1966. And another in 1967. At the request of Ford, Shelby began developing a high-performance Mustang for the street and track. The popular success of the Shelby Mustangs of 1965-1970 were, in large part, the result of Shelby's racing and design skills. But Shelby's vision of building another high-performance car would continue. Serving as the guiding inspiration, in the 90's, Shelby American developed the awesome Shelby Series 1, the fastest car ever tested in the standing measured mile. Shelby also helped Chrysler develop the fast, sleek and powerful Viper. It was achievements like these that led to Carroll Shelby's induction into the Automotive Hall of Fame in 1992. Not bad for a guy from Leesburg, Texas who began his career racing hot rods.
Carroll Shelby has again turned his attention to making high-performance cars that will be the standard for future generations. Will he be successful? If past performance is any indication of future results, we have only four words of advice: FASTEN YOUR SEAT BELTS.