The automotive industry lost a giant when Carroll Shelby passed away on May 10th, 2012. I never got to meet Carroll Shelby in person, but my friend John Clinard, who has worked at Ford nearly as long as I have been alive, did have that unique pleasure. I asked John if he would share his remembrances, and he was kind enough to oblige. Here's John:
Much will be written about the life and accomplishments of Carroll Shelby. He was one of those rare individuals whose legends are true.
Beyond his celebrated achievements, I want to tell you about Shelby the man, whom I was fortunate to know over the span of 45 years. In a word, Carroll Shelby was real.
In 1967, I was a college student in North Carolina. Across the hall in my dorm lived Bill Guerrant, who was John Holman’s next door neighbor … the John Holman of Holman-Moody in Charlotte. In March, Bill asked if I would like to go with him to Sebring for the 12-hour race. He could get the best of credentials, pits and all.
When we arrived at Sebring the day before the race, we went into the hangar where the Fords were being prepped, and one of the first people I met was Carroll Shelby.
I quickly learned the secret of his success.
As you would imagine, the place was a beehive of activity that Carroll was presiding over, but, when Bill and I were introduced to him, he focused entirely on us as if we were the only people in the world. Here I was, a college kid he had never heard of, and he listened intently while I told him of a friend’s GT350 I had recently driven. As you would imagine, that moment won me over to Carroll Shelby. That this man with a million more important things on his mind would so focus on me was unforgettable.
I saw that trait in Carroll many times over the years. He won people over because he made them important, and his sense of mission was infectious. And, he was having fun and others wanted to join the fun!
The comparison of Carroll Shelby with his arch-rival, Enzo Ferrari, is telling. Both achieved racing and commercial success not through their own technical skills, but through their ability to gather and motivate the best people. But, Ferrari did this through standing aloof and often pitting his people against each other, while Shelby related to each person’s task and rallied his people to work as a team.
Ferrari cultivated excuses; Shelby cultivated solutions.
Little could I have guessed in 1967 that I would later have the great fortune of joining Ford Motor Company and working with Carroll Shelby.
I attended numerous events with Carroll --- SEMA, Monterey Historic Races, Fabulous Fords Forever! at Knott’s Berry Farm, Ford GT market research, a “secret” meeting in Los Angeles to discuss the Shelby Cobra Concept with Ford engineers, and many others. A highlight for me was making arrangements for Carroll to receive the Spirit of Ford award from Edsel Ford at Pebble Beach in 2001.
Through all of these encounters, Carroll was the consummate ambassador, giving everyone the same attention I had experienced decades earlier. His autograph was gladly written on countless glovebox doors, t-shirts, model cars, and anything else that fans brought to him. All of this spoke to his undying enthusiasm for his cause and love for people.
Near my hometown lies Virginia International Raceway (VIR) which opened in 1958. The winner of VIR’s inaugural race was Carroll Shelby in a Maserati 450S entered by John Edgar of Los Angeles. The track was closed in 1974 and then reopened under new ownership and lavish renovation in 2000. I was there for the festivities and word was that Carroll Shelby would be guest of honor. When Carroll arrived, he was taken to the tower for a radio interview carried over the track speakers. He spotted me in the crowd and called me up to join him. I had no business being in that interview, but he insisted and we bantered about the history of VIR and had a great time. That was Carroll Shelby.
In July, 2011, I had the privilege of interviewing Carroll for the Ford Racing 110th Anniversary website (see the video here). In an hour of discussion, Carroll gave credit for his achievements to everyone but himself. To me, this is the genuine Carroll Shelby that bears remembering.
Carroll Shelby created and shared his legend, and he enriched thousands of lives along the way. He was real. -- John Clinard
John, thanks for sharing your memories, and condolences on the loss of your friend. -- AG