Carroll Shelby, famed car builder, innovator, friend to NHRA, dies
Friday, May 11, 2012
by Phil Burgess, National DRAGSTER Editor
Longtime friends Carroll Shelby, left, and NHRA founder Wally Parks shared a laugh in 2007 at the NHRA Motorsports Musuem.
Carroll Shelby, a longtime friend of the NHRA and an innovative car builder who gave the world the famous Cobra sports car and loaned his name to a series of special-edition Mustangs, died May 11 in Dallas. He was 89.
“The automotive industry has lost a pioneer and the motorsports world a legend with the passing of Carroll Shelby,” said NHRA President Tom Compton. “He and our founder Wally Parks were very good friends, and Carroll frequently attended events at the Wally Parks NHRA Motorsports Museum presented by the Automobile Club of Southern California. On behalf of everyone at NHRA, our thoughts and prayers go out to his family and friends.”
Shelby’s influence stretched from Detroit, where automakers soon learned that the kind of horsepower Shelby stuffed into that first AC Cobra would command legions of fans, to France, where his entries famously finished 1-2 in the 1966 24 Hours of LeMans, and even to the dragstrip thanks to his long friendship with NHRA legend Don "the Snake" Prudhomme.
Shelby, left, with Don Prudhomme
In 1967, Shelby sponsored Lou Baney’s Prudhomme-driven 427 Ford Cammer dragster, which was called Shelby's Super Snake.
Shelby, who had a keen eye for talent, became aware of the Southern California hotshoe after his numerous early successes in Top Fuel. The partnership paid off for both, and the Super Snake was the first car to break the six-second mark. The partnership ended in 1969 when Ford pulled out of racing, but the two remained friends for decades and even reunited in 2009 for a special-edition Ford Shelby GT500 Mustang street car that bore the famous names of both.
“I took a real liking to him and I think him to me,” said Prudhomme. “I always felt that. I always felt he was proud of me as his drag racer because I came up the same way he did, scraping and scratching for everything. He was a real hot rodder and respected the drag racing guys.
“Even after he got out of racing, we always stayed in touch and called to just BS. He was a great guy and a really good friend.”
Racetrack owner Bruton Smith was another longtime Shelby friend. “Carroll was one of the best friends I ever had,” he said. "He was known all over the world as an icon in the automotive industry and one of the greatest names in the history of motorsports. He was a great Texan and a great innovator with a style of his own. I’ll never forget how he would climb out of that sports car with bib overalls and a cowboy hat. Ford will do all but close the company because of his passing. I admired him a great deal and will miss him greatly as a friend and a business partner.”