Carroll Shelby, Sports Cars, Class of 1992
The year of his Hall of Fame induction, 1992, Carroll Shelby celebrated his 40th year in American motorsports, having been a major player in the game for nearly that long. He emerged almost instantly as a driver, speeding through a series of rides and partnerships -- land speed records at Bonneville in 1954 for Austin Healey, consistent wins on the SCCA circuit in a Ferrari -- and ultimately landing at the winner's rostrum at LeMans in 1959.
When forced by his doctors to abandon race driving shortly thereafter, he switched roles, conceiving and constructing the Cobras that in 1964 earned Ford the FIA International Manufacturer's Championship for Grand Touring Cars -- breaking Ferrari's stranglehold on the category. Given the task of salvaging Ford's prototype program, he honed the thundering Ford GT Mark IIs into LeMans dominators. Handed the reins to Ford's Trans-AM program, he guided the Mustang to a series championship. Complications, which Shelby felt subverted the Cobra effort, may have been intrinsic with any corporate involvement. As they began to resurface, he faded from the scene and some wrote him off altogether.
For Shelby, however, there remains one truth: To achieve the kind of dreams he dreams, he needs the backing of a major manufacturer. The strings attached to such support regularly run contrary to Shelby's independent nature, though. It is as if he sold seeds to carmakers that flowered quickly but faded before their full bounty could be realized. The heart disease that kept Shelby out of the cockpit eventually landed him on the heart transplant waiting list. He held on with the same characteristic west Texas doggedness that had sparked his entire career, and finally found a new heart beating in his chest in 1990. This was about the time his latest idea, the Shelby CAN-AM spec racer, found a pair of takers in Dodge and the SCCA and became the focus of Shelby's concentration as he entered his fifth decade in the sport.
As we enter the mid 1990's Shelby has moved his operations to Las Vegas, Nevada where the next generation of Cobra's are undergoing design and development. Carroll Shelby is still a man with racing in his future.