Few people outside of the auto industry and racing world knew the name Carroll Shelby, but millions of auto owners benefited from Shelby’s genius. Carroll Shelby died Thursday, May 10 at the age of 89 at Baylor Hospital in Dallas, Texas.
Carroll Hall Shelby was born January 11, 1923 in Leesburg, Texas and moved to Dallas when he was seven years old. Born with a congenital heart defect, Shelby spent a good bit of his young childhood in bed. Although he eventually overcame the disease to race cars, Shelby had a heart transplant in 1990. In 1996 Shelby had a second transplant – this time a kidney. A flying instructor during World War II with the Army Air Force at Lackland Air Force base, this son of a mail carrier created an unusual way to deliver letters to his fiancée, by putting them in flying boots and dropping them over her farm from his plane.
Shelby drove in an era when safety features, custom made cars, and fire suits had yet to be invented; his trademark was racing in a pair of overalls - like he wore on the farm.
Shelby never made it as a chicken farmer but among his accomplishments in his long career was twice named the Driver of the Year by “Sports Illustrated”, the first in 1956, helped Ford to win four the race at Le Mans four years in a row, won 19 consecutive races, and winning the race at the 24 hours of Le Mans in 1959 driving an Aston Martin after truning down Enzo Ferrari. Shelby helped to design and build a number of cars including the Cobra 427 and the Ford Mustang. Shelby won his first race in 1952.
Shelby’s heart condition forced him to retire from racing in 1960 after winning the US Road Racing Championship; it was then that he turned his hand to car designs and helped to define the “American muscle car”.
After hearing of children dying as a result of no transplant organs available, Shelby created the Carroll Shelby Foundation to aid in obtaining organs for transplant. Shelby founded the International Chili Society which sponsors Chili Cooking Festivals all over the country, raising money for charity.
Reportedly Shelby was married some seven times. Carroll Shelby is survived by his three children – Patrick, Michael, and Sharon -, wife Cleo, sister Anne, four grandchildren, and six great grandchildren.