Yes, he was a snake oil salesman... and a flim-flam man and, from time to time from what I've read and been told, an olympic class truth stretcher. But he was also an "American Original"... an irrepressible individualist... an unapologetic iconoclast... a man with no use for focus groups and market research. Carroll Shelby probably would never have made it in today's mamby-pamby, hyper-sensitive and over-regulated market place... but if anybody could, my chips would be on him.I had the great good fortune to actually encounter the man, shake his hand and exchange a few pleasantries. Along with meeting and getting to know ACM Steering Committee member Peter Brock, it's the closest i've ever gotten to touching a piece of the Cobra legend. I'll omit the part about my passing up a chance to buy a well used $2,950 289 Cobra back in 1970, opting instead for a 1967 Corvair Monza convertible, a car I sold within a year. It was indesputably the blue-ribbon bad decision of many car related doofus moves I made over the years. But back to Shelby...
A good decade ago my wife Deni and i were wandering among the outdoor vendors at Barrett-Jackson Scottsdale. I had bought one of those blue chambray shirts with an embroidered Cobra patch and was verbally flagellating myself (for the seven billionth time) about not buying that 289 when Deni yanked my arm and said, "Hey, isn't that Carroll Shelby sitting over there by that big truck. Why don't you go ask him to sign your shirt?" It was. "No, i don't want to interrupt him," I replied. "Oh don't be silly!" Deni said and grabbed the shirt. "If you're too chicken, I'll ask him."
Now, Shelby had an eye for the ladies... and Deni is a looker. As she approached him she mumbled, "Excuse me Mr. Shelby... I..." He rose half out of his lawn chair, broke out his best West Texas smile and said, "Why, hi there little lady. What can i do fer you?" "My husband just thinks you're the greatest and he would be thrilled if you would sign his shirt." Shelby's smile faded slightly and he slumped back down in his chair. "Well, why not?" Deni handed him the shirt and motioned me over. Shelby whipped a magic marker out of his pocket and signed the shirt. "What do I owe you?" I asked, knowing he usually charged for that well practiced signature. "Aw... this one's on the house." He handed me the shirt.
Now, as a rule, i don't seek autographs and frankly, don't have much regard for celebrities. This was different and I couldn't contain myself. I blurted out, "Outside of friends and family, you are one of three people I really admire." Momentarily taking his eyes off Deni, he looked at me with a hint of bemusement and said, "Well I'll be, who'er the other two?" "Teddy Roosevelt and Harry Truman." I replied. "Dang, that's some pretty good company." He offered his hand and smiled.
The encounter was over and we walked away. I still have that shirt. I think I've worn it twice in twelve years. I didn't want to wash out the signature. I think I'll start wearing it more now. Happy trails Mr. Shelby... I doubt there'll ever be another one quite like you!
Managing editor, ACM OpenRoad