Legendary sports car racer and automaker Carroll Shelby passed away on Thursday night in Dallas, where he had been undergoing treatment for pneumonia. He was 89.
Shelby is renowned for making the AC-based Shelby American Cobra and later the Mustang-based performance cars for Ford Motor Company known as Mustang Cobras, which he has done since 1965. His company, Shelby American Inc., founded in 1962, sells modified Ford vehicles, as well as performance parts.
Following the launch of the celebrated Shelby Mustang, he would later be key in the development of the Le Mans winning Ford GT-40.
"In the history of our company there are a handful of men who have stamped their imprint on the heart and soul of what we do at Ford Racing and Carroll Shelby is definitely one of them," said Ford racing director James Allison. "I'm just so fortunate to have had the opportunity to meet him and our thoughts and prayers go out to his family. We at Ford and his legions of fans will have a silent moment to reflect on what he's done for the company. It's personal for me and I'm sure it's personal for many fans."
Shelby's memory was honored on Friday night at Darlington Raceway with a moment of silence before the start of the NASCAR Nationwide Series race.
"Carroll Shelby was a giant in the motorsports industry and the automobile industry overall," said NASCAR president Mike Helton. "Known primarily as an innovative automotive designer, he started building his legacy as an outstanding driver. Along the way, his name became iconic.
"On a personal level, he was simply a good friend to so many of us. Our thoughts and prayers are with his family."
Among a host of tributes to Shelby on social media sites, American racing legend Mario Andretti tweeted: "Sad to hear legendary Carroll Shelby passed away. His automotive contributions made him a real icon."
After service in World War II as a flight instructor, he launched into sports car racing and soon made his mark for the Cad-Allard, Aston Martin, and Maserati teams during the 1950s. Driving for Donald Healey, in a streamlined and supercharged Austin-Healey 100S, he set 16 U.S. and international speed records. Teamed with Roy Salvadori, and driving for Aston Martin, he won the 1959 24 Hours of Le Mans.
Shelby drove in the Mount Washington Hillclimb Auto Race in a specially prepared Ferrari roadster, to a record run of 10:21.8 seconds on his way to victory in 1956. He was named Sports Illustrated's driver of the year in both 1956 and '57.
Shelby was a force in racing beyond sports cars, too, racing in eight Formula 1 grands prix in 1958-59, as well as several non-championship races. However, heart problems led him to curtail his driving career by 1960. Yet his legend continued to grow with his company's road and racecars.
According to Shelby American, Inc., Shelby considered his greatest achievement to be the establishment of the Carroll Shelby Foundation. Created in 1992 while Shelby was waiting for a heart transplant, the charity is dedicated to providing medical assistance for those in in need, including children. The Foundation also supports educational opportunities for young people through automotive and other training programs and benefits the Carroll Shelby Automotive Foundation.
“Carroll formed a foundation to give something back to those who have not been as fortunate as him, in both medicine and education,” explained Carroll Shelby Foundation Board Member M. Neil Cummings. “The Foundation is well endowed to continue Carroll's vision.”
Shelby remained active in the management of each of his companies and the Foundation until his death, even though he endured both heart and kidney transplants in the last two decades of his life. He is survived by his three children – Patrick, Michael and Sharon – his sister, Anne Shelby Ellison, six grandchildren, four great grandchildren and his wife Cleo.
Funeral plans are not immediately available. In lieu of flowers, the family asks that donations be made in his name to the Carroll Shelby Foundation. More information on the Foundation can be found at www.carrollshelbyfoundation.com.