Saturday, September 20, 2008

In Retrospect

Two of the greatest legends in automotive racing history, one living and one gone to that great racetrack in the sky. Both my my son Will and I have met both of them and we were blessed not only to know them but to call both of them our friends. Will only met Phil Hill one time but fortunately it was after Will had become a young man and was able to truly appreciate all that Phil had accomplished. Regarding Carroll Shelby, I had know him since the late 60's and he always had a fond place in his heart for Will, always making time to spend some one on one time with him. One of the things that impressed me most about Carroll Shelby was his ability to remember almost anyone he met, the Shelby he owned and conversations he had with you 15 years ago. Funny, but I know for a fact that Bob Bondurant was the same way and from what I have been told, so did Phil Hill before he became ill with Parkinson's disease.

How many times have I read or heard guys say, "I wanted to do something exciting like race down Mexico way in La Carrera Panamericana way back in the days when men like Shelby and Phil Hill raced it." It all seems trivial now, but one thing I regret is never haven talked to Hill or Shelby about the time that they raced in La Carrera Panamericana. Just imagine sitting back and watching their eyes light up as they recall those days.

3 comments: said...

Amazing, versatile human beings ...
Another fascinating person was Phil Hill's friend and colleague Ritchie Ginther.

Quite often, if he wasn't the main character in these exploits, he was behind the scenes helping make it happen.

Gary Faules said...

History shows us that even though there was lots of racing and lots of cars, the facts so us most of the building, and winning was done by a very few of what was a very close knit group of special men. It seems like men like Ginther drove for Shelby, Shelby drove with Phil Hill, Hill drove with Chaparral, and the list goes on. Anyone who was somebody raced with, worked for, or ran against each other but it's a well diocumented fact that Shelby had his hands in just about everyone's dreams and he helped make a lot of them famous. It's a small world.

Here are a couple notes Shelby wrote.....

Lance Reventlow beat me to the punch back in 1958 when he launched his American-built Scarab sport car while the Cobra was still just an idea in my head. I knew Lance from the races and saw him as a bright young guy who could do something with family money he had and I didn’t. When he debuted his Scarab at Phoenix that year, the SCCA wouldn’t let him drive because he’d been under age at prior races and got away with it. So Richie Ginther and Lance’s school pal Bruce Kessler drove the Scarab only in practice, but they broke the track record and it was plain that the Scarab would be a hot contender.

In 1956, around the time I was winning a bunch of races in John Edgar’s 410 Ferrari, I met a wonderful man from Albuquerque named Dick Hall who, like John, was an out-and-out enthusiast. I’d been talking of having a dealership in Dallas, and with Dick’s financial backing we opened Carroll Shelby Motors there, from which a lot of very good things came and awakened the eyes of Texas to sport car racing.

What happened was — I went to England to talk to Brian Lister and I bought ten Lister chassis. Instead of the Jaguar engine, in my opinion underpowed at the time, we put in Chevrolet V8s and the Lister-Chevys turned out to be very, very successful.

At the same time we took on the distributorship for Maserati, and I ordered five 2-litre Maseratis with 2.5-litre engines, five 4.5-litre Maseratis, and a couple of 3-litres, as well as starting a Firestone tire distributorship. I was up to my ears in it all and having the time of my life.

Things were rocking along well when Dick Hall developed a terrible eye problem that eventually caused him to lose his sight. Dick said his younger brother, Jim, had just graduated from Cal-Tech with honors and was interested in coming into the business. Their father was a wealthy oilman who’d been killed in an accident, and Dick had the responsibility of settling the estate. So Jim came into the business and immediately got very involved as a driver and had the resources to be a car owner, and that was the initiation of Jim Hall and probably the start of where the Chaparral came from. I’d had connections with Ed Cole, the president of General Motors, and I began building those three Scaglietti Corvettes that, when Ed told me to pull out of it, went to Gary Laughlin and to Jim Hall, and I sold mine to a doctor in Houston.

In 1959, after winning Le Mans, I decided to think about making my own race cars. I looked around Texas and didn’t see any opportunity, so I reckoned that the only place to do it was California where Lance Reventlow had been successful with his Scarab.

I moved there and took on the Goodyear distributorship and, after we got my Cobras going and were winning races, I became a Ford man. This left things open at General Motors and Hap Sharp and Jim Hall went over to General Motors and put their deal together to build the GM-powered Chaparral. Both of those cars, Chaparral and Cobra, stemmed from my relationship with Dick Hall and Hap Sharp.

I’d always wanted to build my own — just driving race cars was not my top priority. If it had been, I’d have probably driven for Enzo Ferrari when he asked me to several times, but instead I choose to stay with John Wyer because it was always peace and contentment in the Aston Martin team, whereas at Ferrari it was, well, a little difficult at times. Sometimes the difficulties turned fatal.

What Dick Hall financed never made any significant money, but it almost certainly initiated what turned out to be the Chaparral and the Cobra. said...

Thanks for adding the 'back in the time' comments from Shelby; it really gives insight into that time ...