Meeting people like “Ol’ Shel” was one advantage to working at Old Cars Weekly for three decades.
He and I weren’t drinking buddies — or even chili eating buddies — but it was Shelby’s chili that may have started his association with OCW. At the time, Chris Halla was one of the editors there and Shelby would send him a gift pack of chili each year.
When I became the editor in the mid-’80s, we had a free-lance contributor who had written something on Shelby that Carroll didn’t much care for. So, every time this man wrote something about him, Shelby would call, ask for me and lambaste the writer. Discussing this problem with him must have drummed up some mutual respect.
I say this because I went to the SEMA Show for the first time about 1990 or 1991 and was invited to a press conference for the Dodge Viper, which Shelby had helped create. At that session, in front a room full of people, he gave me a big introduction and it was so good I probably could have sold autographs.
Over the years I heard that Carroll was not a person you wanted to be on the bad side of. In fact, it may have been someone who worked for Ford that told me that. On the other hand, I heard stories of him asking people at banquets to put him on last, after other VIPS, so that they would get their moment of fame first. That left me with a strong impression of a very self-confident man.
It is that kind of confidence that makes people successful in America and — to be a little personal — I don’t think there’s enough of it around today. The Shelby style “I can do it/I can make it” attitude is being replaced with a “help me do it” attitude of people don’t believe in themselves.
But, no preaching. Carroll Shelby was a real man who worked hard to earn his Legend status and he deserved it. Like Frank Sinatra, he did it his way. I’m going to miss him. I’m going to miss his calls about people he didn’t like and his humble appreciation of folks he thought were deserving. He was a true American her — and also a great car guy.