Carroll Shelby and Sebring: Two Names, One Legend
Some men’s names are forever linked with a particular piece of real estate: Davy Crockett and the Alamo; Neil Armstrong and the moon; generals Grant and Lee and the Appomattox court house. The same can be said of Carroll Shelby and Sebring. Both as a driver and designer, the legendary figure graced that 3.74 miles of asphalt and concrete with his presence in ways that will live forever in automotive history.
Carroll Shelby was born to move fast. During WWII he piloted fighter planes and bombers, though his dislike of military discipline kept him stateside during the great conflict. After leaving the Army Air Corps he dabbled in various enterprises until 1952, when he found his true calling: motorsports. Shelby’s first race was a quarter-mile event in January of that year; he drove a hot rod equipped with a flathead Ford engine. In May of ’52 he ran in his first road race, a competition between MG-TCs; he won. Later that same day he raced a second time, this time against Jaguar XK 120s. Once again he emerged victorious.
In 1954, Aston Martin asked Shelby to drive a DB3 at Sebring. He did so, coming in second. In November of that year he was involved in a devastating accident while participating in the Carrera Pan Americana Mexico, flipping his car four times. The wreck caused substantial damage to one of his arms, requiring multiple surgeries over the next several years to correct.
Usually, a broken arm would sideline most racers for an indefinite time. Not Carroll Shelby. He came back to Sebring in 1955, this time with co-driver Phil Hill. His arm still in a cast at the time, he had his crew tape his hand to the steering wheel so he could compete. When the dust was settled, it looked like the pair had won the competition. Then came the bad news: a scoring error was found, relegating the duo to second place.
The rest of the 1950s saw Shelby’s racing career reach its peak, with Sports Illustrated naming him Driver of the Year in 1957. Then, in 1960, repeated chest pains drove him to seek medical help. His doctor prescribed nitroglycerin tablets, which alleviated the pain but couldn’t save his career. Carroll Shelby retired from racing at the age of 37.