Shelby lived so long, but gone too soon

May, 11, 2012

So here we are, running 140 mph into the first turn at Indy in a Dodge Viper and Carroll Shelby is driving, his head turned toward me, running that mouth in that gravelly Texas twang.

He's driving with his left hand and gesturing with his right, not even looking at the track, let alone that turn, which, though banked only 9 degrees, looks like a mountain rushing at you when you're heading for it at speed.

"A.J. Foyt couldn't design a s---house," is one topic he touches on near the end of the front straightaway, and then, "Jim Hall was the smartest kid I ever hired outta Caltech …"

This is the man who fathered the Cobra sports car and all the various Shelby Mustangs and Shelby Dodges, the commanding general of Henry Ford II's frontal assault on, and triumph over, Enzo Ferrari at Le Mans in 1966 and '67.

This is either the most rough-hewn genius or the most brilliant Texas redneck who has ever lived, and he keeps grinding stories out like a cement mixer at 140 mph.

And I'm thinking, "Lord, just let this old man with the transplanted heart look at the frigging corner before we get there," but he doesn't, and Bobby Rahal's words flash to mind: "There's no amount of money in the world that can make you go down into that first turn at Indy and turn left unless you WANT to."

This isn't about money or desire, it's just a lark, just a ride for the helluvit, and Carroll Shelby is laughing, looking at me, and suddenly it hits me, to my great relief:

Nothing to worry about. Carroll Shelby cannot die.

If he could, he would have been dead for 50 or 60 or 70 years by now. He's had heart problems since age 7. He had a transplant in 1990, maybe five years before our little excursion here.

Whomp! The Viper takes a set, and we pull some G's, but Shelby still hasn't looked away from me and he's still pouring profanity, telling his stories.

Back in the pits, I, in my 40s, feel certain that Carroll Hall Shelby, at that point in his 70s, will easily outlive me.

Well, I'll be damned.

Carroll Shelby died Thursday, May 10, 2012.

He was 89. He lived 82 of those years with heart trouble, the last 22 with a transplant. He had lived wide open, full of piss and vinegar all the way.

I'll be damned. Toughest SOB of a genius I've ever known.

Carroll ShelbyJEFF HAYNES/Getty ImagesCarroll Shelby sitting on a 1968 GT500 KR during the celebration of the 40th anniversary of the Ford Mustang in 2004.



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