06/28/09 11:47PM Carol Shelby, LeMans, Shelby Automobiles

Shelby Honored on 50th Anniversary of LeMans Win

Caroll Shelby

Shelby Automobiles Inc., a wholly owned subsidiary of Carroll Shelby International Inc., (CSBI.PK) will celebrate the birth of a racing legend’s dynasty when it marks the 50th anniversary of Carroll Shelby’s victory at Le Mans during the 35th annual Mid America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals in Tulsa, Okla. from June 24-27, at the Southern Hills Marriott. Carroll Shelby is the only man to ever win the 24 hours of Le Mans as a driver, team owner and manufacturer.

On June 21, 1959, Shelby captured the overall win at Le Mans while co-driving an Aston Martin. Fame propelled the Texan into the ranks of being the premier manufacturer of American muscle cars and his company is still the leader today.

“Fifty years ago this weekend, Carroll Shelby officially became an icon,” said Amy Boylan, president of Shelby Automobiles. “Over a few years, he conquered the most famous, most grueling sports car race in the world an incredible three times, and in every possible role. With the expense and complexity of racing today, it’s a mark that will stand for perpetuity.”

For over 90 years, the greatest racers and manufacturers gather at Le Mans to see who can drive the farthest distance over 24 hours. It’s a test of man and machine that often leaves cars and teams in ruin. For a sports car driver, winning Le Mans is the pinnacle of a career.

Most Le Mans fans overlooked the tall, handsome Texan in 1959. After all, Shelby had limited success there previously and the American did not fit the image of the aristocratic European that had ruled the 24 hour race.

“After Aston Martin team manager John Wyer paired Shelby with Roy Salvadori in the DBR1/300, racing was never the same,” noted Boylan. “They beat competitors, mechanical issues and scorching temperatures to capture the overall victory.”

Shelby parlayed his win into his first endeavor as an auto manufacturer. In 1962, he founded Shelby American with talented individuals from the aerospace community and support from Ford Motor Company.

“Their first project was the legendary Cobra roadster with a new Ford small block,” said Jim Owens, Shelby Automobiles vice president of marketing communications. “A piece of that sports car’s ‘DNA’ became part of every subsequent Shelby vehicle. And Shelby Automobiles is still building genuine Cobras today.”

Again the underdog, Shelby took a team to Europe to race Ferrari, Porsche and Jaguar on their own turf. On June 21, 1964, Dan Gurney and Bob Bondurant piloted Cobra roadster CSX2061 for manufacturer Carroll Shelby to fourth overall and first in the GT class at Le Mans. But Shelby was far from done in France.

“When Henry Ford II’s bid to buy Ferrari fell apart in 1963, the ‘Deuce’ decided to wrest the crown jewel of sports car racing away from the Maranello automaker,” commented Boylan. “That’s when Ford asked Shelby to help them capture the overall victory at Le Mans.”

Under Shelby’s direction, the Ford GT40 became a juggernaut. On June 19, 1966, Shelby and his team completed his “hat trick” when the Shelby racing team’s GT-40s captured Le Mans for Ford Motor Company. Officially, the Bruce McLaren/Chris Amon car came in first and the Ken Miles/Denis Hulme car was second.

“Not only did victories at Le Mans help accelerate Carroll’s career, they helped forge a bond between his companies and Ford that is still strong today,” stated Boylan. “We’re proud of his legendary status and the opportunity those wins gave everyone who loves high performance cars.”

The Mid America Ford and Team Shelby Nationals is a multi-venue event with five days of fast paced fun for thousands of enthusiasts from across the United States. It includes open track at Hallett Motor Racing Circuit, driving school, drag racing at Tulsa Raceway Park, a cruise night and car show. Carroll Shelby will be honored during a banquet dinner on Saturday, June 27.