Shelby, The Racing Driver - Book review by Wallace Wyss
© Wallace Wyss - October 23rd, 2008
Title: SHELBY, the Race Driver
With Remembrances by Carroll Shelby
Publisher; Iconografix Inc.
Type: Horizontal format, paperbound
Author Art Evans Price: $29.95
Carroll Shelby gets so much publicity about his Cobras that it is relatively unknown that he made his name in Maseratis and Ferraris.
Up until now, there have been several books about Shelby’s career with Cobras, Ford GTs and Shelby Mustangs, but none devoted solely to his life as a race driver, a short but meteoric career that began around 1954 when he was still a chicken farmer in East Texas.
Dr. Art Evans, who has previously chronicled the life of ace Shelby driver Ken Miles, put this photo archive together but added to the usual mixture of photos by quoting extensively from Shelby’s own book The Cobra Story (written with John Bentley) published back in 1965 and adding his own words as well. For those who have not read that long out-of-print book, it has a lot of good stories told in Shelby’s colorful language. You can almost hear the Texas twang as you read it.
This new book really shows how good Dr. Evans, who has several degrees, is at research. He has unearthed pictures that go back to Shelby’s first day in a sports car, when he drove a borrowed MG-TC to victory in Texas. He then has pictures of Shelby in an Allard, Aston Martin, many different Ferraris and Maseratis. Many of the pictures were taken by Dr. Evans, a stalwart of sports car racing in California for over 50 years.
Oddly there is no picture of Shelby in a Cobra, other than one taken when he took his secretary for a ride around a racetrack in the first Cobra—polished to look like chrome -- as a promotional stunt. But then the Cobra didn’t come around until 1962 and Shelby’s race driving career ended in 1960.
Especially interesting is the shots of Shelby’s two most supportive Stateside sponsors, Tony Parravano and John Edgar. Consecutively, they both sponsored Shelby when race wins in sports cars couldn’t win money in the U.S. but toward the end of Shelby’s driving career race race promoters began to pay cash awards in the US.
If there’s one quibble I have with Dr. Evans research, it’s his assertion in the part of the text that he wrote that Shelby’s first big money sponsor, Tony Parravano, went to live in Mexico. I’ve read before that there was a murder investigation, so it seems unlikely to me that Parravano would go to Mexico at a comparatively young age and never contact his family again when Mexico is right across the border.
Back to the book, the pictures of Shelby’s various wives are also illuminating, particularly the ones where he kisses a race queen, Jan Harrison, and then, a few pages later, is seen on his honeymoon with her as his new bride!
The perils of racing are also shown such as Shelby’s wrinkled Austin-Healey after he crashed in the Panamericana race in Mexico.
Shelby’s racing buddies also get their pictures in there—Masten Gregory Stirling Moss, Fon de Portago, and Phil Hill among them.It's obvious that Shelby drove with the best there was in sports cars and was competitive with them all, though his forte was sports cars, not Grand Prix, even though he drove GP cars several times.
Probably the most fun pictures are from when Shelby won at LeMans in ‘59 for Aston Martin. Shelby’s shown still wearing his chicken -plucking driving overalls.
The book is 192 pages and though it’s only in black & white, this reviewer thinks it is worth the $29.95 list price. It is a pity that, though some of the pictures were probably available in color, that none are printed here in color, but I consider this book to be just the first edition and perhaps a later edition can include color, albeit that inclusion will probably lead to a higher price.
Really invaluable is the list of all of Shelby’s races, a list composed by Monterey-based sports car author and historian Michael Lynch, and Jim Sitz (though Sitz is uncredited). One can see how Shelby had the experience to build the Cobra when you see all the marques he raced before the Cobra project occurred to him. It’s obvious that Shelby –at least when he left Edgar’s employ--wasn’t no longer driving just what he was offered, but driving certain cars to learn all about those cars and how they handled. He was in effect a future manufacturer doing research on competitive marques and having a whale of a lot of fun along the way….
Wallace Alfred Wyss is a fine artist , depicting race cars, who also has chronicled Shelby in such books as SHELBY The Man The Cars The Legend and COBRAS and SHELBY MUSTANG Photo Archive.