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Denise McCluggage remembers Carroll Shelby

Wed, 16 May 2012 00:00:00 -0700

I've told the stories before, but now, with the last of the lads on the seawall gone, I'll tell them again. The stories are about Carroll Shelby. The seawall was in a painting I bought in Modena, Italy, home of Ferrari, in the late 1950s. The artist was Ermanno Vanni, and everyone who came to town to buy a Ferrari or a Maserati in those days bought a Vanni painting. I bought only a painting.

On the seawall sat three small boys, big of eye and deep in mystery. I took them as symbols of three good friends who just happened to be America's main competitors on the world's motor-racing scene—Carroll Shelby, Phil Hill and Masten Gregory.

The three died in reverse order. Masten, the youngest, had a heart attack in Italy in 1985. Phil surrendered to a degenerative disease similar to Parkinson's in 2008 and now Ol' Shel in 2012—with someone else's kidney, someone else's heart and 89 fully lived years on the odo—has also gone.

I first met Phil at a 1955 race at the Beverly, Mass., airport, and I suspect that was when I met Carroll, too. But this story is about the next year. I was working for the New York Herald Tribune with the someone-had-to-do-it assignment of covering motor racing and skiing. Which meant that I was paid to race and ski on company time. Though I was only covering this race. Not driving.

In those days, drivers were at least nominal amateurs, and newspaper reports of the events identified them by their day jobs—dentist, mechanic, paper-box manufacturer, etc. When I heard Carroll answer a rookie reporter's question about what Mr. Shelby did for a living, I jerked my head around. The kid, a local, was carefully writing it down, and Carroll was smiling in Texas innocence. I rolled my eyes but said nothing. Carroll won the big race in Luigi Chinetti's 4.4 Ferrari. The headlines the next morning dutifully declared: “Guano Distributor Wins!” Across the restaurant, I could see Carroll's shoulders shaking in his signature silent laugh at the newspaper before him.

I saw that laugh in Cuba, too, 1958. My three seawall lads were racing there. Castro was in the hills and the dictator Batista's days were ticking away. Still, a world race was being run on the seaside Malec

By Denise McCluggage