Copyright MMXII Ed Justice, Jr. All Rights Reserved
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Los Angeles, CA -- When you get on a plane, headed for a family reunion, you never
know if you're going to have one of the best or worst experiences of your life. On
Wednesday evening, May 30, I had one of my best, along with 1,200 of Carroll Shelby's
most intimate friends at the Petersen Automotive Museum here.
While Shelby enthusiasts enjoyed the proceedings on a webcast, many of them around
the world revved the engines of their Shelby vehicles around 7 p.m. PDT that evening,
including a group in the Petersen parking lot. After that, guests enjoyed a few
hours of story-telling from a group that reflected Shelby's broad interests. "Tonight
Show" host and auto enthusiast extraordinaire Jay Leno was the Master of Ceremonies.
Edsel Ford was the first speaker. Sometimes on the verge of tears, he told of first
meeting Shelby and then, working for him one summer. He was happy that in recent
years, Shelby was again under the Ford umbrella, "where he truly belonged." He was
followed by Dan Gurney, who spoke of the days when he and Shel were rivals on the
track and when he drove for Carroll. He was respectful of the era and named many
of the pioneers, including entrants John Edgar, Tony Parravano and Frank Arciero.
Arciero's funeral had taken place earlier that day.
Next was Bob Hoover, considered by many to be America's third-most famous aviator,
after the Wright brothers and Lindbergh. Hoover's achievements include being shot
down in a Spitfire over France, escaping from Stalag 11 and stealing a German plane
to fly to freedom. He was later the chase pilot for Chuck Yeager's Bell X-1 supersonic
flight. Hoover remembered Shelby as being, by far, the best pilot in his class.
Bob got the biggest ovation of the evening.
The Texas mafia was represented by artist Bill Neale, whose stories had the down-home edge of the Great Man himself, including one about a fake priest passing for real at a Terlingua chili cook-off. The "priest" married a couple that day who are still together.
Walter Miller, Shel's golfing buddy from the Bel Air Country Club, reminisced about first meeting Shelby. Miller was part of a group who gathered after golf for a few drinks. When Shel inquired about them, Miller answered, If you haven't got anything good to say about anyone, pull up a chair." Shel joined them on the spot.
Singer-songwriter-actor Mac Davis, another Texas native, was shown on-screen from his living room couch, performing a song he had written about Carroll - the refrain went, "Keep your eyes on your wallet and your wife."
Closing the evening was Leah Smith. When she was 11 days old, Shelby helped find her a heart transplant. She went on to a competitive figure skating career and is now an organ transplant advocate.
Leno set the perfect tone, but some of the guests got off even better lines than he did. One of Gurney's topped the evening: "People say when they made Carroll Shelby, they broke the mold. And if they ever tried to make the mold again, he'd sue them."
So, remembering how you closed every phone conversation, Shel, I love you. We all believed you when you told us that, and you should believe us now.
- by Michael T. Lynch