#99 Carroll Shelby My name is Carroll Shelby and performance is my business



In "Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography" by Rinsey Mills, Shelby's life is chronicled from his early fascination with cars and his success as a race driver, to becoming a legendary automotive designer and entrepreneur. Shelby's journey is marked by his relentless pursuit of performance, innovation, and his ability to charm and align incentives with giants like Ford to create the iconic Shelby Cobra. Despite corporate politics and personal setbacks, including health issues, Shelby's name became synonymous with American racing excellence. His story is one of ambition, focus, and the determination to follow one's passion, leaving a legacy celebrated by car enthusiasts worldwide. Shelby's tale is also a reminder to enjoy life's journey, as he did through his spirited adventures and the creation of products that brought him joy.

Summary Notes

Early Impressions of Carol Shelby

  • Etzel Ford II's personal connection to Carol Shelby began in his teenage years.
  • Ford's admiration for Shelby's racing success and innovation in the automotive industry is evident.
  • Shelby's impact went beyond his professional achievements, touching lives personally, including Ford's.
  • Shelby's long-term association with Ford Motor Company is a source of pride for Etzel Ford II.

"I have been blessed to have known Carol since I was a teenager, walking the pit road with my father at Le Mons during Ford's first major assault on Ferrari in 1966."

This quote reflects Etzel Ford II's personal and long-standing relationship with Carol Shelby, highlighting the significance of Shelby in Ford's life from a young age.

Carol Shelby's Authorized Biography

  • The authorized biography of Carol Shelby by Rinsey Mills provides an in-depth look into Shelby's life.
  • The process of writing a biography, particularly about well-documented individuals like Winston Churchill, poses a challenge to present new perspectives.
  • The term "hagiography" is introduced, referring to a biography that idolizes its subject, which the podcast aims to avoid.

"And it was written by Rinsey Mills."

This quote introduces the author of Carol Shelby's authorized biography, indicating the source of the detailed information about Shelby's life discussed in the podcast.

Carol Shelby's Early Life and Personality

  • Shelby's childhood friend recounts stories of Shelby's determination and persistence.
  • Shelby's charismatic nature and exceptional communication skills contributed to his success.
  • Shelby's early love for speed and machinery is evident in anecdotes from his youth, including his eagerness to drive at a young age.

"Shelby was a little runt, and he didn't get to be six foot tall until he got out of high school."

This quote from a childhood friend of Shelby paints a picture of his physical stature and growth, which contrasts with his larger-than-life personality and determination.

Shelby's Early Career and Entrepreneurial Spirit

  • Carol Shelby's early career was marked by a series of entrepreneurial ventures, including the trucking business.
  • Shelby's experience in the trucking industry taught him valuable lessons about business and finances.
  • His realization that he could not work for others was a defining moment in embracing his entrepreneurial spirit.

"I can't work for anybody."

This statement by Carol Shelby reveals a key aspect of his character and approach to his career, highlighting his need for independence and self-direction.

Shelby's Pursuit of Passions and Independence

  • Shelby's varied interests led him to pursue different businesses, from trucking to oil, always seeking autonomy.
  • His determination to follow his passions, regardless of the industry, showcases his entrepreneurial mindset.
  • Shelby's story is presented as an inspiration for those facing uncertainty in their careers and lives.

"I can't work for anybody."

Reiterating Shelby's declaration of independence, this quote serves as a pivotal realization that shaped the trajectory of his career and life choices.

Shelby's Varied Business Ventures and Adaptability

  • Shelby's willingness to venture into diverse businesses, from rearing chickens to hunting in Africa, demonstrates his adaptability and entrepreneurial drive.
  • His approach to business was guided by passion and enjoyment rather than solely financial gain.
  • Shelby's story is a testament to the importance of pursuing one's natural inclinations and ideas.

"I have an idea and I'm going to go chase this."

This quote encapsulates Shelby's philosophy of actively pursuing his ideas and interests, regardless of the potential for success or failure, emphasizing his dynamic approach to life and business.

Early Career and Mindset

  • Carol Shelby reflects on his early career choices and his non-monetary focus.
  • He acknowledges the potential financial benefits of staying with Carruth, a successful businessman in Texas.
  • Shelby's entrepreneurial spirit is evident in his willingness to start a business with limited resources.
  • Despite financial constraints, Shelby was able to secure a loan and credit to start his chicken rearing business.

"If I was more money oriented, I'd have stayed with him and become a millionaire before I was 30."

This quote shows Shelby's reflection on a potential path not taken, where he could have prioritized financial gain over his own entrepreneurial ventures.

"The Small Business Administration loaned me some money... The feed companies and others were happy to provide their products on credit, so off I went."

Shelby describes how he was able to start his chicken rearing business despite having little money, highlighting his resourcefulness.

Challenges and Setbacks

  • Shelby faced significant challenges in his chicken rearing business, including a devastating outbreak of Newcastle disease.
  • He describes the corruption he encountered in the feed business.
  • Shelby's mother's death and his own bankruptcy are mentioned as personal and financial low points.

"I was vaccinating chickens for Newcastle disease, and it was absolutely worthless. That's the reason the chickens died there. It was 1950, and I was bankrupt."

This quote reveals the hardship Shelby faced when his business failed due to the dishonesty of a feed supplier, leading to bankruptcy.

Career Shift and Racing

  • Shelby decides to pursue his genuine interests, leading him to try racing at the age of 29.
  • His success in racing is immediate, and he begins to build his own cars, known as hot rodding.
  • Shelby's personal life is touched upon, including the ultimatum from his first wife, Jean, and his numerous marriages.

"Let me just... I'm going to try to actually pursue, like do something that I'm actually interested in."

Shelby's decision to follow his passion for racing rather than just seeking monetary gain is a turning point in his life.

Building Relationships and Personal Branding

  • Shelby's ability to connect with people and his personal charisma are highlighted as key factors in his success.
  • He understood the importance of branding and differentiated himself by wearing bib overalls during races.
  • Shelby's approachable nature and distinct image helped him gain publicity and recognition in the racing world.

"One of Carol Shelby's natural abilities is to get on with people, or perhaps I should say, get in with people."

This quote emphasizes Shelby's talent for networking and making connections, which contributed greatly to his success in racing and business.

Strategic Career Movements

  • Shelby used racing as a means to an end, with the ultimate goal of building his own cars.
  • He was strategic in his approach to racing, choosing to know the right people rather than relying solely on wealth or starting from the bottom.
  • Shelby's focus on his goals and his ability to remain cool-headed are noted as strengths.

"The first way to break into racing is to be rich and buy your own cars... Shelby chose option three."

This quote outlines the different paths to breaking into racing and highlights Shelby's strategic choice to leverage his connections.

Learning from Experience

  • Shelby spent time around factories to gain insights into car manufacturing.
  • His hands-on approach and willingness to learn from others laid the foundation for his future success in creating the Cobra, his renowned car model.
  • Shelby's dedication to his craft and continuous learning are key themes.

"I used to hang around the factory where they were building the cars... That was the thing that gave me insights on how to put the Cobra together."

Shelby describes his proactive approach to learning about car manufacturing, which would later inform the creation of his iconic Cobra.

Mindset Towards Success and Failure

  • Shelby believed in the importance of focusing on a few key successes rather than being deterred by failures.
  • He recognized the value of persistence and the impact of a few significant achievements.
  • Shelby's philosophy echoes the sentiments of other successful individuals like Buffett and Munger, who also emphasize the importance of a few great business ventures.

"If you have three great businesses in your life, that's all you need."

This quote reflects the idea that a few major successes can outweigh multiple failures, a principle that Shelby embraced in his career.

Focus and Survival Instinct

  • Shelby's strong survival instinct is highlighted, as he was cautious not to risk his life unnecessarily in racing.
  • He viewed racing as a stepping stone to achieve his larger goal of building his own cars.
  • Shelby's ability to focus intensely on his passions is portrayed as a unique strength.

"I had a strong survival instinct... Racing wasn't going to be my whole career."

Shelby discusses his approach to racing, emphasizing his self-preservation and long-term vision for his career beyond the racetrack.

Reflection on Career and Change

  • Shelby reflects on the highs, lows, and dangers of his racing career.
  • He expresses fatigue with his current lifestyle and acknowledges the need for change.
  • Shelby is aware of the risks involved in racing and the fatalities among his peers.
  • This reflection marks a pivotal moment, leading to his decision to transition from racer to manufacturer.

"I'm really tired of living out of a suitcase. I could quit all this nonsense very easily right now. Well, my luck is running so bad that it's really comical, but it always changes, and all I can do is the best I can."

The quote encapsulates Shelby's weariness with his transient lifestyle and his readiness to leave it behind while maintaining a sense of humor about his misfortunes.

Transition from Racer to Manufacturer

  • Shelby plans to quit racing due to poor performance and personal issues.
  • His car dealership is not doing well, and his marriage is ending, signifying multiple personal and professional crises.
  • Shelby sees California as the ideal location for his future career due to its car culture and industry resources.

"The last twelve months had witnessed his greatest racing triumph. But that victory at Le Mons had been one of his only wins."

Shelby's reflection on his mixed fortunes in racing underscores his decision to shift focus from being a racer to becoming a manufacturer.

Leveraging Talent and Resources

  • Shelby intends to establish his base in California, where there is a hot rod subculture and a wealth of automotive talent.
  • He plans to use Ford's resources to build prototypes that can compete with Chevrolet's Corvette.
  • Shelby's approach demonstrates his ability to leverage existing talent and resources to achieve his goals.

"He's going to convince Ford to finance the Shelby car, and I'll talk more about that. And he tells Leia Iacocca that, hey, give me $25,000 and I'll build you two prototypes."

Shelby's pitch to Ford's Lee Iacocca highlights his salesmanship and strategic thinking in securing backing for his vision.

Building on Existing Foundations

  • Shelby advises against starting from scratch when building a product.
  • He believes it is more efficient to improve upon an existing good product, exemplified by his plan to use an AC Cars chassis and a Ford V8 engine.
  • Shelby's approach minimizes risk and capitalizes on proven components to create a successful sports car.

"Much better to find someone who was already building a good, but maybe underpowered chassis and drop in and drop a v eight in it."

The quote illustrates Shelby's philosophy of product development, focusing on enhancing an existing good product rather than starting from zero.

Overcoming Personal Challenges

  • Shelby's racing career is affected by a severe heart condition, which he manages with nitroglycerin pills.
  • Despite his health issues and the premature deaths of his parents, Shelby has a zest for life and a drive to succeed.
  • His determination is further highlighted by his ability to overcome a depressive period and refocus on his ambitions.

"His chest pains had returned with a vengeance. Their prognosis was angina... All they could do was strongly suggest that he'd call it a day and tell him to carry on with the nitroglycerin."

The quote describes Shelby's serious health challenges during his racing career, which contribute to his decision to pursue manufacturing.

Establishing a New Venture

  • Shelby experiences a void after retiring from racing and struggles with alcoholism and hopelessness.
  • He starts a racing school to generate income while working towards building his sports car.
  • Shelby's resilience is evident as he uses the school to maintain his connection to the racing world and fund his long-term goals.

"He decides that he's going to start a school to teach people how to race... He starts the Carol Shelby School of race car driving... This is how he's able to generate a little bit of income to tide him over until he starts building his car."

The quote demonstrates Shelby's entrepreneurial spirit and his ability to create opportunities to support his ultimate ambition of building his own sports car.

Aligning Incentives and Securing Partnerships

  • Shelby masterfully aligns incentives between himself, AC Cars, and Ford to launch his sports car.
  • He convinces AC Cars to work with him by ensuring payment through Ford Motor Credit.
  • Ford is motivated by the marketing potential and performance image that Shelby's car could bring.

"The day that Carol came to the AC car company was the first time that I'd met him... he told us that Ford was supplying him with engines, we assumed he had more behind him than he did at this point."

The quote reveals Shelby's strategic use of his reputation and implied backing from Ford to secure a partnership with AC Cars, despite running a shoestring operation.

Realizing the Dream

  • Within a year of his depressive state, Shelby's circumstances transform dramatically.
  • His story is a testament to the rapid changes that can occur with determination and strategic action.
  • Shelby's journey from a depressed former racer to a successful manufacturer is a source of motivation and inspiration.

"Twelve months later, his life is completely different. I think it's motivating for all of us."

This quote summarizes the remarkable turnaround in Shelby's life, emphasizing the potential for rapid and positive change with the right mindset and actions.

Early Struggles and Growth Mindset

  • Carol Shelby experienced a period of habitual drinking due to depression.
  • Financial difficulties and a failing second marriage contributed to his troubles.
  • Shelby demonstrated a growth mindset by overcoming these challenges.
  • He regained focus and was on the verge of creating a sports car with Ford's backing.

"But the inner strength and sense of self conviction that had brought him this far in life was his salvation."

This quote highlights Shelby's resilience and internal fortitude which allowed him to recover from his personal and professional setbacks.

Shelby Automotive's Early Days

  • Shelby Automotive operated on a tight budget and timeline.
  • The company's early days were marked by a high morale and an international team.
  • Employees were dedicated, often working long hours to beat Ferrari.
  • The initial success and camaraderie eventually diminished as the company grew.

"We had hot rodders from England, Switzerland, France, Japan, Australia, New Zealand."

Shelby reminisces about the diverse and passionate team that formed the backbone of his early business, emphasizing the global talent attracted to his vision.

Nostalgia for Small Company Culture

  • Shelby and others often look back fondly on the early, smaller days of their companies.
  • Growth and success led to a loss of the initial company spirit and culture.
  • Expansion brought in new employees who did not share the original team's drive.
  • Shelby himself preferred smaller operations to avoid corporate politics.

"Everyone was just hyper to beat Ferrari."

This quote captures the singular focus and enthusiasm of Shelby's team during the company's early phase, before corporate expansion diluted this spirit.

Control and Politics in Business

  • Shelby desired control over his company, while Ford sought more control for their investment.
  • Company politics and bureaucracy were antithetical to Shelby's vision of a small, agile company.
  • Shelby had a disdain for corporate politics, which he felt stifled innovation and progress.
  • He respected colleagues who were apolitical and focused on getting the job done.

"Shelby began to be unhappy at this point because of his relationship with Ford."

Shelby's growing dissatisfaction with Ford's increasing involvement and the resulting politics is highlighted, signaling the beginning of tensions in their partnership.

Focus and Rare Talent

  • Shelby emphasized the importance of focus and the rarity of finding individuals who can maintain it.
  • He admired individuals like Homer Perry who could navigate corporate politics and stay on course.
  • Shelby's long career gave him perspective on the value and scarcity of such focused individuals.

"So seldom do you see people like that."

Shelby's observation on the rarity of focused individuals in his industry underscores the importance of this trait for success.

Breakup with Ford and Aftermath

  • Shelby and Ford's relationship deteriorated due to differing visions and management styles.
  • Ford's focus on financial minutiae overlooked the broader value Shelby brought to the brand.
  • Shelby's son reflects on the missed opportunities and shortsightedness of Ford's decisions.
  • Shelby eventually left Ford and spent time in Africa before returning to the automotive industry.

"They got everything they wanted out of dad... Then they yanked production from him in 1967."

This quote from Shelby's son describes the point at which Ford decided to part ways with Shelby, despite his contributions, highlighting the transactional nature of their relationship.

Missed Opportunities and Reflections

  • Shelby had the chance to become a Toyota distributor in Texas, which could have made him a billionaire.
  • He chose loyalty to Ford and missed the opportunity, which was later seized by a friend.
  • Shelby does not regret his decision, valuing the experiences he had over potential wealth.

"I'd have had a lot more money if I had taken it, but I wouldn't have had all the other things happen to me in my life that have happened since then."

Shelby reflects on a significant missed financial opportunity, but expresses no regret, valuing his life experiences over monetary gain.

Carol Shelby's Legacy

  • Shelby is best remembered for creating the Cobra, a symbol of performance.
  • Despite his diverse career, the Cobra remains his most enduring achievement.
  • Shelby's name is synonymous with performance in the automotive industry.

"My name's Carol Shelby and performance is my business."

This quote encapsulates Shelby's legacy and the essence of his career, affirming his dedication to automotive performance and innovation.

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