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Carroll Shelby's Column: The Legend

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Talking about All American Racers...

All American Racers and my partnership in it with Dan Gurney was one of the most interesting situations of my life. Here’s how it was.

In 1964, I was at Indianapolis where I’d been the first, as I recall, using the sport car tires that Goodyear developed called Diamond Tread. I had done some of the test work on them and they were very hard rubber, so I promised Goodyear I would help develop them. I’d already moved back to California by 1959, and had taken on the Goodyear distributorship for its racing tires. A couple of years after that came the Cobra and, little known by most people, Goodyear had more money in the building of the Cobra than Ford did.

Goodyear and I have been together now for 50 years and it’s been a wonderful relationship. I still distribute Goodyear racing tires, the main tire of NASCAR. But there’s been a lot of bumps in the road. Back in 1964,

AJ Foyt had a contract with Goodyear to run its tires at Indianapolis, but AJ decided Firestones were better in front and Goodyears worked better on the back of the car.

Well, after the race, which AJ won on Firestones without a tire change for the whole 500 miles, I was called by Russ DeYoung, chairman of Goodyear, to come to his office in Akron, Ohio. He said, ‘Carroll, you’ve been with us for several years now, and I would like to make you a proposition. It seems we’re not making any headway at Indianapolis. Would you consider helping us?’ I said I was very busy with the Ford GTs, very busy with the Cobras, and also very busy beginning to build the Shelby Mustangs, but to let me think about it for a week or so. Russ said, ‘I will write you a cheque for whatever it takes.’ 

At that time I had two choices – to go either to a young man named Roger Penske, or to Dan Gurney, who had a good relationship with Colin Chapman regarding the Lotus-Indianapolis programme. I decided to go to Dan, since he had the tie with Lotus. I discussed how we could put this together, and Dan said he thought he could get a couple of Lotus-Indianapolis cars. I was too busy to do it all, so we formed a company in Southern California called All American Racers.

I owned half of it, Gurney owned half of it. I didn’t have the time to devote to it that I would have liked, but I really respected Russ DeYoung for what he’d done financially and as a friend, and we did the deal.

We hired the former Lotus designer Len Terry and went to Ted Hallibrand, who wanted to build some aluminum tubs and cars for Indianapolis. Dan was doing practically all of the work on these projects. The way things went in 1965 at Indianapolis, as I remember, there were 17 cars on Goodyears and 16 on Firestones. The two drivers that I wanted more than anyone else were Lloyd Ruby and Mario Andretti, who I’d noticed had great potential. However, Firestone hired both of them and it would be several years before we were successful in winning the Indianapolis 500.

In 1970 I had to sever my relations with All American Racers and I sold out to Dan Gurney. But I remember so well that Dan had really wanted to build a Formula One car.

I’d gone to Tony Webner at Goodyear’s racing division and said, ‘Tony, you gotta help me put some money together – Dan wants to design, build and drive a Formula One car.’ I’d managed to raise about 0,000 from Tony, and that was the backbone of the Gurney-Weslake F1 race car.

That effort ended up with Dan winning Spa in 1967. There’s never been a Formula One car that I know of that cost less and achieved more, but we couldn’t keep the money together for a Formula One programme because Goodyear’s real ambition was to win Indianapolis. Success came in 1968 when Bobby Unser won Indy on Goodyears, driving an All American Racers’ Eagle.

I always felt that Indianapolis win vindicated Goodyear and put it in the big time. I wonder what would have happened if I’d gone along with Roger Penske instead. It’s too late to wonder, I guess.

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