When we lost Bob Petersen last March, everybody in the automobile world lost one of its finest – and one of my closest – friends.
His Petersen Automotive Museum in Los Angeles honored me on November 8 in front of 800 people, and I wish Bob could have been there. The same goes for Wally Parks, who we lost in September. Wally was a wonderful man who took drag racing off the streets with his creation of the National Hot Rod Association. I told the audience that Wally and Bob did more to fill the banquet room at the Petersen Museum’s tribute for me than Carroll Shelby ever did.
Margie Petersen, Bob’s widow, was at my table along with my wife Cleo; Sandy and Jim Hall, and Parnelli Jones and Dan Gurney sat with us, too. Jim’s from Texas like I am and he and his brother Richard helped get me started selling sport cars in Dallas back in the 1950s. I won the Pebble Beach race in ’56 in Richard’s Monza before I went driving for John Edgar.
John’s son William was called on stage by emcee Dave McClelland and remembered that I ‘drove like a sumbitch’ back in those days, and I guess I did. I’m sorry I didn’t get to race much with Jim Hall then but he was still just a kid and it would have been uneven.
Bill Neale, who’s also from Texas and painted all those pictures of us, talked about a venture we had going in the ’60s down in Terlingua, Texas, near the Mexican border. Bill designed the rabbit logo of the Terlingua Racing Team for our Shelby GT350, and Ken Miles gave us its first win.Terlingua has more goats than people and Bill was almost right when he told everybody at the Petersen that the only thing that would grow there was rocks.
Shelby Automobiles in Las Vegas is bringing the name back now with the Terlingua Mustangs we unveiled at the SEMA show the week before that night at the Petersen. We’ve got Bill’s black-and-yellow rabbit logo stretched over a 375-horsepower V6. We’re doing a Terlingua 427 Cobra, too. That’s all part of the 8000 to 10,000 cars we build a year in Las Vegas.
Bill Krause was also at the dinner. He’s the first driver I hired for developing the Cobra, and I wish he’d stayed with it instead of going over to Mickey Thompson, but we’re still good friends. So many of my friends were there that night, including John Morton. He started with my driving school at Riverside and wound up racing Cobras for us. John said he didn’t think they handled very well at first, and he’s right. It took a lot of good people to get the Cobra to where it was a winner.
Phil Remington was one of them, and Phil’s 88 now and still working five days a week for Gurney. Phil stood up and said I’d been the buffer between the Ford hierarchy and ourselves in racing. I was lucky enough back then to run into Phil Remington. You can’t say you do anything; you only do things with people. There were a lot of people there that night at the Petersen from our old racing days, and God bless them. It was very comforting to me to see them again.
Parnelli told how he won the Riverside Grand Prix in our Cooper Monaco ‘King Cobra’ on Firestones – when I was a Goodyear tyre dealer! And Bob Bondurant told everybody that he came over from driving Corvettes to find out the weak points in our Cobra, then went out and won his first race in one. We all wound up taking the cars to Europe and beat Enzo Ferrari. Gurney and Foyt won Le Mans for us later in our Ford GT, and Dan talked about how he and I put together All American Racers.
‘The Snake’, Don Prudromme, cracked up the audience with his stories, one of them about how he was ‘too slow’ in sport cars. He said he liked the 330-mile-an-hour rush from drag racing better. He got his biggest laugh after saying the thrill only lasts for a short time, and that he’d stop there. Everyone knew what Don meant.
Somebody told me I spoke a thousand words when it was my time at the microphone. Maybe I did, once I got going. I remember saying in the beginning that I never think about all the things that have been said about me, because I’ll be too damn busy tomorrow morning. I don’t think much about all this stuff because it ain’t half over yet. One thing I’m sure of – back in 1959 after winning Le Mans, I had to go to California where all the hot rodders were in order to build what became the Cobra. It’s like I say, you don’t do things alone, you only do them with people.