Jerry Heasley
July 1, 2003

Yeah, it was wet-wet as a monsoon season, but so what? Didn't Carroll Shelby himself show up? And didn't the rains abate for six hours, long enough to experience Carroll Shelby Day, as proclaimed this 19th day of October, 2002, by the 91-year-old mayor of Pittsburg, Texas?

And then, returning to the microphone, Shelby thanked his friends for showing up, adding, "And I want to thank God for allowing the rain to let up."

What started as the Texas 289, hosted by Shelby Cobra Association of Texas (SCAT), turned into a down-home tribute to the man-much more historic than a cruise to Shelby's digs in East Texas. Bill Neale, the famous automotive artist and lifelong friend of Shelby, explained, "Five or six years ago, about 14 cars drove down. It turned out Shelby wanted to surprise everybody, and he barbecued a wild hog. But that was a totally unplanned, drop-in visit. This one is more structured."

Structure came from SCAT, says Phylis Crouch, SCAT secretary. "There aren't many clubs that have the opportunity for this sort of thing. With us being Shelby's home club, we felt we should take advantage and offer something you don't get to do at the other events across the country."

Phylis owns a "poor man's Shelby"-a '68 California Special. Mustangs and Shelby Mustangs dominated the 81 entries, all of which were pre-'75. Carroll himself drove to the ceremonies in downtown Pittsburg in a red '66 GT350.

"What amazes me is the show-car people are driving their cars in this rain," I overheard one man say when we arrived in the town square. They'd braved 130 miles in the wet stuff. Minutes earlier, just as the parade began, the rain shut off like a faucet.

As I crowded closer for pictures, I overheard Carroll saying, "I'm not that religious . . . I am religious, but not to the point that I think I can control the rain."

Then his wife, Cleo, of English descent, interjected: "That's not true. He does think he can do that."

Laughs followed and Shelby joked, "That's bull. I got her over here from England, and sometimes I think it's too bad I didn't buy her a round-trip ticket."

More laughs followed, and I then got in a question: "Carroll, is this a special event since it takes place here?"

"Sure," he said. "When they put on something special like this at home, it is very special."

"Is it hard to convince the home folks who you are?" I asked.

"I have a deal with the woman at the newspaper to never mention my name," Carroll revealed, "but the club put this on, so they have to. All I'm interested in is my cows and my little horses and my goats."

Shelby obviously likes his anonymity here. We asked the city manager, Ned Muse, if people in Pittsburg and nearby Leesburg know him or talk much about him. "A little bit," Ned said, "particularly the baby boomers. The old folks remember him as a kid, and a lot of the younger people just know him as a legend."

When asked how often Carroll Shelby was here in Pittsburg, Ned replied, "Several months a year. You are as likely to see him in the grocery store as anywhere else. He's just part of the community here."

On October 19, the community got an education. The people who lined the streets for the parade were a small-town bunch with big surprises on their faces. Even Carroll's own cousin, William Julian, who still lives in Leesburg, where Shelby was born in 1923, was in awe. When we asked if he had seen the cars Carroll built, he said, "No, not many. This is the most I've seen."

We begged him for a story on Shelby's early years. Julian is a couple years younger than Carroll, who is his mother's brother's son. He recalled a rip-roaring ride in the Shelby-family '37 Willys. He doesn't remember the year, but guesses 1939.

"We went to Leesburg on a dirt road. When we got to Leesburg where there was a little bit of pavement, Carroll says to hold on. He says 'I can get 67 out of this thing in Second gear.' And he did. That's the fastest I'd ever been."

After the mayor's formalities and the plaque presentation, the crowd needed some comic relief. Shelby obliged when a woman in the crowd yelled, "Is it true you were named after a preacher?"

Shelby brought howls of laughter when he said, "I was named after a pastor, but I strayed."

As Shelby walked off the stage, he said, "We're going to be doing a lot of signing," as the crowd engulfed him. For 30 minutes, he signed shirts, glovebox doors, and posters while chatting with old friends.

The 81 Shelby and Mustang entries actually fit into his farm outside of town. I went searching for the wild boars on the open fire, but the rains had washed them out, so the barbecue had to be catered. For four hours, the party went on, Shelby talking with old friends and new, signing autographs, and everybody having a good time.

Will there be another such Texas 289? We're hoping for a repeat this October, as Shelby likes to come to East Texas when the weather is cool. But, Bill Neale is skeptical: "I doubt very seriously if the opportunity will present itself again."