That guy up above, smiling from behind the wheel of a Ferrari race car is none other than the legendary Carroll Shelby. When heart trouble ended his driving career, the wily Texan redirected his considerable talents to the formation of Shelby American. Shelby American went on to build one of the most iconic sports and racing car brands the world has ever seen, even beating his arch enemy, Enzo Ferrari on his home turf. Truly a man who has had a strong impact on international motorsports.
Shelby has often been at the center of conflict and controversy, whether battling the old man from Modena or suing kit car builders for using the form of his most visible product. Most recently, he has waged a war with the organizers of a Shelby owner’s group. In other words, Shelby is not unaccustomed to being at the center of controversy. The most recent controversy surrounding Ol Shel actually has little to do with the man himself.
The heart of the controversy lies in the fundamental beliefs the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame was built upon. The CMHF was created to honour Canadians who had achieved excellence in motorsport. The new management and board of directors have chosen to induct Mr. Shelby into the CMHF in a new category acknowledging international figures who have had made significant contributions to Canadian motorsports.
This is a very heated debate that pits the beliefs of the founders of the CMHF against the business decisions of the new regime. As I have not been involved in the discussions, perhaps it is best to let the founders speak for themselves.
Co-founder Lee Abrahamson shot the opening salvo with the following letter to the CMHF board:
I have just read about the proposed induction of Carroll Shelby into the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame and quite frankly I am incensed. As one of the co-founders of the Hall I am apoplectic about the induction of a non Canadian. I grant you that Mr Shelby has played an important part in world motorsport – his role in US Motorsport is legendary.
BUT WHAT DID HE DO OR HAS EVER DONE FOR CANADIAN MOTORSPORT?
I don’t remember him giving any Canadian Driver or Team special
consideration or any consideration for that matter.
The CMHOF in its purest form was founded on the most fundamental idea.
TO HONOUR CANADIANS.
Either a Canadian individual that has represented Canada in International Competition OR that individual or corporation has promoted or built the infrastructure in CANADA to allow and promote CANADIAN MOTORSPORT
I don’t recall there ever being any discussion on allowing foreigners into the Hall. In fact I even remember there being some discussion over whether a landed immigrant would be eligible. Over the years I have seen the demise of what was such a proud ideal wither and die. If it means, that in order to survive, the Hall must permit all and sundry to enter its hallowed halls then perhaps it is better to let it die its natural death. Just allow us to reminisce once a year where the oldies can bench race and all can talk about the good old days.
I WOULD STRONGLY SUGGEST THAT THE BOARD RECONSIDERS THIS ACTION IF IT STILL
Fellow co-founder Gary Magwood has followed up with:
I couldn’t agree with Lee more. Inducting Carroll Shelby is totally inappropriate and runs counter to the reasons for establishing the CMHF.
I have a sneaking suspicion that this Shelby induction would mean a significant contribution to the Hall…something to do with the Int’l Auto Show in TO wanting some way to honour Shelby as publicity for the collection of his cars to be featured in February. If that is the case, the Hall has lost any semblance of credibility and personal sadness for the deserving individuals whose induction has been debased.
In his column today, the Toronto Star’s Norris McDonald quotes current CMHF President as saying this about Shelby’s involvement with Canadian motorsport:
Ã¢â‚¬â€œ That Carroll Shelby has Canadian connections with the Comstock Racing Team of the 1960s and the career of Eppie Wietzes. He also notes that Honourable Member George Eaton raced a Shelby Cobra;
Ã¢â‚¬â€œ That Shelby is coming to Canada for the Toronto International Auto Show, where the Ford Motor Co. plans a display of historic Shelby automobiles;
Ã¢â‚¬â€œ That this provides a “unique opportunity” for the Canadian Motorsport Hall of Fame to so honour him.
While this may seem like fairly minor semantics to some, it is a very sensitive topic to some of the most significant individuals in Canadian motorsport history. The Hall was built for and by Canadians, should the foundations of the Hall be compromised by accepting a short term financial solution?
The story seems to be that the CMHF stands to gain a sizable contribution in return for inducting Shelby in front of the public at the Toronto Auto Show while surrounded by a fleet of his historic racers. I don’t think that anyone would disagree that this would be a good traffic draw for the Autoshow and the CMHF. The point is that Shelby has had very little impact on Canadian racing. Sure, there were a number of his cars raced here back in the day and continue to be raced in vintage events but Shelby never actually raced here himself. Also, there are those who question whether he actually had any involvement with any Canadian teams or drivers.
If, and that is a fairly big if, there are any international figures who should be chosen as influences on Canadian racing, there are several who actually did contribute to racing here and should be honoured long before Shelby.
The CMHF has had a somewhat rocky road since it’s inception. I doubt there is anyone who can dispute that a cash injection would be a good thing for it in the short or long run. To see the Hall close up shop for good might not be inconceivable without a steady stream of money. There are those who think that the CMHF might as well close it’s doors if the principles on which it was founded are compromised.
Personally, I would prefer not to see the museum turn into a display of international superstars while the real stars of Canadian racing are relegated to the nether reaches of some musty corner, never to be visited again except by aging racers and their families. That being said, a racing museum without money is just a warehouse full of dusty old cars that don’t run anymore, sitting in the dark because it costs too much to turn the lights on. Some of us might still like to visit, but we certainly won’t pay to do it. There needs to be some sort of financial presence in the background or this venture can’t remain viable. Perhaps more effort needs to be focused on sourcing funding from a Canadian company that values the heritage this country offers rather than looking international figures like Shelby who also happen to bring an income stream with their purchased induction. No offence to Shelby or his fans, but the man is just not that pivotal in our history.
Perhaps we could begin with a visit to Aurora, where Frank Stronach’s empire is located. I’m sure that Magna could use the hefty write off and the Canadian Motorsports Hall of Fame, presented by Magna would give Klaus Bytzek a place to display some of his historic Porsches.