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."