Shelby Automotive students’ need for speed

By Teresa Flores

Features Editor

 

The iconic and legendary Carroll Shelby name has managed to rev up another great opportunity for students in Northeast Texas Community College’s Carroll Shelby Automotive Technology Program.

On Oct. 11, the Automotive Program will be hosting “3 Shelbys and a Corvette Racer Car Show” on the Northeast campus. The event will have special guest appearances by Shelby’s longtime friends, legendary Panamericana Corvette racer Delmo Johnson and world-renowned automotive artist Bill Neale, as well as the star of Discovery Channel’s Fast N’ Loud and upcoming television show Fired Up Garage Scot McMillan. The car show will also feature music by The Rodney Whatley Band, Carroll Shelby chili served up by Northeast’s Welding program and all makes and models of cars including those from the Dallas Shelby Auto Club.

The three Shelbys featured in the car show will be those restored by Shelby program students. “We will be rolling out the last Shelby, which is a ’68 Shelby GT 350 that Mr. Shelby bought and donated to the program,” said Keith Fennimore, director of the Shelby Automotive Technology program. “We’re rolling out the Terlingua, which is a ’67 Mustang. The third car we’re rolling out is what we call the Panamericana Mustang, which is a ’65 Mustang that we are building for the Panamericana race next year.”

Although the Terlingua and Panamericana Mustangs are not Shelbys, the cars will definitely have the Shelby touch. “It’ll have Shelby D.N.A. ingrained in the car since the students build them in his honor. Anyone can build a Shelby, but this is built by students who bear the Shelby name,” said Tony Whitworth, instructor of the Carroll Shelby Automotive Program.

While working on the three cars, students have found a new way to connect with Shelby himself. “It feels like you’re a part of his history and it’s an honor,” said Carter Jones, a dual credit student from Mount Pleasant High School. “I thought it was pretty cool and I wanted to help out and just to be able to say that I built that,” Carlos Mata, another dual credit student, said.

“It’s an honor to be a part of this program and to do this being from Mount Pleasant,” added Mata.

The racecars also brought other NTCC departments in to work on the projects. Welding students worked on the roll cage of the Panamericana Mustang while auto body students worked on sanding and painting the two cars.

All projects encounter problems along the way, and with an undertaking as grand as the one the Shelby students are currently working on, glitches are bound to occur. “There are always going to be problems. But it is to be expected and worked out,” said Whitworth. “Some people run from that and some people embrace it. This is above and beyond what any normal mechanic shop would experience.”

The man responsible for offering the Shelby program one of these amazing opportunities is Robert Miller, an attorney from Dallas. “What an opportunity that we have a gentleman, Rob Miller, come to our school and ask us to build this car for him,” said Whitworth. “Not only is he entrusting his life in us, but he’s entrusting the ability that we can finish and produce a vehicle that will be competitive.”

Miller was asked to compete in the 2015 La Carrera Panamericana race with Wilbert Grinsven, curator of The Dallas Museum of Automotive History. Grinsven is known for having raced off road for years in Europe and completed the Paris to Dakar off-road race twice. After contemplating the offer for a few days, Miller called Grinsven back. “I asked if he minded racing a vintage Mustang,” said Miller. “I will never forget his response, ‘Rob, I will race anything but a Yugo.’” Miller and Grinsven will both be driving the Panamericana Mustang, currently being built by the Shelby students, in the La Carrera Panamericana race in Mexico.

With a plan put in motion, Miller called Fennimore and Whitworth and asked if they were interested in having their students work on the car. After obtaining the proper permission to take advantage of this once-in-a-lifetime opportunity, the 1965 Mustang was purchased via Craigslist for $800. Although Miller could have purchased a vehicle already restored, he wanted to have students from the Shelby program work on the car.

“There’s not a school in the state of Texas, probably the United States, that can say that we’re building a car at Shelby Automotive that’s endorsed by Shelby and built by the students of Northeast Texas, and it will be competitive,” said Whitworth.

With the Carroll Shelby name and racers like Miller and Grinsven on board, the program was also able to attract McMillan and tap into the talent and knowledge featured on his two television shows. He acted as guest instructor for the Shelby program, helping welding students assemble the roll cage for the Panamericana racecar.

Car legends continued to roll into the heart of the Carroll Shelby Automotive program as the rebuilding of the Panamericana racecar sparked interest from Johnson. Johnson, who raced the Panamericana race with a top speed of 205 mph, called Miller asking to see his racecar. “Delmo is such a great story teller that we couldn’t miss this opportunity to share the experience with other car enthusiasts,” said Miller. “In typical Delmo fashion, he responded, ‘Sure, invite everyone you like.” The idea of sharing the Panamericana Mustang with others formulated into the “3 Shelbys and a Corvette Racer Car Show.”

Although none of the Shelby program students will be able to race or even attend the 2015 La Carrera Panamericana in Mexico, their presence will be there in the car’s spirit.

“We are happy to play a small role in helping to introduce it [the Shelby Program] to people outside of Northeast Texas,” Miller said.

The power of the Shelby name has the ability to bring an entire group of people together from different backgrounds and create a community. “The really exciting thing about this project is the enthusiasm that all of these very talented people bring to the project. Carroll Shelby Enterprises, Inc., the parent company for all of the Shelby Companies, has fully and enthusiastically supported this project from the outset,” said Miller.

The Carroll Shelby legacy will not only live on in the program, but in the tremendous amount of hard work and enthusiasm the students, instructors and all those involved in the project have dedicated. “We are excited about building the car, the race and the car show, but we are more excited about the opportunity to expose the Carroll Shelby Automotive Technology Program to people nationally and internationally,” said Miller.  “A great product sells itself and this program is a great product.

He said the entire experience of bringing the Panamericana Mustang to life goes well beyond just a car race.

“Racing 2,000 miles across Mexico at speeds up to 145 mph in seven days with this car built by the students will not only highlight the quality of the work done by the Shelby Program, but will also give each one of these young people the experience of building a race car that competed in an internationally famous race – a race that Carroll himself raced.”

 

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