DARLINGTON, S.C. -- Carroll Shelby never competed in NASCAR, but his legacy lives within a stock-car racing community that was saddened by news of the automotive mastermind's passing.
There was a moment of silence in Shelby's honor prior to Friday night's Nationwide Series race at Darlington Raceway.
"That's sad news," said Greg Biffle, pole winner for Saturday night's Bojangles' Southern 500. "I did meet him a few times and talked with him. ... That's tough news. I've got a few of his cars, and he was an inspiration to all car collectors and car guys across the country."
Shelby, 89, died Thursday night in Dallas. A former driver who won the 24 Hours of LeMans before stepping away from the car due a heart ailment, Shelby was most famous for designing high-performance sports car and race cars. Although he worked with several different manufacturers, he was most closely tied to Ford, with whom he collaborated for more than a half-century.
"Carroll Shelby is one of the most recognized names in performance car history, and he's been successful at everything he's done," said Edsel Ford III, a member of Ford's board of directors and great-grandson of the company's founder. "Whether helping Ford dominate the 1960s racing scene or building some of the most famous Mustangs, his enthusiasm and passion for great automobiles over six decades has truly inspired everyone who worked with him. He was a great innovator whose legend at Ford never will be forgotten."
Shelby was a regular presence at Las Vegas Motor Speedway, in the city where his company is based. He became closer friends with Bruton Smith, owner of the Las Vegas track's parent company, Speedway Motorsports Inc.
"Carroll was one of the best friends I ever had," Smith said. "He was known all over the world as an icon in the automotive industry and one of the greatest names in the history of motorsports. He was a great Texan and a great innovator with a style of his own. I'll never forget how he would climb out of that sports car with bib overalls and a cowboy hat. Ford will do all but close the company because of his passing. I admired him a great deal and will miss him greatly as a friend and a business partner."
Former Charlotte track president H.A. "Humpy" Wheeler called Shelby a motorsports icon to rival the likes of Ferrari founder Enzo Ferrari, NASCAR founder Bill France Sr., or pioneering crew chief and car builder Smokey Yunick.
"He was a humble man who treated everyone the same," Wheeler said. "Once I was with him at a car show and he walked up to a guy who owned an original Cobra and said 'Hi, I'm Carroll Shelby.' The guy went into tremors, but Carroll put his big hand on his shoulder and told him he sure was proud he had that car, and gave him his cell phone and told him to call him if he had a problem."
"It's totally devastating to the Vegas community," Las Vegas native Kyle Busch added. "He is actually one of the main guys that started Legends racing in Las Vegas, him and a few other guys. That's where we bought our first Legends car, was from Shelby America. ... He's been a [mainstay] there in Las Vegas for a long time, and out there since that race track opened."
Even late in life and despite a heart transplant, Shelby could still be found wheeling one of his high-performance vehicles. To the native Texan, it always came back to his passion for automobiles.
"Carroll Shelby was a visionary for performance and speed for the Ford Motor Company," Richard Petty said. "It was his ideas that helped push the Cobra and most recently the Mustang brand to the American people. He was an innovator of his time and helped Ford become a leader in the racing and performance world. The entire Petty family sends their prayers to the Shelby family." Related: Shelby has weakness for horsepower, technology Shelby GT 350 didn't disappoint in test session