When it comes to American automotive titans, few are as respected or as adored as Carroll Shelby. The nitroglycerin-fueled Texan lived a life dedicated to speed, refusing to let a lifelong battle with heart disease slow him down. On the racetrack Shelby remains the only person to win the 24 Hours of Le Mans as a driver with Aston Martin, as a manufacturer with the Cobra Daytona Coupe, and as a team manager during Ford’s run against Ferrari. He also knew a thing or two about street cars, building the legendary Shelby GT350 and Shelby GT500 models of the 1960’s. As it turns out however, Shelby American wasn’t Carroll’s only passion-turned-business. As his famous saying goes: “My name is Carroll Shelby, and Chili’s is my business.”
All jokes aside, Shelby was indeed responsible for getting Chili’s off the ground. According to The Drive, Shelby’s son-in-law Larry Levine approached the automotive legend about starting a chili-based casual restaurant in 1975. While this premise may seem a little out-there, Levine knew who his audience was. Shelby was a die-hard connoisseur of chili, and is even credited as organizing the first chili cooking competition in 1967 outside his Terlingua Ranch. Shelby had also rolled out his own line of chili spice kits in 1972, which are absolutely worth picking up on your next grocery stop. When Levine expressed how he wanted the restaurants to carry the same feeling as a night with friends in Terlingua, Shelby agreed to shell out the cash for the very first Chili’s location.
Carroll did much more than just bankroll this Dallas location however. He helped to build the menu up from scratch, and played a significant role in shaping the theme of the restaurant. As we all know, Chili’s went on to become a titan in its own right for some time. Not bad for a racing driver.
Carroll Shelby remains an inspiration in the performance world despite his passing in 2012. Ford’s current Mustang lineup features two cars that wear Carroll’s name via the Shelby GT350 and the GT500. Shelby American is still cranking out some serious performance machines as well, including a 770 horsepower take on the F-150. And while he will always be remembered as a gearhead first, perhaps we should all give Carroll’s love of gastronomy a bit more credit.