It was the 1966 Sebring 12 Hours. Ford GT40 drivers Ken Miles and Dan Gurney were dicing for the lead, coming dangerously close to knocking each other out of the race. Team boss Carroll Shelby tried to send the message to the drivers to stop racing each other, but neither would listen, so Shelby decided to intervene. With a hammer.
The 1966 Sebring race was seriously important for Shelby. It was the start of the first season where he had a real chance to consistently beat Ferrari. Ford had poured unthinkable sums of money into the ‘Destroy Ferrari' project and it was the beginning of their third year. The GT40 had been extremely unreliable in the past, and Shelby could not afford to take any risks with his drivers. He needed them to toe the line and bring their cars home.
Dan Gurney (seen below taking with Shelby) had also balked at the starting line, losing a minute before he could get away. He had been driving like he was possessed to get back to the front and Miles was only putting him at risk. As Rinsey Mills writes in Carroll Shelby: The Authorized Biography, Shelby desperately needed to "get him off Dan's back."
His solution? Run out on the wall and chase his driver off with a hammer.
You can just see Shelby coming back into pit lane with his hammer in the clip (left) for ABC's Wide World of Sports. It makes Ferrari's recent team orders just seem limp-wristed in comparison.
Shelby was no stranger to fixing problems with a hammer. Remember, this is the guy who won the 24 Hours of Le Mans in overalls (below right). In a 2002 article in Airport Journals, co-founder of the Shelby American Collection, Stephen Volk explained how the big Texan fixed a problem complying with the French governing body on motorsports back in 1964.
All sports racing cars then had to have room for luggage, and they were tested to see if the trunk would hold a certain size suitcase. In 1964, Shelby's Cobra roadsters failed the test. Volk explained, "on the spot, [Shelby] took the hammer out and fixed it so they could get the trunk closed and pass that requirement."
When in doubt, just hit things with a hammer. It worked for Carroll Shelby.
All of that being said, one should not mention the 1966 Sebring race without remembering its five deaths. Bob McLean was a driver in a privately-entered GT40. In the fourth hour of the race, he lost control of his Ford and crashed into an entirely unprotected telephone pole. His car caught fire, he was trapped inside, and he burned alive. His team retired its second car, but the race continued.
Several hours later, Mario Andretti made contact with a Porsche 906. The Porsche went off the track and into a crowd, killing four spectators. The race was not stopped. The lack of safety precautions was shameful, to a level that is also unthinkable today.
Photo Credit: Ford/the Dave Friedman Collection, Getty Images (overalls)