Great Cars/Blog

Stacks Image 9

Carroll Shelby winner of the 1956 June Sprints.
by Tom Schultz

The Ferrari 121LM was a difficult and unloved car. The Scuderia used it in 1955 in place of the earlier 4.9 liter V-12 375 Plus models. However, it broke new ground with a 4.4 liter straight six engine, the first and only in Ferrari history. The car did not do well in 1955 and was quickly replaced for the following year. Those few built made it to the US in 1956. One of those went to Luigi Chinetti, the US Ferrari importer. He entered it in the 1956 June Sprints, with Carroll Shelby as the driver. In the Sprints it was up against a strong field, headed by three D type Jaguars of the Briggs Cunningham team. Other top Ferraris present were the 375s of John Kilborn and Rich Lyeth. Ernie Erickson, Lou Brero, and Jack McAfee were also in D Jaguars.

Sherwood Johnston, in a Cunningham Jaguar, was on the pole. Shelby however
took the lead on the first lap, followed by a train of D Jags. One by one they were reduced, as McAfee pitted at the end of lap two with a duff engine, while Johnston went off course and rolled his D type. Not to be outdone, Walt Hansgen flipped his Cunningham Jaguar end over end. The last Cunningham Jaguar,
driven by John Fitch, retired with mechanical problems, completing
a nightmare day for Cunningham.

Shelby had the unruly Ferrari under his control, and he led effortlessly. He backed off late in the race, with Lou Brero finishing six seconds behind. Ernie Erickson was third in his yellow D type, with the 4.5 Ferraris of Kilborn and Lyeth following. Phil Stewart won the DM class in a Maserati 300-S.

Fifty years later, in 2006, Shelby revisited the track as Grand Marshall of that year's June Sprints. He recalled his victory, and remarked that he won two races in the Chinetti 121-LM and wondered if anyone else had ever won more than one. Could well be, as an ornery car requires an ornery driver to master it.