Sebring 12 Hour is a place where I have fond memories. I went as a spectator twice, first time 1981 and the second time in 1982. I also got to return in 2000 and Vintage race my 1964 Volvo P1800 in a support race group for the 12 hour event. Picture 90,000 race fans during this article.
The first time I went with a couple of friends Dan and Jay and my brother, I was 21. Brother Fred was 16. We camped in tents on the outside of the hair pin corner. It’s where the hotel is now. No place to stay at the track back then, other than a camper, your car, or a tent. It was like being at some kind of rock festival. Across an access bridge from where we were camping is an area of the track in the infield called Green Park. At night the natives would get restless, bon fires, loud music, fireworks, motorcycles, promiscuous women, drugs and alcohol, a kind of devils playground. Think Woodstock. No sign of any security anywhere. It was a free for all for a bunch of drunk, drugged out hippy/rednecks. We would only go over in pairs. It was somewhat dangerously scary even for a 21 year old from The Bronx. My brother was young and innocent, a game changer for him. But that wouldn’t keep us away. What a ride!
The second year we went we came more prepared I borrowed my Dads 1972 Dodge super long van that I converted to a fully equipped camper with pop up top, a stove, fridge and sleeps 6.
I don’t remember everyone that came but there was a group of friends that came down from NY/NJ after hearing about all the wild and crazy fun we had the year before they felt compelled to come and experience it for themselves. I think we had at least ten in our group. We camped in the same spot and experienced the same stuff as the year before, but on a larger scale. The only difference for me was I actually paid attention to what we went there for in the first place, the race. In those years Porsche 935 Turbo’s were dominant, reliable and fast. At night the Porsche Turbos would be glowing red hot shooting flames as they would decelerate and brake for the hair pin corner. Proto Types were new to the series. There was also first generation Mazda RX7’s with their rotary engines. You could hear them revving at some un Godly speed. I also remember Danny (on the gas) Ongais also referred to as (Pineapple Head) was driving a Ted Field Chevy powered Lola Proto Type number 00. He would always drive very hard. Not pacing himself,
“Hello, this is an endurance race, not a sprint race!” I can remember he was so far ahead of everyone when his car broke down with what I think was engine trouble just as the sun was going down, with many hours left to race. At Eleven PM when the race ended the score board still showed him if I remember right in like third place. But of course you have to finish to place. At the end of the day John Paul and John Paul Jr. won in a 935 Porsche. My buddies Jay, Danny and I decided we would walk over to the winners circle. Some how we got pushed in with the press and got in to the restricted area with the car and drivers. We were right there with the Champagne, cameras, very large trophy, celebration and all. I wonder sometimes if there is a picture somewhere with the three of us standing with the car and drivers getting sprayed with Champagne.
The last time I went was in 2000. I got to drive. I went with a good friend of mine Henry and his friend Bill. We towed our vintage racers down from Denver for me, and Albuquerque for Henry and Bill. That was one long tow. My buddy Jay remember Jay he was there in 1982 in the winners circle with me. Well Jay reunited with me for the race weekend experience. We were now both married with two kids each and we had another on in the oven. Jay flew down from NJ and rented a car and met us at the track and pitted for me on race day. I had my trusty steed (Volvo P1800S) and Henry had his 1960 something Austin Healey 3000. The tow was an adventure in itself but we’re here to talk about Sebring. We were one of the first to arrive. We were there the day before anyone was let in. With no place to go we somehow finagled our way in and got a most excellent camping spot. The Vintage racers were put in the pit area just out side of the where the 12 hour cars were pitted. Every time we had a race or practice session we would drive through where the 12 hour cars were pitted. Lots of thumbs up from the international teams. Pretty cool stuff for a gear head like myself.
The organizers that put on our part of the race weekend was HSR one of if not the largest Vintage Race Organizations in the US. There were cars the from all over the country. There was even a group of about 25 cars that came all the way from England. Most of the cars they brought were American cars. Funny, I would of thought differently. Anyway a great bunch of folks, made a lot of friends, those guys from England really know how to party. In my run group, was retired and former professional racer Bob Akin. Bob had won Sebring, I think in one of those Porsche 935’s that dominated for so many years. That was pretty cool for me! Every time Bob would go by in a Aston Martin DB, I would think to myself “that’s Bob Akin pretty crazy“. It would be like being on stage with the Rolling Stones if you were a musician. Anyway, I made lots of friends and had an experience I will never forget. That is why Sebring has a special place in my heart. After the race weekend we all drove to a beach resort in Clearwater and spent the following week with our wives and kids. A perfect holiday for everyone.
Thank you to my readers, until next time keep the shinny side up.