REPUBLISHED FROM 2016
In exactly one week, one of the greatest North American racing traditions will begin. The campers will arrive, the elaborate set ups will be built, teams will unload future race winning cars, and the Twelve Hours of Sebring weekend will finally begin. The last leg of the 36 Hours of Florida will commence and it’s not a race you want to miss.
Sebring International Raceway is one of those race tracks that just screams racing history. Just like Indianapolis or Daytona or Watkins Glen, you can feel the racing history as you drive up first thing in the morning, or late at night after the race has ended, couches are burning, and the smell of fireworks still hangs in the night air. It’s a track that has seen battles between some of the greatest manufacturers and drivers of any decade, as well as having an F1 history. But despite that, this old WWII military base has evolved over the years to become one of the greatest tests of endurance in the world. Over twelve hours, man and machine come together to see who can survive the bumps and turns of Sebring.
I’m a history junkie so the first time I went to Sebring, it was with the history of the track in mind. I love that feeling of the ghosts of races past as the sun comes up on a Florida spring day. It’s actually something I always tell people when they tell me they’re going to the more historic tracks in the US: make sure you get there early enough to experience the ghosts, to take in the Sebring sunrise the morning of the race and know that you’re about to be apart of something big.
Of course, the Twelve Hours of Sebring isn’t all about the history, which I quickly learned my first time attending. This will be my fifth Twelve Hours, and just as I think nothing will shock me, my explorations of the infield prove me very, very wrong. I jokingly tell people that sixty percent of the people at Sebring aren’t even aware there’s a race going on, but the other forty percent are the most passionate racing fans you will ever meet. This is the race you go to if you want to spend an hour talking racing history, but it’s also the race you want to go to if you love to party and have a good time. Sebring really has it all.
So how can I prepare you for this race? Well, number one: expect the unexpected. Sebring is a giant party and during that party, an amazing race is happening. If you’re a racing fan who loves to have some fun, that probably sounds like heaven, and it really is. There are moving bars on the back of pick up trucks, people tossing beads like it’s Mardi Gras, and elaborate and incredible set ups, the likes of which you will probably never see anywhere else. It’s a long race, so take some time to walk through the infield and check out what’s going on. Head out to the ever famous Green Park, where all of the best partying happens. Stop and chat with the Sebring Cows (and ask their story, it’s pretty awesome and I don’t want to spoil it). In the slower moments, talk to some track officials about the history of the track. Expect burning couches, offers of free alcohol, and maybe some people who are just a little too weird or drunk or both.
I don’t camp at Sebring for various reasons, but I will advise anyone who is going to Sebring and not camping to find someone who is. It’s good to have a base, as well as having some of the best views of the track from various campers. It’s a serious downside of Sebring: the viewing areas for fans are not the best. Part of the charm of Sebring is that it hasn’t changed much, the history is still very much the present. So there aren’t any huge grandstands along the front straight or in any of the turns. You have a few viewing mounds, a couple of temporary grandstands, and that’s about it. Thankfully, Sebring’s president, Wayne Estes, recently wrote a letter to fans promising that new viewing areas would be a top priority for them. I know some people are worried that it might ruin some of what makes Sebring great, but I also think giving fans an opportunity to view the race is important. For what it’s worth, Mr. Estes’s letter was one of the best actions I’ve ever seen from a track president, and I’m excited to see how Sebring grows, while still maintaining the special Sebring-esque feel.
Also, for some logisitics here: 1) Spring in Florida isn’t spring in the North or the Midwest. We have four seasons in Florida: comfortable, hot, hotter, and hotter than the face of the sun. Sebring tends to be somewhere between hot and hotter, so make sure you have plenty of sunscreen, a ball cap, and lots of water in between whatever other liquids you choose to consume. That being said, the mornings can be on the cooler side, so make sure to have a light sweatshirt or hoodie available. 2) Sebring is a big track. You will walk a lot. To get from the paddocks to most of the viewing areas, you have to cross a bridge and then walk quite a bit more. It’s a sensory experience so it’s actually a lot of fun, but wear comfortable shoes. 3) Park your car in the correct spot. Trust me on this one, Sebring tows cars. My car has been towed and I know several people who have the exact same experience. Make sure you are parked where you are supposed to be parked. It’s not fun to go track down your car after a long day at the track, and it’s even less fun to have the cash handy.
Fun facts: Sebring has a completely open paddock. Unlike Daytona, you don’t have to buy a separate garage pass. So take advantage of this and come check out your favorite teams as they work. I always feel like drivers are also slightly more available at this race than the 24, so that’s always a plus. Also, the pit walk right before the race is absolutely one of those things you just have to do. Between the bagpipers, the amazing cars, and the truly dedicated fans, it’s just an experience you have to include in your weekend. Get last minute selfies with drivers, take pictures of the cars, throw in your last minute predictions of whose going to win. The fans are just as much part of the show as the cars and drivers at Sebring, so make sure you take it all in.
I think, when people ask me how to “do” Sebring, the best advice I can give is to embrace it. Embrace the race. Embrace the history. Embrace the crazy. Sebring has the kind of electric environment that most people compare to the Snake Pit at the Indy 500. You have bathing suit contests, you have bars, you have people tossing beads, and now you’ll even have the Rock the Grid concert Friday night. Sebring is an amazing event with great racing. So whether this is your thirtieth year or your first, the best advice is to just embrace the craziness that has made the Twelve Hours of Sebring one of the best events for sixty-four years and running.
See you guys there!
Image: Sebring International Raceway, Roger Warrick