Sebring Raceway: A Brief History
Nothing tests the mettle of a machine, or a person for that matter, like time. Entertainment careers, politicians, internal organs, marriages, buildings, and automobiles are all judged based by how long they last. This fact helps to show why Sebring international Raceway, with its annual 12 hour marathon, is the most highly acclaimed 3.74 miles in the world. Sebring Raceway is located in south-central Florida, part of the tiny community of Sebring, Florida that harbors 10,491 souls. During WW2 the site was home to Hendricks Field, a military training school that taught pilots how to operate the B-17 Flying Fortress. After the war, Alec Ulmann, an aeronautical engineer, was scouting locations for a business venture. His ambition was to convert former military planes for civilian use. But, once he saw the long, low, flat airfields at the former base, he instantly pictured the location hosting an American version of Le Mans.
He poured his limited resources into the venture, and, on New Year’s Eve 1950, 30 race cars from around the country showed up to compete in the very first Sebring contest. Amenities were sparse to say the least. The base had not been designed for racing purposes, and the facility consisted of a few scattered toilets, a handful of hay bales, and a lot of open space. That event lasted six hours. It was won by the team of Ralph Deshon and Fritz Koster, who borrowed a spectator’s Crosley Hot Shot to participate in the event. Ironically, the little vehicle is now considered to be one of the worst 100 cars of all time.
The next race wasn’t held until 15 months later, on March 15, 1952. It was officially billed as the 12 Hours of Sebring. Since then it has been held every year since 1974, when, according to reports, around 1,000 fans showed up anyway. The contest is part of the Triple Crown of international endurance racing, along with Daytona and Le Mans.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1965 Alfa Romeo Guilia TZ2 Zagato
The course was originally 5.2 miles long and included the Webster Turn. In 1966, however, five people died during the event, leading to the course being widened and slightly lengthened the next year. It was modified several other times in the 89s and 90s.
The surface is notoriously rough, with much of it still as it was during its airfield days in WW2. Sparks commonly fly off undercarriages as the racers cross transition zones between asphalt and concrete. It has several high speed corners mixed with long straights, with almost no elevation change. The track’s flat topography makes it extremely challenging, even for experienced drivers. These problems become even more acute after a good, soaking rain.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1970 Porsche 917K
Sebring’s legendary status has led to its being featured in numerous racing video games, including Total Immersion Racing, Sports Car GT, iRacing, and Forza Motorsport. During the winter the Skip Barber Racing School uses the track, as a suitable arena in which to train the next generation of professional drivers.
PHOTOS: See More of the 1965 Ford GT40
Photo Credit: Bill Stowe, Autosports Marketing Assoc.