61 years ago, a group got together to create a motor-sports event in the United States that would call on all of the big marks across the world and small private teams alike to come compete in an environment unlike any other.
Thus the 12 hours of Sebring was born. Some of the greatest names in motor-sport history have walked the concrete paddock and piloted some of the worlds fastest cars around the old airfield in central Florida. Breaking records, making history and preparing for an even more coveted endurance race happening later in the year.
The fans are from a different planet and cover every demographic, to a first timer at the race spending time in the fan zone “the zoo” can be overwhelming, but to most people it is one of the highlights of the weekend.
For a little bit over a decade the American Lemans Series has been running the Sebring 12hr in conjunction with IMSA and in recent years the WEC. Brands like Audi, BMW, Peugeot, Panoz, Chevrolet, Ferrari, SRT, Cadillac, Porsche and Toyota have all put in time at this track.
No one has had a more successful run at Sebring in such a compressed time period as Audi. They have been virtually untouchable at Sebring since 2000 when the R8 LMP1 showed up on the scene.
2000 was the first year I was able to go to the race, 13 years old. I had been to races before, indy, trans-am, and touring cars. I had spent many a weekend at race-tracks in and out of the state with my father. I went to more races, spent more time watching racing on TV than I ever spent going to concerts or other sporting events, this still holds true in 2013. Back in 2000, Sebring was a bit overwhelming for me, and I think I spent the whole weekend just trying to figure out what was going on and how it all worked. By the end of the weekend, I left satisfied and wanting more. Even though 12 hours of screaming engines and sun beating down on me took its toll and was not something I was used to at all.
The next year, I returned, then the next, and the next… In-fact in the last 13 years I have made 11 trips to Sebring to watch the race. On the 50th anniversary I drank glass bottled Coca-Cola with the N/A CEO of Audi, Len Hunt after the race while everyone else was enjoying champagne or beer, a few years later at the debut race for Audi’s first diesel protoype race-car, I smoked cigars with a local dealer owner and the head of all of Volkswagen while the Audis went on to change motorsports history forever.
Let me back track a little bit. Yes I went to the races, yes it sort of became a tradition. However I did not spend the entire time sitting around being a brat, but with that being said a 12 hour race does leave time for such things, especially when the closest competition to Audi is laps behind. Anyways, it was either the 2nd or 3rd year of Sebring that I brought a video camera with me. At the time, I was getting involved with video, I thought it was cool and recording and editing film was interesting for me, so it only made sense to bring the camera with me. This was even before I ever considered doing photography seriously. The next year I brought a digital SLR camera that I borrowed from school. Infact Sebring is the first place that I ever went out and took pictures somewhat seriously on my own, not for an assignment or anything like that. So I suppose that is why it tends to hold a special place in my heart. I guess it is sort of the place where it all began.
Years have passed, the sport has evolved, my photographic career has started and I still go to Sebring. Looking ahead to the rules change and the merger with grand-am, I will still probably be going. Even though it will be different, it will still be Sebring. That familiar track in central Florida with the world’s best corn dog, the world’s craziest fans and the world’s best race cars.
Fast forward to this year. I actually decided early this year that I would attend the race this year. Thank god, that meant I could stay at a hotel 40 miles from the track, instead of the 90 miles like last year. Seeing how I was going to drive from Detroit down to the race, this also gave me time to drag someone else into this mess. Cue Patrick Day (www.patrickdalyphoto.com) another hungry, amped up, race ready photographer.
With our photo passes secured and a couple of hours of sleep under our belt we hit the road to Florida at 4am on a Wednesday, arrival at the hotel was set for 11pm that night, 1206 miles down the road.
We arrived safe and sound, hell even after we got to the hotel we still stayed up for a couple of hours getting gear ready and just generally being too amped up to sleep, even after being awake for 24 hours. But bedtime would come soon, as in a few hours it would be our first of many days at the track for the 2013 12 hours of Sebring.
All geared up and ready to hit the tarmac so to speak, we set off the next morning to spend our first day at the track. Pretty much spent the whole day walking the track, saying hello to old friends, exploring the Zoo and eating corn dogs. (this was Pat’s first trip to Sebring)
That night we headed back to our hotel very satisfied and hungry for more.
For the next 3 days we walked something close to 30 miles, ate a dozen corn dogs and chick-fil-a sandwiches. Made friends with a local server at the Chilis next to our hotel. Sweat gallons, drank gallons, and took tens of thousands of pictures.
Once the Sebring experience was over with we headed to South Beach for a crazy night on the Ocean, then the next morning Pat had a photo-shoot there, then we hit the road to head back home.
Our week of palm trees, race cars and humidity was over.
and it was good, oh so good.
Now I am not a very spiritual person, but for one weekend in March, once a year, I get to experience something close to what heaven must be like.