Sebring: Goodyear Racing scene setter

Sebring race gathers racers, fans from all over the globe SEBRING, Fla. (March 12, 2003) -- The Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is one of the few racing events in the world where some of the pre-race hoopla centers on a volleyball game. The...

Sebring race gathers racers, fans from all over the globe

SEBRING, Fla. (March 12, 2003) -- The Mobile 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring is one of the few racing events in the world where some of the pre-race hoopla centers on a volleyball game.

The main event is the March 15 12-hour race for the American Le Mans Series, but there are several support races involving other series as well. The weekend is a racing smorgasbord.

The event, contested at Sebring International Raceway, is one of the world's most anticipated sports car weekends every year. It attracts teams, drivers and tiremakers from all around the world. Racing lore is filled with great chases around the challenging Sebring circuit by some of the greatest names in the sport's history.

Goodyear teams have won the great race 19 times, tops in the tire industry.

But this is Florida in the springtime and that means the event attracts more than just a crowd of race fans. It attracts a celebration of the coming of spring. Race organizers expect more than 100,000 people to pack themselves in for the weekend.

Johnny O'Connell was part of the winning team in the GTS class in 2002, driving a Goodyear-shod Chevrolet Corvette. He said, "You go into the infield and you meet people who tell you 'This is my 38th Sebring, and I haven't missed one yet.' The only place in my career that I have ever encountered anything like the atmosphere of Sebring is at Indianapolis."

It is a party of epic proportions. Recreational vehicles line the front straight with their inhabitants perched on top to view and be viewed. A beach chair, not a grandstand seat, is the prime viewing mode.

The volleyball game, sponsored by a sun screen maker and contested by company spokes-models, drew a big crowd last year. It was a perfect fit for this melding of competition and fun in the sun.

A fan of racing history can buy shirts and hats celebrating the entire 51 years of the race's history. Venders hawk just about every book ever produced about sports car racing and seem almost as happy to reminisce with fans about racing's past as to sell their wares. Want to buy a die cast model or slot car set? Both are available in quantity here.

The fans come to cheer on their favorites, but choose those favorites by various means. Some come to root for the cars racing on Goodyear tires, while others favor a particular auto manufacturer. Many have favorite drivers or teams.

The track is located on the grounds of an airport, which was once a training field for military bomber crews. In fact, the original race course included two long stretches on runways. The course of the track has changed through the years, but the nature of the racing remains the same.

Ron Fellows, O'Connell's Corvette teammate, offered perhaps the finest description of racing at Sebring.

"It's almost four miles around Sebring," said Fellows. "But there's also 17 turns, and you get a full grid of cars out there and it's video game time."

Sebring attracts celebrities from every walk of life. Former CBS newsman Walter Cronkite once competed in the 12-hour race. So have actors Steve McQueen and Paul Newman.

The greatest names in racing have tested themselves at Sebring. A.J. Foyt has won here on Goodyear tires and so have Hurley Haywood, Al Holbert and Lloyd Ruby.

The racing at Sebring is intense. The crowd is amazing. And Goodyear is a big part of the story.

-goodyear racing-

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Series ALMS
Drivers Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell , Hurley Haywood , Paul Newman , Al Holbert , Lloyd Ruby , A.J. Foyt