SEBRING, Fla. (March 12, 2002) -- Andy Wallace is one of the most successful drivers in the long history of Sebring International Raceway. But the Englishman's first trip to Sebring almost ended prematurely because of his fear of one of Florida's...
SEBRING, Fla. (March 12, 2002) -- Andy Wallace is one of the most successful drivers in the long history of Sebring International Raceway. But the Englishman's first trip to Sebring almost ended prematurely because of his fear of one of Florida's most recognizable native creatures.
Wallace will drive the Champion Audi R8 in the 50th annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, presented by Dodge, on March 16. The race will open the 2002 season for the American Le Mans Series. Wallace and teammates Jan Lammers and Stefan Johansson were third-fastest in unofficial testing for the event.
Wallace was the 1992 and 1993 overall winner of the classic race, but before tasting success at Sebring, he once found himself fearing for his life.
Shortly before traveling to Sebring for the 1991 running of the 12 Hours, Wallace read in a British racing magazine about an alligator that had found its way onto the Hairpin portion of the Sebring racing circuit. The reptile was simply sunning itself on the warm asphalt and the track was not holding an event at the time, so its presence just made an interesting curiosity for track employees. But the story stuck in the back of Wallace's mind.
After arriving at Sebring, Wallace was participating in a night practice session when he experienced an engine failure in his car, which was owned and prepared by legendary American racer Dan Gurney. The engine exploded in flame, and Wallace quickly shut off the electrical systems on the car as he brought it to a stop in the Hairpin.
With the engine on fire, Wallace started to exit the car, but then, for some reason, the alligator story flashed through his mind. He remembered that the gator had been seen in the area of the track where he had come to a stop, and fear suddenly gripped him.
"It was totally dark and there was no one around," said Wallace, who laughs about the incident now. "I couldn't see anything, and I remembered that I was exactly where the alligator had been."
Of course, the gator had been there months before and was long gone, especially with the noise of racing cars everywhere. But the English lad had heard plenty of stories about the American beasts and wanted no part of meeting one.
"I decided I'd just wait in the car until someone got there," he said. Safety workers were quickly on the scene to douse the fire and rescue Wallace. And no alligators were anywhere near.
"We had bad luck that year, but we came back and won the next two years," he said. "And I didn't worry any more about alligators."