Sebring: Racers ready for 12 hour event

Race teams ready for Brutal Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2003) -- More than half a century ago, an idea was hatched to make use of the concrete runways and taxiways of what had been Hendricks Field, a bomber training...

Race teams ready for Brutal Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

SEBRING, Fla. (March 14, 2003) -- More than half a century ago, an idea was hatched to make use of the concrete runways and taxiways of what had been Hendricks Field, a bomber training base in World War II. Nestled among the orange groves and cattle ranches near Sebring, Fla., the base had fallen into disrepair until Russian immigrant Alec Ulmann suggested using the base for a sports car road racing event.

With Ulmann's idea, and the first race staged December 31, 1950, Sebring International Raceway was born.

On Saturday, 55 professional sports car racing team from around the world will compete in the 51st running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring. More than 100,000 fans will jam the facility, many of them camping in the infield for days, and the race will be televised live nationally by the SPEED Channel.

German driver Frank Biela, driving an Audi R8 Prototype race car, will lead the field to the start after winning the pole position in Thursday's qualifying. Four different classes of race cars will compete for the overall win as well as class victories.

Though the raceway has gone through several modernizations and configuration changes in its life and now measures 3.7 miles around, it still retains much of its original character. Part of that character is reflected in two long straight portions of the circuit that are still the original concrete that young B-17 pilots practiced takeoffs and landings on during the war.

The concrete portions of Sebring have developed dips and bumps over the years that shake the suspension and engine parts of race cars and wear drivers down. Even though most race teams use three drivers over the course of the 12-hour race, Sebring in the Florida heat takes its toll.

Driver Andy Wallace tells the tale of having blurred vision for two days after winning the race in 1992, then visiting his doctor and being told that he had stretched muscles in his eyes because of the Sebring bumps. His vision returned to normal a few days later.

Driver Butch Leitzinger said that he often has bruises on his ribcage after many hours of bouncing in the car. Other drivers have reported similar symptoms.

Not only is Sebring physically demanding, it is also mentally tough. Driver Ron Fellows compared a full field of cars racing at Sebring to playing a video game, while others talk of the difficulty of driving in traffic at night, which consumes the last four hours of the race.

"This place has so much history," said Johnny O'Connell, a four-time Sebring winner who will co-drive with Fellows. "You go into the infield and you meet people who tell you 'This is my 38th Sebring, and I haven't missed one yet,'" he said. "I just love this place and it's very, very special."

-alms-

Be part of something big

Write a comment
Show comments
About this article
Series ALMS
Drivers Andy Wallace , Frank Biela , Butch Leitzinger , Ron Fellows , Johnny O'Connell