Sebring Raceway: a full and varied history
Inspired by Le Mans, America's sports car classic at Sebring has a flavour and history all its own and this year a new chapter will be added to the history books with a joint WEC/IMSA double-header.
Sebring International Raceway, located just outside the town of Sebring in central Florida, is one of the oldest continuously-operating race tracks in the United States.
Inspired by Le Mans, America's sports car classic has a flavour and history all its own and this year a new chapter will be added to the history books with a joint WEC/IMSA double-header.
The WEC’s 1000 Miles of Sebring will take place on Friday, March 15 and the IMSA WeatherTech Sports Car Championship’s Twelve Hours of Sebring will take place on Saturday March 16 – the two events offering North American fans a unique opportunity to see all the world’s best endurance racers in one place.
But how did it all begin? The first European-style endurance race in the Americas owes its genesis to a Russian-born aeronautical engineer and entrepreneur named Alec Ulmann.
In the years after World War 2 Ulmann was in the surplus aircraft business, so he frequently dropped in at a former military airfield in central Florida where many old planes and parts were still to be found, Hendricks Field.
Ulmann also was a car enthusiast, especially of road racing. Sebring's long, broad runways and intricate network of access roads sparked a dream, one that was realised on the final day of 1950 when a group of sports car drivers executed a "Le Mans Start" by running across the rough runway cement and jumping into their cockpits for a 6-hour enduro.
Ulmann spent the next 15 months pulling together the first 12-hour race, which was flagged into life early in the afternoon of Saturday, March 15, 1952. And so, a crucial part of American endurance racing history began.
Porsche, Ferrari, Audi, Nissan, Ford, Toyota, BMW, Chevrolet Corvette, Ligier, Cadillac and Peugeot...these are the winning marques that, year by year, have built Sebring into a world-renowned name in racing.
It really means something if your car comes out ahead after half a day of racing on the brutally rough old concrete runways and narrow, aging asphalt roads with engines tiring, transmissions wilting, brakes fading and chassis and bodies taking blow upon blow from the track. Not only that, but drivers and crew fight on through broiling sun, icy nights and, often, torrential rainstorms.
As Sebring prepares for its 67th event this March, one truth remains eternal: If you win Sebring, you have respected the bumps, overcome challenges, and really achieved something to be proud of.
Credit: Text in part from an article by Pete Lyons, Road & Track (2011)