Pistons and Props turn the clock back at Sebring

Track is rough, but vintage racers eager for the opportunity to race into the darkness

On the whole vintage racing circuit, there is nothing quite like the Sebring Classic 12 Hour, an event that gives competitors and spectators a feeling for what it’s like to race on a historically tough track at night.

The race, promoted by Historic Sportscar Racing, ran for the third time over the first weekend in December and again featured not only a stellar field of vintage race cars but nearly a dozen vintage aircraft, arrayed on both sides of the starting grid for the entire weekend.  Entirely appropriate, since Sebring was a World War II B-17 training base called Hendricks Army Airfield, and is technically still a part of Sebring Regional Airport, across the street.

Sebring has been operating as a sports car track since 1950, with the 12 Hours of Sebring starting in 1952 and continuing to today, with the exception of 1974 when the gas crisis hit.  

It is, as the British say, flat as a badger’s bum, and it has been modified, changed, and reconfigured more times than any other race track in the country, and has changed ownership and management many times.  It is now 3.75 miles around, with 17 turns, and still as rough and tough and bumpy as ever, which can be hard on old race cars. But the competitors here don’t seem to mind.  They want to race where the big kids race, and they want to race at night.

Crew from Heritage Motorsports waits its turn during one of the two night sessions run at Sebring. The team races a collection of Porsche and BMW cars

The format that HSR has come up with is used at other events, too.  There are four race groups, A through D, and each group races for 41 minutes, starting on the hour, with a mandatory three-minute pit stop taking place in the first 32 minutes.  Late or short pit stops draw a time penalty.  That leaves about 15 minutes between groups to groom the track and pre-grid the next group.  

The first group goes out at noon Saturday and the last group goes out at 11 p.m., finishing just before midnight, with one last session on Sunday morning.

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At the Classic 12 Hour, you will see cars from the Fifties right through to the cars that raced at Le Mans and Daytona only a couple of years ago, American, British, German, and French race cars that have made history and continue to soldier on in the hands of new owners.

The Classic 12 Hour at Sebring is as warm, friendly and low-key a vintage event as there is, highly recommended as an addition to your bucket list, especially if you’re looking for a warm place to hang out on the first weekend in December.  

Also highly recommended is a trip to the Chicanes restaurant in the elegant, Spanish-style 1920s Inn On The Lakes Hotel, where there are photos of every Sebring 12 Hour race from 1950 onward.  And, if you want to take a break for dinner in the middle of the night, go to the Sebring Diner, and step back into the 1950s while you eat.

Jim McCraw
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