by Rick Ostman
Major Events it Currently Hosts
- 12 Hours of Sebring
- Sebring Historics
Opened in 1950, Sebring International Raceway is located in central Florida. It actually began life as Hendricks Field, a World War II B-17 bomber training base. Shortly after the end of the war the base was passed on from the Army to the city of Sebring. Alec Ullman approached city officials in 1950 looking for a site to host European style road racing without the inherent dangers of racing on public highways. New Year’s Eve 1950 ushered in racing at Sebring.
On the 15th of March 1952 the first of the now legendary 12 Hour endurance races was held. The 12 Hours has been held every third weekend in March ever since, with the exception of the “Fuel Crisis” year of 1974. Despite the lack of a 1974 race about 5000 fans showed up anyway, to party. Other racing series have been hosted at Sebring, such as Formula One (1959), Trans-Am (1966-1968), and FIA GT (1997). The track is use nearly year round for test sessions, TV commercial shoots, marque club events and vintage races. The Panoz Racing School and the Skip Barber Driving School also call Sebring home.
The track is located approximately 5 miles from downtown Sebring, just off of Highway 98. There are several configurations of the track besides the full 12 Hour course. These different layouts give track planners the ability to hold multiple events simultaneously, such as a private test session along with a Skip Barber School course.
As befits a former airfield, the track is dead flat with no noticeable elevation changes. Drivers say that the lack of elevation combined with the darkness of the 12 Hours makes for a very technically challenging circuit. The sections of the track comprising Turn 14 through Turn 17 then onto the Front Straight still use the original WW II concrete surface. Turn 17, at the terminus of the high speed Ullman straight, is a sweeping, but extremely bumpy 180° turn just before the front straight. It is not unusual to see sparks fly as cars bottom out. Turn 10, a fairly slow speed 90° right hander, is an excellent site for action photos. The cars are braking hard after a short, but high speed, run through the Green Park Chicane..
How to Get There
- From Daytona Beach it is 141 Miles to Sebring, take I-4 West to US 27 South to Hwy. 98
- From Miami it is 137 Miles to Sebring, take US 27 North to Hwy. 98
- From West Palm Beach it is 98 Miles to Sebring, take I-95N or Florida’s Turnpike North to SR 710 & SR 70 to US 27 North to Hwy. 98
- From Tampa it is 94 Miles to Sebring, take SR 60 East to US 27 South to Hwy. 98
- From Orlando it is 79 Miles to Sebring, take US 27 South to Hwy. 98.
Despite what some travel agents maintain, Miami is not the closest airport to Sebring. If flying in, landing at Orlando or Tampa is highly recommended.
Where to Watch
As of the 2012 race, there are no reserved seats at Sebring International Raceway, but there are reserved RV and car parking areas along the Pit Straight and from Turn 1 through Turn 7.
You can spectate and/or camp along almost all of the 3.74 mile circuit allowing for a near-infinite number of viewing points. That said, Sebring has some well-known areas that have great views and good facilities for casual fans.
- Green Park Spectator Mounds: Since Sebring is dead flat with no elevation changes the track management has added spectator mounds to some of the key turns, most notably the Hairpin, throughout the Green Park. The fences around Sebring are low enough for most people to lean on and shoot pictures over, as opposed to the very tall chain link seen at other US tracks.
- Turn 10: This is probably the most well-known viewing / camping areas on the track. It is a hard right hand turn, taken at fairly slow speed. There is usually action a-plenty as four classes of cars sometimes try to make the turn at the same time. There is a spectator mound just at the exit of Turn 10. Be ready for a crowd though, it is a very popular viewing area.
While those are the most-crowded spectating areas, feel free to explore the track. Just about everywhere is accessible to fans. Be sure to bring something to sit on and refreshments. Veteran Sebring fans can be seen pulling little red wagons with the necessities packed aboard. Many of the largest RVs cluster around the pit straight and near Turn 1.
In terms of moving around Sebring, a sturdy pair of comfortable shoes is definitely recommended. It is a pretty fair hike from the Paddock / Vendor Row to Turn 10, let’s say, either across the Green Park with the spectator bridges or the long way around through the North Paddock. The track does offer a shuttle service through the paddock area, but getting to and through the Green Park is up to you. With that being said, you can get where you want to go at Sebring on-foot, but it might just take a while. Last, if you are not used to it, do not discount the effects of central Florida’s heat & humidity. Stay hydrated and cover up with sunscreen.
At least for the ALMS events, paddock access is free. The paddock area at Sebring is huge, encompassing the Competitor Paddock and Vendor Row behind the Pits, and the North Paddock, where all the cars for the varied support races are prepared.
Where to Eat
Vendors sell food up and down Vendor Row behind the pits and on the Midway across from the pit straight. All the usual midway style of food is available plus the Sebring civic groups offer breakfast and lunch at their tents.
In terms of places outside the circuit, I have to be honest, once I am at the track; I rarely leave until it is time to head home. However, if you really need to eat at a sit-down air-conditioned dining facility there are all the usual chain restaurants along the US-27 corridor though the west side of town. Some recommended restaurants near the track include:
- Sunset Grille, 2650 US Highway 27 S, Sebring, FL. Phone: 863-471-3900
- The Blue Crab, 825 N Ridgewood Dr. Sebring, FL. Phone: 863-382-1771
- Sebring Diner, 4040 US Highway 27 S. Sebring, FL. Phone: 863-385-3434
- Blue Lagoon Saloon, 4120 US Highway 27 N., Sebring, FL. Phone: 863-471-6001
Where to Stay
Thousands of fans camp throughout the grounds of Sebring International Raceway during the 12 Hours. Much like the 24 Hours of Le Mans camping at the track is a must do for many fans. The Green Park, once infamous for decadence, has toned down considerably over the years. Most fans set up camp there, but understand that there are many regulars that have long-standing claims to particular spots. As at any endurance race camp area, the best spots fill early. Sebring offers several hot water shower facilities in the Green Park. If you have personal experience camping at Sebring, please let us know your experiences and tips in the comments and we will include them here in the site.
The hotels closest to the track are booked years in advance. As far as 50 miles away hotel rooms will be hard to find on short notice. Orlando should have available space, but it is a long drive back and forth on a busy highway and is not recommended. There are always last-minute cancellations, but again, there is a waiting list for notifications.
As with any race along the Atlantic coast, check the forecasts and pack accordingly. Due to Florida’s unique peninsular shape, the weather can, and does, change frequently and rapidly. An old, but often true, Sebring adage is: “Its Thursday…it always rains on Thursday!” The rains can be torrential and the track and camping area can, and often does, flood, but the sandy soil drains pretty quickly if that happens.
- Also on the weather, remember that Sebring starts at 11:00am and ends around 11:00pm. The temperature can drop 20 degrees during that time, so your body will feel chilled. It is not at all unusual to see native Floridians in sweatshirts or jackets in bone chilling 65° weather.
- Bring comfy shoes and shoes you won’t mind getting wet. Be sure to bring plenty of dry, well-padded socks. As stated earlier, pack for just about any weather condition you can think of. In 40 plus years of traveling to Sebring the only weather phenomenon I have not experienced is snow….and I do not rule that out!
- As with any track that doesn’t require buying reserved seats, you should take advantage and explore the circuit to find your favorite spots. If it’s your first time, use the less-crowded practice and qualifying days to help decide where you want to spend your time during the race. I strongly recommend camping in the Green Park. Be courteous to the old timers and the vast majority of the Sebring Nation will bend over backwards to make you feel welcome. We enjoy sharing our Sebring experiences and traditions and look forward to making new friends.
- There is plenty to do in Green Park other than watch the races. Friday night there is a concert, given for the past 40 years, by the F-Troop campers. You cannot miss it; just follow the crowd and/or music. Also on Friday night before the race, after dark and before the F-Troop band fires up, is a slide show at Turn 10, covering Sebring history and the previous race seasons high points. You can swing by the Stumble Inn / Sponge Bob camp between Turns 9 & 10 and play pool or a round of foosball. Behind the Turn 10 area, along the paved access road, you will find Hank & Sheila’s Big Freaking Tent. Drop by and dance with a friend. Be sure to ride on the world-famous La Bamba, Sebring’s own party bus and shake hands with the Cow Guys. All this, and more, is presented BY the fans of the Sebring Nation FOR the fans of the Sebring Nation.
- Last, just enjoy yourself and have fun! The folks at Sebring can become lifelong friends. Sebring is a unique experience, both on and off the track. As the eminent British motor sports scribe / photographer John Brooks noted: “Remember, Steve McQueen may have acted at Le Mans, but he raced at Sebring, that tells you all you need to know.”