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Pedley: Hours And Hours Of Fun

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2011

The infield at Sebring. It's more than just your standard, 12-hour-long, 56-car, bomber-base-track race. (Photos courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Sebring, Fla. – Some observations and quick hits from a race day that actually is a day’s worth of racing at Sebring:

This just has to be painted with the cliche of; only during the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring.

A couple of hours into the race, a gust of wind blew a tent out onto the track. Right in front of the lead pack of cars.

Luckily, the race was under caution. But the tent, which shot up about 20 feet into the air, circled around a bit and then rolled, made it’s entry between the pace car and the pack.

Two words for campers near the Sebring track: Longer stakes.

A sign – obviously hand-lettered by a non-artist – hung from a fence in front of a camper on the front stretch. It had one word on it: Wolleck.

It was 10 years ago this weekend that Bob Wolleck, a popular and top-tier road racer died while riding his bicycle on the back-country roads near the Sebring track.

The French ace nicknamed “Brilliant Bob” was struck by the sideview mirror of a camper.

Wollek was a fitness freak who would regularly ride his bike to stay in shape.

He died just weeks after Dale Earnhardt died at Daytona International Speedway during the 500, which is about a 3-hour drive north of Sebring.

There are some pretty obvious differences between European and American racing reporters.

First, the Europeans wear firesuits. Even when they are in the press box/media center. Many also smoke so that could have something to do with it.

Second, they all arrive and depart with these huge backpacks strapped to them. It’s like they are arriving at base camp at Everest. They seem pretty oblivious to the fact that as they make their way around the press rooms, they are constantly knocking others else to their knees every time they change direction.

Third, there doesn’t seem to be phrases which translate to “excuse me” or even “ooops, sorry about that” in the French and German languages. Smiling is seemingly taught to be unethical in European journalism schools.

It looks like there may be a limit on the number of golf carts that are allowed on the grounds at Sebring. Like, only two per guest. They swarm at this place. And many have been rigged with very loud horns.

You have to wonder how golfers in Florida are getting from hole to hole this week.

The talk around the media room as race day wore on was that the crowd for the 59th running of the race may have been one of the biggest ever.

Of course, with no grandstands to speak of, and spectators in full wonder mode or else camped out track side, it is hard to get an accurate take on crowd size. But, before the race, they allow spectators onto the starting grid and it was solid people (“A sea of humanity,” the public address announcer said…and said again…and said again… and…) much of the length of the front stretch.

The track is 3.5 miles around and finding a square yard of infield turn not occupied by people or cars or haulers or food stands or campers was virtually impossible.

My best guess on crowd size: Big.

I almost immediately noticed something in the infield which would make NASCAR promotors grab their chests.

It said: “16-ounce cans of Bud and Bud Lite – $4.”

Concession stand food was noticeably cheaper, too.

Hmmm, big crowds/cheap grub, half-price beer. Probably just coincidental.

Number of the day for me: Three.

It’s the number of dime-size blisters on me feet (two on left, one on right).

Two words for fans considering coming to Sebring and seeing it all: Comfortable shoes.

The Optimist of The Race Award goes to…Johannes van Overbeek.

He was involved in a scary wreck in which his Ferrari F458 slammed into another car which had wrecked and was slowing to a halt. The rear wheel and connecting hardware were ripped from the car and rolled off the track with axels still attached.

Van Overbeek told his crew on the radio that he thought he could get back into the race.

The power of positive thinking did not come through on this particular occasion. Even Ferraris need four wheels to be fast.

Finally, if the 24 Hours of Le Mans is twice as much fun at the 12 hours of Sebring, count me in some day.

– Jim Pedley can be reached at jpedley@racintoday.com

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Saturday, March 19 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    Jim….
    Sounds like you are having a whale’uva good time. GOOD FOR YOU!!!
    Please tell me you didn’t wear a fanny pack….to fit in.
    As for rude Euro-@#%^&*….
    2 of my standards for French and German heathen….are
    se de’placer sur salaud rude….
    or
    shut up and zuruck, bevor ich
    Sie klopfen auf lher Kolh munching Arsch.
    When I was young and traveling overseas I pocketed a leather item I past off as a Cherokee curio with 2 long leather tassels on the handle.
    It was a blackjack my mom’s brother gave me …..he didn’t need anymore. It worked and never needed batteries.