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Surviving 12 Hours Of Racing Was A Breeze

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 21 2011

Twelve hours at a race? Some think that is not nearly enough time to be at a track. (Photo courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

By Jim Pedley | Managing Editor
RacinToday.com

Some cold, soggy un-refridgerated Monday morning leftovers:

Somebody once asked me: How in the heck can race fans stay entertained during 12-hour, 24-hour endurance races?

The answer, which was underlined Saturday at the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring, is: No problemo.

You don’t have to be an avid race fan, or even a car-culture fan, to fill 20 hours at Sebring (12 hours of the race, four hours before the race and four hours after). All you need be is an amateur anthropologist (which all human beings are) with good shoes and a tube of 25 SPF sunblock.

Even on a day where early mishaps took top-contenders and cool cars out of contention for victory early in the race.

Walking through the paddocks in the morning is interesting in itself. It’s free and easy to walk among the teams – from the biggest of the prototype operations to the smallest of the GT privateers – and watch preparations. You can sense the tension building as gridding draws near.

Fans are allowed onto the track for a while when the cars are gridded and they do so by the tens of thousands at Sebring. And when the PA announcer booms “Clear the grid”, goosebumps form.

The parade laps and then, early laps of the race, take care of themselves in terms of wild

The infield at Sebring. Move along, there's plenty to see here, folks. (Photos courtesy of the American Le Mans Series)

entertainment. Again, fan of racing or not,  pre-race is just damn interesting.

From then until bed time, the scene remains interesting but more in a human culture-sense.

At Sebring, you can watch the parade of off-beat life march past you, or you can fall into step yourself. The infield byways are occupied by a constant procession of “interesting” people and vehicles.

Really, really, really nice vehicles like new and vintage exotic cars made in foreign cities by Ferrari, Porsche, Maserati, BMW and Jaguar.

And really, really odd vehicles made in American backyards. My RacinToday colleague Jonathan Ingram calls them “Sebring Prototypes.” Perfect. Purpose-built rolling rigs design to stare from and at.

Like the flatbed truck modified with a comfy chair-mounted scissor lift. The dang thing must have been able to raise its occupants 30 feet into the air for maximum observation. Pickup trucks with couches were big and numerous, too.

The infield contains a circus-like midway. The clowns are unpaid amateurs.

The fun does not conclude when the race does. America, you can rest assured that Sebring fans did their part in supporting the fireworks, portable electronics, grill-making and alcoholic beverage industries.

Racing is the binding agent at endurance races like Sebring, and an essentential ingredient in the gumbo, but not the only flavor-provider.

Staying entertained for 12 hours at an endurance race like Sebring is not a problem. Waiting until next year for the next edition is.

After adding Sebring to the resume, here is the revised list of favorite American races:

1 – Indianapolis 500.

2 – The NHRA U.S. Nationals.

3 – Sebring.

Hint to NASCAR: Next tweak should be headlights on cars and racing through the night. How about 12 hours of Road America? Or, Sprint Cup class in Grand-Am or American Le Mans?

Hint to American Le Mans Series: The new broadcast thing not working.

I read somewhere on the internet that the just-concluded racing weekend was a big one for those who celebrate freedom from injustice and tyranny.

But, ballyhooed celebration of anything always comes with caveats. The third weekend March

Jennifer Jo Cobb was not in the starting NNS field at Bristol Saturday. Heroine or villain? (Photo by Jared C. Tilton/Getty Images for NASCAR)

included.

Lionized on line over the weekend was Nationwide driver Jennifer Jo Cobb and her refusal to get into her car to start the race at Bristol. She said she refused to board because she was not told by her team owner until five minutes before the race that her effort would be start-and-park. She could not, she said, in good conscious cheat fans by starting and parking.

A couple of online columnists have given her Rosa Parks treatment because of this. They think start-and-parks are vile and disgusting warts on the sport of auto racing and its about time a morally pure driver stood up and just said no.

Caveat: My strong suspicion is that there are two sides to this coin. And that there are zero heroes/heroines or villains in this story.

The team owner, Rick Russell, said Cobb knew the nature of the ride the day before the race but waited until five minutes before start-engine command to pull out. He says Cobb did not follow through on a business deals, secretly hired her own crew and then used the threat of negative media to force a full-race ride.

So, what we have here is classic finger-pointing.

Did Cobb take a stand on moral high ground or did she go back on deals she had with her owner and then take it public for self-serving reasons? Is Russell a struggling businessman in a business where survival can be a week-to-week proposition, or is he a snook working the fringes of the sport to line his own pockets?

The truth, as usual, probably lies somewhere in between.

And there lies the problem for those who make money themselves from in knighting people as heroes or ripping them as villains: Middle ground just doesn’t pay.

And finally…Hypocrisy, thou hast a face and it often be covered by a full-face racing helmet.

The latest example comes by way of Danica Patrick, but in no way is it a Danica-only phenomenon.

Danica Patrick dislikes those pesky lousy drivers. (Photo by Geoff Burke/Getty Images for NASCAR)

On the contrary, it is virtually universal in racing. Heck, it’s universal in life as hypocrisy is hard-wired into human beings.

Patrick was involved in a wreck at Bristol Saturday with Ryan Truex. Patrick gets out of her wrecked car, waits for Truex to come back around under caution and gives him the old WTF.

Replays showed the incident to be pretty much faultless.

But, drivers being drivers (and human), Truex cast as a punk for over-racing her.

Never fails. Always the other guy. A driver – again, this is far from being a Danica thing – can take out half the field and when that same drivers becomes a victim, he/she bellows like they have their leg in a bear trap.

And everybody knows I’m the only person who does not do that.

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

Jim Pedley | Managing Editor, RacinToday.com Monday, March 21 2011
One Comment

One Comment »

  • Terry says:

    You sound like you had the best time in years……
    The price of beer and hot dogs sounded VERY VERY GOOD to me…
    The racing was fairly good from what you could tell from a far.
    The Danica thing was SHOW TIME…….deluxe
    The Jennifer Jo Cobb……deal….boy am I gonna get it for this…
    she did not and does not belong on the track from the lack of skill and noncompetetive outings I have seen. I have been a fan of Janet Guthie..Lyn St. James…Shirley Muldowney…Ashley Force….so it is NOT a women can’t drive thing. I have seen Cobb actually put other drivers in dangerous situations with slow moves she has made.
    I can understand an owner making a switch….I don’t have a clue about who owes who for tires and engines part.