From outward appearances, you wouldn’t think that Sebring, Florida was anything special. A sleepy little south Florida town of around 10,000, it is named for the Ohio pottery manufacturer that founded it in 1912. First impressions can be deceiving, however. This cosy community is home to Sebring International Raceway, one of the premier racing sites anywhere on earth.
The site where the raceway now stands served as a training ground for Army Air Corps pilots during WWII. After the war ended, land developer and aeronautical engineer Alec Ullman visited the area and saw its potential as a racetrack. The event Ullman pictured wouldn’t be a conventional test of speed, however. Instead he pictured an American version of Le Mans.
The first such event at the site was held on New Year’s Eve of 1950. Known as the Sam Collier Six Hour Memorial Race, it drew some 30 different drivers from across the nation. The team of Ralph Deshon and Fritz Koster won that event in a Crosley Hot Shot.
A year and a half later, on March 15, 1952, the very first 12 Hours of Sebring was held. It quickly grew from its humble beginnings to become an event of international renown. Its fame was darkened in 1966, when five people were killed during the race. The track was altered the next year, by widening the circuit and making it 50 yards longer. In 1983 and 1987 it was again modified, due to the needs of the adjoining airport.
The current 3.7-mile length is full of challenges for even the most experienced drivers, with 17 turns and a notoriously rough concrete and asphalt surface. Mario Andretti once said that the most difficult part of the Sebring race is finding the track!
Sebring’s fame has spread well beyond south Florida. It has even made an impact on the world of video gaming. It is featured in Forza Motorsport 4, Sports Car GT, and several other games, making it truly the racetrack of which dreams are made. Alec Ullman would be proud.