CIRCUITS: SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY
Name: Sebring International Raceway
Built as Hendricks Field, a military training base for bomber aircraft, in 1941. After the war it became the Sebring Air Terminal but it was not until 1950 that Alec Ulmann suggested that it might be a good location for a sportscar race. The first event - a six-hour race known as the Sam Collier Memorial - was held on New Year's Eve.
Fifteen months later a second event was held, this time lasting 12 Hours and the race has been a regular feature on the international sportscar racing calendar ever since. The 1953 event was a round of the inaugural Sports Car World Championship and began to attract the top names of the day. The 1953 event was won by John Fitch and Phil Walters in a Cunningham but the following year it was Stirling Moss who outraced everyone in an OSCA - a remarkable victory.
Although the AAA refused to sanction the event, a local club called the Automobile Club of Florida was established to organize the event and it went from strength to strength with victories for Mike Hawthorn (although Carroll Shelby actually took the flag first) in 1955 and for Juan-Manuel Fangio in 1956 and 1957.
In 1959 Sebring hosted the very first Formula 1 United States Grand Prix but the event - which was won by Bruce McLaren in a Cooper-Climax was not a great success and F1 moved to Riverside in California the following year. The Sebring 12 Hours flourished in the 1960s and in 1966 Sebring hosted a TransAm event as well although this was a disaster with driver Bob McLean dying in an accident and four spectators being killed when Mario Andretti collided with Don Wester. Initially there were plans to move the event to the new Palm Beach International Raceway in West Palm Beach but it was then decided to keep Sebring open and a chicane was built to replace the old Webster Turn.
The years which followed were a classic era for sportscar racing with Ford, Porsche and Ferrari fighting with such potent machines as the GT40, the 917s and the 512. Mario Andretti and Bruce McLaren gave Ford victory in 1967, but a year later Porsche won with Hans Herrmann and Jo Siffert. In 1969 it was the turn of Ford again with Jacky Ickx and Jackie Oliver while in 1970 Mario Andretti led a Ferrari team to victory, partnered by Ignazio Giunti and Nino Vaccarella, in an exciting 22secs victory over Peter Revson and film star Steve McQueen.
Although the Sebring 12 Hours dropped from the World Sportscar Championship in 1972 when the FIA withdrew its sanction for the event, IMSA stepped in and the Sebring 12 Hours remained an important event in the calendar despite the cancellation of the 1974 race because of the fuel crisis.
In 1978 Charles Mendez took over the promotion of the event and sponsorship was found from Coca-Cola. This situation lasted five years until the Sebring Airport Authority took control and a new section of track was built to avoid using the airfield's runway. There were various changes to the layout in the years that followed but in 1987 a major redevelopment program resulted in a new 4.1-mile track which avoided all the old runways. The 1980s were dominated by Porsche - with a particularly spectacular win in 1986 when the Coca-Cola-sponsored Porsche of Bob Akin, Jo Gartner and Hans Stuck crossed the line on only three wheels - but the string of 13 victories ended in 1989 when Nissan won.
The following year the SAA decided to lease the track to promoter Mike Cone and he began another development phase with the track being shortened in 1991 to 3.7-miles. There was a further change in 1997 when the track was bought by the International Motorsports Speedway Group and the lease sold to Panoz Motor Sports.
Since then there has been more investment and resurfacing to ensure that America's oldest sportscar event continues successfully into the 21st century.