We have just spent the most incredible three weeks of racing in Florida. It all happens in beautiful little Highlands County where there was a myriad of events from local displays and parties to a transport parade through the city of Sebring.
Race Month – as they call it – actually begins with an event at the Sebring International Raceway staged by the Sports Car Vintage Racing Association, better known as the SVRA. This year, better than 300 cars lined the concrete and grass sections of the paddock at the historic track. Some dated back before-WWII, while others were fairly modern vehicles – racing as few as ten years ago.
However, the race weekend was not all vintage and historic vehicles, fans also had an opportunity to see wheel-to-wheel competition from the both the International GT Series and Trans Am Series.
This 3.74 mile road course was cobbled out of access roads and runways from Hendricks Field, a WWII bomber training facility. It since has become a bastion for endurance racing in North America.
The Sebring Vintage Classic was a three day event and served as the opener for us.
On the second week in March, those interested in racing look about 10 miles up the road to the sleepy little hamlet of Avon Park. That is the cradle of lawn mower racing in the United States.
Yes, they take the blades off lawn mowers, soup them up and take them racing. The Avon Park MowerPlex – as it’s known – hosts events on the second Saturday night of each month. But in March, it’s time for the Snowbird Nationals.
This year, nearly 100 mowers and drivers converged on the little facility located on the northwest corner of the Avon Park airport to race for trophies and glory. One driver flew all the way from England to vacation in Florida and compete at the track.
Finally, the third week of March in Highlands County can mean only one thing – The Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.
This was the 66th running of the sports car endurance classic and the town really put on the dog for the event.
First, the Sebring Historical Society put on a massive display of race memorabilia including posters, programs, trophies, credentials and photographs. They featured a working slot car track in the shape of the Sebring Raceway as well as an actual race car that had competed at one time on the track.
Just before the Sebring track gates opened, fans gathered in the downtown area for a transporter parade. Decorated semi tractor-trailer rigs made their way through town then out to the track to set up for the big race.
After the parade, there was a downtown party featuring food, music and appearances by some of the event drivers who answered questions and signed autographs.
On the Friday of race week, historic cars came downtown and parked around the traffic Circle in a reprise of the 1950s and 60s when the cars used to come downtown for their technical inspection.
The pageantry at the track has to be seen to be believed. Tens of thousands of fans camp on the grounds of the 330 acre raceway to watch America’s oldest and most venerated sports car endurance race.
Of course, there are many support races to see during that time, and two midways where fans can indulge themselves by driving racing simulators and looking at all manner of racing memorabilia ranging from fine art to the standard hats, T-shirts, pins and posters.
One of the greatest things is the access to the cars. In many cases, fans in the paddock area can walk right up to the garage areas and watch the mechanics work on the racers as they get ready for the 12 Hour grind.
People watching also is a great sport for those who may be unimpressed by the level of cars and competition. Fans in the so-called “Green Park” area are some of the most colorful individuals around.
There’s F-Troop, who builds a stage in the middle of the area each year, there’s a big circus tent erected aptly named “Hank & Sheila’s Big Freaking Tent, there’s even a reconverted parade float called “LaBomba,” which cruises the grounds almost continuously during Race Week.
If you are a race fan – and even if you are not – March in Highlands County is the place to be. From vintage cars and lawn mowers, to some of the most advanced and exciting race cars on the planet, there is plenty to see and do – but it does not stop there. In addition to club and other events on selected weekends, there are drag races on a number of Thursday evenings at the track. More on those later.