Rolex 50th Anniversary 24 Hours at Daytona OR… 12 Hours of Sebring 60th Anniversary which event to attend?


As a prelude to the scheduled June 13, 2012 NNJR Feature Program, President Craig suggested the preparation of this P4US article, which offers a glimpse of the upcoming PowerPoint presentation with photos taken at Daytona and later Sebring, and will include:

a bit of Daytona Rolex 24 Hour & Sebring 12 Hour history

plus Daytona & Sebring track facts

race coverage itself including special Speed Insider Ticket credentials, along with PCA hospitality areas

photos highlighting the special Daytona Champions Display of 29 past winning 24-Hour cars, as well as coverage of the Sebring Museum which also featured past winning 12-Hour cars along with historic drivers on site for autographs

pictures of garage and pit areas

Having never been to either event, the trip was conceptualized by reading one of cult writer BS Levy’s novels – Montezuma’s Ferrari, which included colorful coverage of the 1953 12 Hours at Sebring. If you are not familiar with BS Levy – or his first novel – The Last Open Road, but have an interest in the birth of “sportycar” racing in the USA, do yourself a favor and pickup a copy. Fact is fellow NNJR member Mike Scott provided the referral, which has grown to a 5 novel series by this Jersey-centric writer.

Inspired by the read, Sebring and its 60th Anniversary of the 12 Hours was penciled into my March calendar. Well, NNJR – as you may have observed, has a lot of resources amongst its membership, and while attending the local C&C display in Chatham, I ran my Sebring plan by DE-enthusiasts Ken Ernsting and George Calfo who tactfully suggested that considering I had not been to either Sebring nor Daytona – and this January marked the 50th Anniversary of the 24 Hour Daytona, it may be an advantage to instead begin at Daytona, which had all the promise to be another big-time event.


With that recommendation from two experienced DE members who had been to the Daytona 24-Hour, January instead was penciled into my calendar and when the PCA sent out its regular e-brief touting the special Speed Channel Insider Ticket offering, the package was purchased and booking made…but tentative Sebring reservations retained – just in case.


Prior to final departure though, and while mentioning trip to Jim Coleman at the January NNJR Program – Jim as new Chair adroitly enlisted me to consider putting together a future PPT Presentation similar to the one presented back in March 2010 featuring the Monterey Historics/Pebble Concours/Grand Auctions and PCA supporting events. Not certain one Race would provide sufficient material to interest an audience, I committed to Jim that I would capture images, facts and materials and report back with outlook.

Having attended events at major tracks like Pocono, Indianapolis, Michigan International Speedway (Brooklyn, MI) and Laguna Seca, I felt I possessed a sense of scale, but being in the infield at Daytona Raceway – in preparation for a major race, is BIG. By contrast to many other locations, Daytona International Speedway (DIS) is located right in town, across from the airport, hotels, shopping malls, restaurants, so by contrast to out-in-the country locations, BIG appears even bigger because of the setting. The infield was sold out, and the advance reservation crowd kept coming.

It sure was nice to have the Speed Insider Special Ticket package that included two-days of reserved infield parking (180 acre infield, including a 29-acre lake), along with reserved seating in their pit exit grandstand complete with abundant closed circuit TV monitors, plus a race-day luncheon that provided non-stop food, drink and patio seating for 5 hours! And Speed Channel (recall Speed commentator Brian Till at our February 12 NNJR DE session) hosted a trinket drawing every half-hour, and if you were inclined to partake, took you along to organized tours of the garages and pits, offering access and up-close views of cars and drivers! At $133 for the advanced shipped package, it was a great introduction to Daytona and included the commemorative Rolex cap to wear on the plane down.

Built in 1958, owner and developer Bill France brought the inaugural Rolex 24, then known as the Daytona Continental to DIS in 1962, and featured an impressive entry list of stars and cars from international Formula One, Indianapolis and NASCAR, along with the nation’s top road racers. Californian Dan Gurney (then a rising star in Grand Prix racing) won that first race which then lasted 3 hours. In 1966 at the zenith of the Ford vs. Ferrari battle for domination of sports car completion, the race was expanded to its present 24 hours. Its late January date marks the race as the beginning of the major international motorsports season. Growing more fan friendly over the years, the inaugural 10 competition classes have been trimmed to only two easy-to-distinguish categories: the Daytona Prototypes and production based GT class.

Arriving for Friday practice allowed for gaining familiarity with the entire track layout in preparation for the Saturday 3:30pm race start. By Friday evening pretty much all trailers, RVs, campers were in place for the weekend. The infield was full and a carnival atmosphere prevailed; not too hard to create inasmuch as Daytona has a permanent carnival on-site including a huge Ferris Wheel, visible from any infield location, especially lit up. Away and separated from the carnival is a huge FANZONE recreation and social area designed to attract and facilitate fans by the thousands, and featured live bands and refreshment areas into late Friday night…and Saturday.

(Photo of Ferris Wheel)

Saturday morning began at 7am with a 5K Run, garages and FANZONE open and a photo shoot of some 29 past winning cars (along with 47 past winning drivers/ 21 different countries represented by the overall champions) that had been located and assembled for a 50 years of Champions Group Photo, followed by track laps of those past winning cars, all very much visible from the Speed Insider pit grandstand.

(Photo of cars on track)

Spectacle would be the closest word to describing the activity level that was now omnipresent, and vividly on display in the FANZONE where thousands of fans had lined up for the 12:15-1pm Autograph Session, Rolex Series teams each taking a pre-assigned and clearly advertised position within the FANZONE. With the limited time, fans had to choose which driver/team they wished to pursue, but the entire session was conducted in an organized fashion, with drivers graciously autographing whatever article a fan chose to present.

(Photo of Autograph Team Locations)

Once concluded, it was time for drivers, cars and pit crews to get into position for the 3:30pm start; with Speed Channel going live on-air at 2:30pm. Daytona Prototypes and GT classes ready, DIS President Joie Chitwood III opens, National Anthem followed by spectacular flyover and command to start your engines. Cars roll off behind new 7th generation Porsche 911 Pace Car for a once around the 3.87 mile road course configuration, and the 50th 24 Hour race begins.

(Photo of Coral)

For real track enthusiasts, one could now look forward to 24 entire hours of racing, able to view from innumerable key locations accessible from the infield. For PCA members, a strategic location was reserved for a Porsche Corral and hospitality tent complete with tables, chairs, closed circuit TV, live Flying Lizard team updates, plus refreshments and luncheons, staffed and hosted by several Florida Regions and National. Between the actual race, the pits and garages, the Speed Insider grandstand and patios, and the PCA private area, I really had access to every place I cared to be…and I enjoyed them all. Starting Friday I began to spot numerous attending NNJR members, spoke to more than a dozen, and noticed on sign-in pin map that NNJR was very well represented.

The Grand-Am Rolex Sports Car Series 24-Hour Race, with 60 vehicle entries into its two classes (starting field record of 82 cars in 1982) continued into twilight and into darkness. Drivers appearing at NNJR Programs looking to get off to a head start in 2012 included: Andrew Davis (qualifying for pole in 45 car GT class), David Donohue (Corvette DP), Hurley Haywood (5 wins at Daytona 24), Patrick Long (Flying Lizard) and Bryce Miller (Paul Miller Racing). Vast majority of vehicles remained on track; casual late night tour of garages was lonesome with lack of activity or personnel…as it should be.

Back to hotel by midnight, and back again at track by 9am, but prior to re-entering reserved infield parking, I elected to tour historic display setup of past Championship cars housed in tent-like facility in front of DIS. This was not some casual display – with each car carefully positioned under spotlights, coupled with detailed placards and A/V support that included commentary. Beautiful 50th Anniversary brochure prepared featuring image of winning car along with a brief write-up of race and driver; I retrieved a handful of those brochures to serve as door prizes at the NNJR Presentation Night, along with a few other trinkets.

(Photos of Champions Exhibit, #58 Brumos, Rolex sign & placard)

A couple of hours later, but always within earshot of the track, I drove back into the reserved infield parking area and checked back into Speed Grandstand for update commentary and refreshments, then over to the PCA tent for more hospitality and all-you-needed to know about latest developments plus prognostication of eventual 3:30pm Sunday outcome, then back to garages where activity had increased overnight, then a slow tour of pit activity (visible through a chain fence) to catch the real up-to-minute action complete with observation of pit crew computer screen and TV monitors. I suppose with a fireproof suit I could have gotten in harm’s way.

Before you knew it, 3:30pm Sunday had arrived, the cars beginning to exit for the garages or the winner circle. Pictured here is Brumos #59, our pal Andrew Davis explaining team was on its way to a top 5 Finish until a Daytona Prototype made contact and finishing with a completion of 726 laps, 13th overall. Flying Lizard with Long and Jorg Bergmeister 26th overall with 706 completed laps.

No.1 with 761 completed laps was the Ford/Riley #60 Daytona Prototype of Shank Racing.

No.1 in GT was Magnus Racing # 44 Porsche which had taken the lead from Brumos in the 22nd Hour.

(Photo of Brumos #59)

There will be more pictures, details and impressions to come at the June Presentation, but suffice to say the only thing that could have made the adventure even better would have been the usual cold and snow in NJ during January….it was a bucket-list experience…but there was still the possibility of Sebring in March.

With another bucket-list ski trip set for Whistler-Blackcomb the second week of March in celebration of a big birthday, I hesitated to yet pull the trigger for Sebring, not certain in what shape I would return from Whistler. But alas, I was still able to safely traverse both mountains and back home with all limbs intact and fully functional. Sooo…despite the pleasant NJ weather, I found the right flight to Florida and onto Sebring, justifying the trip in order to gather even more material for Jim Coleman and the NNJR Presentation.

Well Sebring, situated among the orange groves of central Florida, took a bit of drive time from Orlando Airport, and it is quite possible that most Florida vacationers will never go near there. Sebring International Raceway (SIR) is a road course; no banked oval, built on a former WW2 Army Air Force base that provided training for B-17 air combat crews. The circuit has been reconfigured several times, the lap distance now 3.7 miles, which is less than half the distance around LeMans (France). Although shorter, many believe Sebring is actually tougher than LeMans, with relentless pounding from Sebring’s brutal track surfaces with many parts of which are still the original poured concrete airbase.

Porsche has more Sebring victories than any other marquee, and currently the 12 Hours at Sebring is an American Le Mans Series (ALMS) event, which is different from the Rolex Series at Daytona. Within these two series, there are a number of divisions, each of which race for championships. We will attempt in a brief portion of the Presentation to explain the difference, but as Patrick Long said at the recent NYAS (Javitz) pertaining to the subject: “What we have is so much fragmentation. Too many series, too many details. It’s a tough debate.” ALMS Classes (5): LMP1, LMP2, LMPC, GT, GTC.

(Photo of Sebring poster)

Notwithstanding those differences, a fan would notice a difference between Daytona and Sebring. Sebring conveys a more relaxed atmosphere with one-could-say almost a cult-type patronage.

Once again, arriving on Friday Practice/Qualifying Day to locate track, secure 2-day $150 SuperTicket including inside parking and to get lay-of-land. Once again, PCA Porscheplatz with Corral was strategically on site with its own reserved mini-grandstand, plus the tent with tables, chairs, TV, refreshments and hospitality of the local PCA Regions and National. Once again, on-site presentations in the tent by the Flying Lizard team along with an autograph session with drivers.

(Photos of Porscheplatz and cars on track)

But this time a Porsche Corral Parade Lap…some participants at speed! Not the abundance of NNJR members, but Daytona traveler and car event enthusiast Steve Park was again right there, he sharing why Sebring was his favored track venue, attending many years and also attempting to coach me with regard to the vehicle classes, which simultaneously included cars running in the WEC (World Endurance Championship 4 class Series. So many Porsches, but PCA was able to secure a nearby overflow parking area, and lucky Bob was able to secure a spot in overflow for rental cars by showing PCA ID.  It’s good being a PCA member.

In celebration of its 60th Anniversary, Sebring like Daytona had on display in its Museum a sampling of past winners. Going a step further though, Sebring had invited past driving greats to participate in a charity autograph session allowing fans for a modest fee to present articles to be signed. Especially noteworthy was a limited edition artist interpretation poster (600) showing the previous 59 winning cars, along with some B17s, which could then be signed in some cases by the actual historic driver, many of whom also signed the Program cover featured earlier.

(Photo of #21 Car)

Saturday began early and included the induction of famous Porsche great Hans Hermann into the Sebring permanent Wall of Fame, on display in the Museum, featuring metal cast portraitures of selected inductees. A colorful personality, Hans dropped by the Porscheplatz to shake hands, sign photos and talk old times. Did I already say it’s good to be a PCA member?

(Photos of Poster – #42 and Hall of fame plaque)

In a blink it was 10:30am, the 60th Anniversary Race was underway, and race fans had 12-wonderful hours to enjoy being part of another wonderful experience. For the rest of the story, with more elaboration and full screen images, mark your calendar for Wednesday June 13. And remember, a few handfuls of trinkets were picked up; all of which will be distributed as door prizes that night.

As a result of TV broadcast controversy, not many of you were able to actually watch the Sebring event on TV, although ABC showed 90 minutes of highlights the day after in some markets. So take advantage of attending your own NNJR highlight show, and perhaps learn a bit more about what types of vehicles run in the ALMS classes. PS: an Audi R18 in P1 was 1st Overall, Honda took P2/Oreca in PC, BMW M3 took GT and Porsche 911s took GTC and GTE (ALMS or WEC notwithstanding, which together had 9 classes).

Andrew Davis did a wonderful job in April offering a perspective from the racer, a perfect intro to another perspective from a spectator…down in central Florida.

(Photo of tent and furniture on top of vehicle)

Note: (To see the pictures referenced in this article see the June 2012 Porscheforus NNJR News Letter/Magazine)