A New Vibe at Sebring
By Wayne Estes, President & General Manager
Sebring International Raceway
Did you sense the change in the energy at the 66th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts?
From the fans along the fences, to the competitors, to the sponsors, and the media covering the event, the common theme was this was a different Sebring. Color, excitement, fireworks, music, cleanliness, crowds, quality merchandise, exciting racing from beginning to end… and of course, cheap beer.
The 66th edition of the 12-hour classic provided fans and participants a Sebring experience unseen in years.
IMSA’s team transporter drivers kicked things off Tuesday evening with a “caravan” around the Downtown Sebring City Circle, the highlight of the IMSA FanFest. Standing in the City’s Circle, one could watch the biggest teams in sportscar racing parade around the circle. Oh, and La Bomba was there, too.
Parked on a side street were actual race cars that would be on track Saturday. And standing next to them, 2017 champion Ricky Taylor, just one of the outstanding drivers who took part in the evening’s activities that included a well-attended fan forum and autograph session.
All this excitement reminded fans and locals of the days when sportscars went through tech inspections in downtown Sebring, and then drove back out to the track.
Wednesday’s gate opening, always a highlight for the employees who look forward to greeting everyone, was far more organized this year, and got the weekend off to a good start for those fans who had been waiting in line several days to stampede toward Green Park and other key areas to set up “their spots.”
HSR brought historics back, and raced on Wednesday, the first time for Wednesday racing in many years.
Alan Jay Automotive Network made possible a Friday unlike any other at Sebring. IMSA WeatherTech qualifying, the Alan Jay 120 Continental Tire SportsCar Challenge Series race, driver autograph sessions, a concert by Nashville superstar Craig Morgan, and a giant fireworks display gave everyone something to enjoy on the eve of the main event.
Saturday we tried something new that obviously we will refine. We thought you might like the chance to see all the drivers before the race, and we set up a giant stage right in the middle of the gridwalk. A good idea that, with some fine-tuning (it won’t be a giant stage blocking the flow of fans on the grid next year), should be a plus for our guests.
The race was barely underway before contact on the first turn of the first lap eliminated the second fastest qualifier, but the team’s “other car” ended up overall winner. Turn 17 saw more than its share of action, with a Ferrari on its roof in the first hour of the race, and the Spirit of Daytona prototype on its nose with two hours to go.
In between those two moments, huge numbers of people took advantage of Club 12, the Spring Brake Party Zone, the Midway manufacturer displays, Beverage Barn, Sebring PX souvenirs and more.
Before the weekend, we said the Beverage Barn was an experiment, and having sold more than four times the beer than we did the previous year, we declare that a success. We want to expand that concept again in 2019.
And speaking of 2019, so much lies ahead that one column won’t contain it all.
For the time being, however, we continue to evaluate what went right and what we must address, as we plan for a November Michelin Encore event. More details to come very soon.
And we express extreme gratitude to a community that helped put on this spectacular event, a community that includes myriad volunteers, sponsors, competitors, law enforcement and more.
And it’s not possible without you.