SEBRING - At the 62nd Annual Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring fueled by Fresh from Florida, don't be afraid if you see what appears to be the swamp monster from the green lagoon.
It may actually be David Talbot, dressed in a green grass-like costume that is supposed to be a skunk ape. Talbot and his friends, who come every year, chose the mythical skunk ape as the theme for the camp site.
"This is the one place that brings us together," said Talbot, who is from Vero Beach. He said many of his friends are from that area of Florida. Because of work and hectic schedules, they get together more sporadically than they want.
And that also holds true for many of the thousands of other fans attending the race each year. While they watch the races - and some are more hard core racing fans than others - the opportunity to escape their daily routines and spend time with each other is just as important.
Some camps have themes. Others are more low-key. Many have platforms enabling people to get a good view of the track.
Outside the racetrack area, those who cheer the most about the racing may well be the beer companies. Inside the raceway area, the number of beer cans most likely outnumber the people.
In front of the skunkape camp, there's a Christmas tree adorned with beer cans instead of traditional ornaments.
Talbot said they invited people to decorate the tree and that was the result. A lot of people get their pictures taken by the tree, he added.
For those who might think the only reason for drinking so much beer is to get a buzz, that's not completely true, said Rich Ahearn, who lives in Fort Pierce.
Also in front of their camp are boards with various designs on them - one including a depiction of the skunkape. These designs are made from beer bottle caps.
"We need some way to get the bottle caps," Ahearn said in explaining the beer drinking.
Dennis McArnee said he and a group of friends come to the races every year and eat a variety of food. But while they could get along without certain types of food, the beer is more crucial.
"You can't have a race without it," he said.
McArnee, along with many of his friends at their camp area, grew up in Sebring and attended school together. He said he's been attending the race since he was 5 years old.
"It's kind of like a class reunion," he said of his current camp with his friends.
When he and his friends were younger they camped in the Green Camp area, which is known to be a wilder area of the camping area. But as they aged, they moved to a quieter area.
One of their camping friends who grew up in Sebring is Randy Carson, who travels to the races every year from Japan where he is now a pilot. He said getting to see friends and a great race entices him to return annually.
Jim Lowman, along with two nephews, and other friends, have attended the race for years. Lowman's first year was when he was 11 years old. Lowman, whose family is from the Fort Myers area, said they get to meet many of the same people each year.
"We call them track friends," he said.
His nephew, Chris Lowman, who has attended races since 1980, said he enjoys "hanging out with my family and my friends and seeing the same people year after year."
He said he likes the change in the race this year, which he says makes the race "a little more exciting," with more varieties of cars.
Jeremy Vaughn traveled from Virginia for the races. He said he has family in Sebring and they enjoy getting together with friends from several states while watching the races.
He said he likes "being able to get close to the cars and the pits and seeing different types of cars in the race," he said.
He said he and his friends earn tickets to the race by volunteering.