Wednesday, Jul 23, 2014
Local Sports

Tales from the track


Published:

SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - Yesterday we detailed the unique history of the vaunted Sebring International Raceway. While mainly focusing on the physical aspects of the track itself, today we're taking an in depth look at some of the wilder occurrences seen over the past six decades at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Finishing against all odds

Younger race fans may have only heard the name "Dan Gurney" because of Gurney Bend, which is in between Turn 5 and Turn 7 (the hairpin). But to race aficionados, he's remembered for one of the most infamous finishes in the history of the 12 Hours.

By 1966, Gurney was a respected name in Sebring. He'd won the 1959 race while driving for Team Ferrari, and was a perennial top three finisher in the early part of the 60s.

But during the '66 race, with Gurney in the lead on the final lap, the engine in his Shelby American Ford GT40 Mk II failed. A victory was still within reach, so Gurney hopped out of his car and pushed it over the finish line.

Despite Gurney's Herculean effort in forcing a hunk of steel down the final lap, Ken Miles and Ruby Ford passed him for first and second place, respectively. Even worse, Gurney's quick-thinking drew the ire of race officials, and his third-place finish was later rescinded.

An airplane graveyard

Race fans who made the trek to Sebring between the 1950s and 1980s have a much different memory of what Sebring International Raceway used to look like.

The track was an active airfield in the 1940s, and as racing started to takeover the facility, the airplanes were pushed - literally - to the side.

"I remember coming out here and seeing the bodies of planes and wings all out around the outskirts of the track," 12 of Hours of Sebring Media Director Ken Breslauer said. "Back then, we used to have a spot where we would camp under one of the planes and watch the races from the wings."

Concrete jungle

In 1986, the track decided to fight back. Two drivers had dangerous run ins with debris. Large, concrete chunks of debris, to be exact.

Jim Busby, driving a Porsche 962, was leading by two laps just past the halfway point when a block of concrete suddenly burst through the car's floorboard, breaking both his foot and the vehicle's accelerator.

Just two hours later, A.J. Foyt found himself in a similar situation. A stray piece of concrete shattered the floorboard under his car, also a Porsche 962, curving the metal directly below the driver's seat upward and into his nether region.

Foyt managed to overcome the suddenly awkward - and painful - seating to capture the 12 Hours for Team Preston Henn.

Passing more than just drivers

Germany's Dieter Quester wasn't going to be kept from racing in the 12 Hours of Sebring in the late 1980s. The bumpy track was so rough back then that Quester had a kidney stone shook loose during his early laps. Not wanting to miss any action, Quester passed a kidney stone while another teammate was out on the course.

Tough to stop

The 12 Hours of Sebring can trace its roots back to 1950. And since then, the race has only stopped three times. The first occurrence was in 1993, when heavy rains delayed the action. Thunderstorms returned in 1995 to disrupt the race, but it wasn't until 1997 that the actual racing was behind stopping the event. Bill Adams had a non-fatal crash into a bridge embankment, and the rubble needed to be cleaned up before the race could be resumed.

bhoward@highlandstoday.com

863-386-5841

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