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Sebring – An Appreciation

A personal note here – growing up on the wrong coast for easy travel to both Daytona and Sebring meant that these races were mythical type events, ones that I learned about through what even means I could, but just not in person.  This typically meant rummaging through issues of Road and Track, Competition Press, Auto Week and later On Track to find out any worthwhile news.  Later on, the advent of cable TV brought forth opportunities to see the coverage in my own home, but it wasn’t until 2000 that I was able to travel to one of these classic events – Daytona first, followed by Sebring in 2001.  I haven’t missed Sebring since then, while Daytona has become an occasional event, one which I personally swore I would not return to for quite some time.

To me, there was just no comparison between the two.  My perspective before traveling to the two was that Daytona was by far “the one”.  It was the one that grabbed the headlines - it was the one that kicked off the season and it was the “glamorous” one.  Sebring was just this little old track out in the middle of nowhere.  Sure, it had a history, but its history was also dotted with various ownership groups and with constant rumors that it may not survive another year.  As the years went on, Daytona became more of a polished event, while Sebring just seemed to stay a bit more rough and tumble.  By the time I was able to make to Florida for these events, comparing the two was like comparing an upscale, pretentious restaurant to a down home diner.  I’m more of a comfort food type and it appears as if I’ve found Sebring to be that way for me too.  Arriving at Sebring is like putting on an old comfortable pair of shoes.  They may be sometimes a bit ragged and smelly, but oh, what a good feeling they are.  Ahhhh…

That might be a bit unfair to Sebring though.  Through the years, improvements have been made at the track and actually it has become a very accommodating track in which to witness/cover a race.  In many ways, it is just like going home again.  I’d personally (and likely on the behalf of many others) like to thank Dr. Don Panoz for his vision and for keeping the flame alive.  I’d also like to thank the ALMS/IMSA staff for keeping it going and keeping it real.  Also a big thanks to Ryan Smith for his long hours in doing everything he possibly can to put up with us media types.  He has been a saint among us low-lifes.  Finally a huge amount of credit must go to the Sebring staff, especially Ken Breslauer and his merry crew in the media center – you guys have truly made Sebring an enjoyable experience for all involved.  Thank you.

Now into the future – what will happen?  Already there were little changes taking place – some significant at least to us in the media center.  Parking was at a premium and there appeared to be more hoops to jump through.  For the photographers and those around the track, the changes seemed to be a bit more significant.  Security seemed to be at an all-time high.  Even Olly Gavin, in his Motorsport Magazine column stated that it was difficult to get to his teammate Tommy Milner after winning.  Security appeared to be a bit over the top – people who belonged there in pit lane and around the podium had a difficult time, much more difficult than any time in the past.

Many will blame this on NASCAR – it is after all the 2000 lb gorilla in the room.  Are they to blame for this?  Who knows, but likely anything bad will be blamed on the new caretakers of the sport.

As reported earlier, the typical feeling at the event was a troubled one.  Most everyone I spoke with, from drivers, team management, media and fans had a common feeling.  It was one of an outer feeling of cautious optimism, which was strongly countered by an inside feeling of impending doom.  Leaving the track from the 2013 edition of the race was a bit of a melancholy experience, similar to leaving an old friend that was about to go through some tumultuous times.  I’m just not sure what my old friend will be like when I return – I just hope they do OK in the next year…

After returning home, a note of needed optimism was received – someone whom I greatly trust had some time with NASCAR CEO Brian France concerning the future of sportscar racing here in North America.  The outcome of the conversation was one of optimism, which included the comment that “he get’s it – he understands the sport.”  At least Sebring 2013 ends for me with a slightly comforting note.