Here’s an unedited recap of our notes from the first two days before the 59th Mobil1 12 Hours of Sebring
- Two hour trip up route 27 through the orange groves of central Florida.
- Arrive at the track and make our way to Registration where we pick up media passes and coveted “Paddock Parking” pass.
- Amazed at how hard it is to find parking on Thursday late afternoon. If Thursday’s crowd is any indication it’s going to be a very, very busy weekend.
- Meet up with the Porsche PR folks in the media center. A lot of busy people getting a lot of work done here. But there is a much softer, warmer undercurrent of old friends catching up. A lot of the media folks have been covering Sebring for decades.
- As the sun starts to set, we decide it’s time for dinner and make our way over to the catering tent set-up for the teams, sponsors and other insiders who can pay the cost of admission. This is a privately run catering tent operated by the same woman for years. The modest cost of entry keeps this Sebring institution alive.
- We grab our food and head to the “Porsche” table. No, it’s not a reserved space, it just happens to be where a lot of the Porsche PR, Marketing and Motorsport teams have gathered for conversation. As we sit, I notice the focus of the conversation is centered on one individual. It’s not that he’s intentionally trying to hog the spotlight, rather everyone is hanging on each word of his story. It’s none other than Vic Elford; legendary Porsche racer and winner of the 1971 Sebring race in a Porsche 917.
- After getting over the surprise of finding myself seated next to Vic I sit back and listen to the conversation. Stories that have become legend are replayed with a personal touch that no book or article can ever come close to.
- Just when you think it can’t get any better than this, someone new arrives at the table. A quick double-take and I realize it’s our old friend David Donohue. It’s not that I didn’t recognize him, rather I just didn’t expect to see a Grand-Am driver here at the season opener for ALMS. Turns out that David flew in earlier in the day and came to the track to see some friends and conduct a little business. If you ever get the chance to talk with David one-on-one, take it! He’s extremely personable, intelligent and humble. More importantly his interests go far beyond racing and it’s a great pleasure to sit and chat with someone in a relaxed, non-interview type format. While our conversation was personal and not meant for print, I will say this, if you have even a passing interest whatsoever in audio equipment, David’s your guy.
- Unfortunately, after 90 minutes or so, David has to leave. He needs to drive back north toward his hotel to catch an early morning flight. He has promised his daughter he would be home the next afternoon and he booked a 6:00 am flight to keep that promise. With David gone, we move back to the Media room.
- By now, the media room has calmed down somewhat. There are only a few reporters left catching the end of night practice before filing their final report for the day. Time to think about heading back to the hotel.
- Hotels in Sebring are always a challenge. If you’re planning on coming to a race, be sure to book things well in advance. Nice rooms (and the term is relative) go quickly and prices are raised for these big events. Fortunately, we are a guest of Porsche this weekend and they provide us with a room at a relatively new hotel that probably qualifies as one of the nicer ones in Sebring (which still isn’t saying a lot).
- Once settled in the room it’s time to prepare for tomorrow. We have a big day as we want to watch the Challenge races, qualifying and we have our tour of the Flying Lizard paddock.
- With crowds as big as they were on Thursday we know parking will be tight (even with our special parking pass and media credentials) so we leave the hotel early. Even still, we arrive to find the crowds immense, the parking spaces filled and little to no options on where to go. Fortunately, the PCA has their corral open and available to PCA members at the event. It turns out that parking here requires a pre-paid ticket and the event was sold out. Fortunately, there is an extra space and we are given a free pass for a few hours so we can provide our tour of the Lizard Paddock (most of the winners were also PCA members). Thanks, PCA!!!!
- Before heading over to the paddock area we check in at the Porsche Hospitality Suite. This is the way to attend a race. The hospitality suite provides an air-conditioned haven away from the heat and the crowds. More importantly, they serve cold beverages, food and have TVs tuned into the track feed. I’d hazard a guess that it’s one of the best seats in the house. Unfortunately, the suite is not open to everyone. It does require a ticket and they aren’t cheap. The good news is, you will most likely never have to pay for that ticket. It seems that most local dealers buy packages and provide tickets to their loyal customers as a thank you (similar to the way tickets for luxury boxes at other sporting arenas are doled out). So, if you’re a new Porsche buyer and you live in an area where races are held, it wouldn’t hurt to inquire with your dealer about the possibility of a ticket for an upcoming event. Be warned though. Once you experience a race event in this manner it’s hard to go back amongst the “great unwashed”. 🙂
- It’s getting close to 1:30 and almost time for our private, behind the scenes tour of the Flying Lizard Paddock. As we make our way through the crowds, we reflect on the fact that we just gave up an opportunity for a “hot lap” in the new two-seater GT3 trainer as the only time available was the same as our tour. Sure hope the readers appreciate it…
- Arriving at the Lizard paddock we notice a line stretching hundreds of feet down the lane. The autograph session is in full swing and the Lizard team will have very tired wrists by the time they finish meeting all the fans. In fact, the line gets to a point where they actually need to put someone out to mark the end. It seems if they didn’t end the line it would simply keep going and going.
- Once the autograph session is complete, it’s time to collect our 10 winners and begin the tour. As I’ve already completed the tour in the past I opt not to participate and let one of our “alternative winners” in. This way as many people as possible get the experience. Last year the tour was lead by Team Strategist Eric Ingram. This year it’s lead by head of Marketing and PR, Jennifer Hart. As the tour winds its way through the private areas of the paddock, not normally accessible by the public, the wide smiles worn by all are a testament to a job well done by Jennifer and the excitement of getting to “look behind the curtain”.
- As the tour comes to a close, Patrick Long steps out of the trailer and comes over to greet our winners. He’s gracious as ever and shakes hands, signs autographs and poses for pictures. All and all a very successful event. Thanks Flying Lizard!
- With that done, we head back toward the infield and make a stop by the Mobil1 Truck. This huge trailer travels the country from event to event showcasing all the features of Mobil1 oil. It’s actually an interesting display that’s worth a look if you ever see it at an event (you may have seen it at the PCA parade in the past).
- Glancing around the crowds at Sebring it’s easy to spot the first timers vs. experienced race goers. Those in the know have set up enclaves complete with generators, TVs and scaffolding. These people are here for the race, but they are also here to party and enjoy each others company. We spot the famous Sebring Cows and wonder, as always, how they don’t die of heat stroke in their spotted outfits?
As we head back to the Porsche suite we notice a group of what appears to be monks walking toward us. This cloaked group turns out to be the “Drunk Monks” of Sebring. A close group of friends, they patrol the Sebring infield, paddock and other areas drinking to cries of “Holy Shit”, their official slogan. Each monk is adorned with a cloak, staff, drinking vessel and a towel with the words “Holy Shit! Drunk Monks of Sebring” on it. When I was handed a towel of my very own and told to keep it, I became an honorary member of sorts. I just hope I don’t have to drink every time I hear the worlds “Holy Shit” as the monks do.
- Last stop of the day is back to Porsche Hospitality. We chat for a while with a number of people and catch up with old friends from both Panorama and 9-Magazine. Stat tuned for a pictorial post courtesy of Leonard Turner of Panorama Magazine
- Tomorrow is race day so time to for some dinner, post pictures to Facebook and then it’s time for bed.