Anyone who has read my work or my blog for any length of time probably knows by now that car racing isn’t exactly something that I’m passionate about or talk about at length. I have lived in the Sebring area for more than 20 years, so I knew what the race was and what it meant to not just the area, but the sport of racing as well. But I never attended one. 20 years and never so much as set foot near the track. That all changed this year.
This year I was given the opportunity to attend the 12 Hours of Sebring, and I didn’t hesitate in saying yes. I admit that I wanted to know what all the fuss was about. Most people I knew growing up that had attended the annual race talked about the experience of being there, the atmosphere, and the partying. Very few even discussed the actual race itself. It was an event first, a race second.
So I resigned myself to enduring the experience first, checking out the race second. It was a pretty good Saturday morning, leaving the house just before 7 a.m. I picked up fellow writer and Deck Ape collaborator, J Paul Roe, and off we went. Getting to the track and through the gates was painless, having received our tickets in advance. The fun, if you will, came after we found a place to park.
We ended up way in the back, near turn 13. Friends of mine had set up a camp area there, where there would be BBQ and beer for later. At 8 a.m. I wasn’t about to partake in the beer, so we made the long walk back to the front of the track and the pit area. One of the traditions of the race was to allow the fans to walk through the pit area, where we were able to see the 49 cars and some of the drivers before they went out onto the track. The crowd was massive and difficult at times to navigate, but I did my best. I snapped as many candid shots as I could as I walked through the throngs of fans.
I found that what intrigued me more than the cars were the people. I photographed the drivers, many of whom were being ignored by the passersby. I got shots of the strange fans who chose to dress up and be wacky. I even saw a celebrity. But, just like in a good story, it was the people that made the experience. Eventually we were all asked to vacate the pit area to that the race could get underway. J Paul Roe and I made our way back to our camp area, where the BBQ was almost ready.
This was where the experience changed. We went from being intrigued by the people to being surrounded by people who were content to sit around and talk and enjoy each others company. The cars raced by behind us, but they were no longer the important part of the morning. Then the rain started. Not just rain, more like a torrential downpour. This made it more difficult for either of us to walk around and take more pictures of the people. Because, well, that was the fun part. Unfortunately, the rain didn’t let up. After almost two hours of on and off rain, the race was postponed due to lightning. It did start up again, but after we left. With heavy rain and no cars racing, I wasn’t having a good time. So we left.
I’m still not a race fan. That hasn’t changed. But what I was a fan of, was the interesting people. With all the interesting people I saw and photographed, I will have lots of characters to write about for a while. It was an interesting experience that I wouldn’t mind recreating next year. It will just be for the people watching, not the car watching.