At first, I figured I would go out and watch the race from a few corners. My son and I had watched night practice at both Turn One and the Esses before the back straight,and I wanted to see the new car from some different angles. I was not driving and I had some energy to burn, so I just decided to start walking from Turn One and go from there. What began as a simple idea turned out to be one of the most interesting and revealing experiences I have ever had at a race track.
When I was growing up, I always dreamed about the day when I would be able to race. I had attended several Indy 500 events over the years, and I had also fallen in love with sports car racing. When I began to participate in club racing I could not have possibly imagined that our team would have come so far. It has been a while since I have attended a race as as a spectator, and not driving this year gave me the great opportunity to walk around the Sebring circuit and really take the event in from an entirely different perspective.
As I walked around the corner stations and interacted with the corner workers, I realized yet again how inherently important these people are to our safety and our sport in general. Mostly volunteers, they come out and look out for us and expect nothing in return. Standing in the sun with them at various corner stations,I initially felt a bit uncomfortable, as if I were invading the workers turf. At first this was a bit unsettling, but after conversing with a few of them, I felt at ease. Without a doubt, corner workers are the unsung heroes ofour sport.
I made my way down to all the famous sections of the track, from the hairpin, down through the Fangio chicane, and stopped at the Cunningham and Tower turns. I was absolutely astounded by the crowd and in particular how creative the campers are. Driving along at 150-plus m.p.h., you do not really have the time to pay attention to the crowds, much less their temporary homes. The effort that goes into assembling some of their stanchions and makeshift scaffolding is unbelievable, and each of them has a uniquely personal touch. Whether it is the flags waving over the R.V.s, or the staggering of the seating, or the music blaring, each group has their own identity. It is real Americana, and I felt honored and humbled by everyone who came up to me offering me food, water, and beer (which I politely declined). I am very thankful to all these fans because in my walk around the entire circuit I was never hungry or thirsty. It was also very gratifying and surprising to see how many people came upto me to tell me how happy they were to see our team back at Sebring. Everyone on the team loves the Sebring event, and thankfully this year we had a car to run.
Viewing the race from areas from which I could only have dreamed of as a kid, my impression was that for the most part, the cars were very well-driven. The Audis were super-impressive over the bumps and I have got to take my hat off to the Joest team. Our new Riley and Scott ran well. It still has a ways to go but it is very new. Butch, Elliott and James did a great job, as always, and I think we will have some better days ahead of us as we develop the car.
It is huge events like Sebring that make endurance racing so special. Not only does the event have a great tradition, but the crowd is having a great time and the workers all put in a tremendous effort. I had a fantastic time walking around the circuit and seeing everything the 12 Hours of Sebring has to offer. But next time, I will definitely remember my sunscreen…