Saturday, March 15, 2008

Sebring Saturday: Mid-race hyper-ness

Let me tell you a little something about Sebring: There is simply nothing else like it in the world. No, I'm not talking about the Green Park, with its Animal House antics and bizarre culture unto itself. And I'm not talking about the cars, teams, and drivers, because these are all the same people who race the rest of the season here as well as Le Mans. I'm not even talking about the weather, because I've seen more rain at the 24 Heures du Mans in recent years than we've had at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

No, I mean the track itself. As one team guy told me earlier today, "this is the exact opposite of the Daytona 24 we just ran. Daytona was 24 hours of heaven. This is 12 hours of hell."

Why is that, you might ask?

It's because this track is one hyper-challenging, unforgiving, mean-spirited bitch. She doesn't cut you any slack, and if you're lucky enough not to demolish the car when you go off-course, you still end up shoveling half of the dirt in southern Florida as you limp back to the pits.

Such is the case with today's race, just about halfway through. It seems as if nobody wants to win this one. The fastest car on the track all week, that being the Peugeot 908 HDi, suffered mechanical crapitude and is now running down in back. The lead was then inherited by the #1 Audi R10 TDI, who just fifteen minutes ago retired to the pits with some kind of engine failure (yes, an engine failure in an Audi, rare that may be). Many of the Big Dogs are just dropping like flies, be it an error in judgment or just plain bad luck.

Though, if I'm honest, maybe it's not just the unforgiving heartless bits of 3.7 miles of bumpy tarmac. Maybe there's more to it.

On my fifth trip to the historic race, I'm still discovering so many little things that all make this such a great event. Not just the parties in the infield, but the people there. The big fat smelly ocean of humanity, the no-shirt-no-shoes-no-problem beer-guzzlin' rednecks, and the prim wine & cheese crowd with nary a hair out of place. The people who drive in from 1000 miles away, and the locals who live just down the road. The ones who have been coming here for more than 50 years (yes, I've met quite a few), and the ones who are experiencing not just their first Sebring 12, but their first ever auto race. The people from so many different countries there aren't enough translators in all of Florida to make sense of it, the people with southern drawls so thick, they need their own translators...

It all comes together, and it all blends beautifully.

What makes this race so great, I think, is what has made our country the greatest place in the history of the world. It is where everyone else comes to be the best, and to challenge for the win. In Sebring, there is no McCain or Clinton or Obama. There are no pollsters and no breaks in the action - except for a caution flag or six. This is the greatest road race in North America, and international diplomacy played out on tarmac. The French, the Germans, the Brits and the Italians, the Swiss and the Aussies, the Kiwis and the Scots, and us, the Americans. Somehow, we all just get along and have the best damn time in the world.

Some people wonder what it is about motorsports that moves me so. What about it wakes me up in the morning and literally drives me to sacrifice so damn much, just to see a bunch of cars going fast on a road circuit. If you've read this far, I hope you have more of an idea now.

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