On my last day at Sebring, after I thought I had seen everything it had to offer, I saw four guys wearing cow suits with anatomically correct bladders. They didn’t appear to be promoting anything, unlike Pirelli girls, and they didn’t seem to be affiliated with any of the professional race teams that make the trip each March to this otherwise undistinguished patch of central Florida. Just four guys adding their own bit to the spring break atmosphere of what many people call the “Mardi Gras of Motorsports.”
Major sports car endurance races are exceptionally strange events. Hundreds of thousands of people travel huge distances to camp out in the mud and watch the same set of cars go by for hours and hours. The sheer length of the contest exposes car racing’s dirty secret: the cars might be beautiful; the drivers heroic; the changes in strategy interesting; but minute by minute, the race itself can be exceptionally boring.
So every endurance race develops its own particular culture of distraction to keep everyone content and entertained. At the 24 Hours of Le Mans, it’s the ferris wheels and amusement rides for the kids; for the British, the pubs.
At Sebring, it’s the biggest Mardi Gras celebration east of the Big Easy. Continuous streams of people in jeeps and pickup trucks wind through a makeshift city of RVs, and used schoolbuses. Girls exchange a short glimpse for one or two plastic bead necklaces tossed from the roofs as they pass by.
But it’s the cars everyone comes to see. The 12 Hours is a five day affair. Vintage and open wheel formula races precede the event. A 1965 Saab 96 shared the track with Jaguar E-types and an eighties NASCAR Ford Thunderbird. Vintage Mustangs, Corvettes, MGs, Triumphs and Alfas make for some very great racing.
The main event featured many of the cars that run in the 24 Hours of Le Mans: Maserati, Aston Martin, the new Corvette; and the ubiquitous Audi R8.