Open Menu
Open Menu

New Sebring event to blend Pistons & Props

Published in

Dan Gurney driving a Shelby Cobra at Sebring in 1963. Photos courtesy Ford Motor Company.

Today, Sebring International Raceway is best known for the 12-hour endurance race held each March, but in 1941 the remote plot of land in the swamps of central Florida was initially developed as a bomber training facility. From 1942 through the end of 1945, hundreds of B-17 crews were trained here, and in December of 1950, the facility held its first sports car race. Next December, Historic Sportscar Racing (HSR) will debut the Classic 12-Hours of Sebring, Pistons & Props, honoring the two things that put the otherwise sleepy agricultural town on the map.

Opened by the U.S. Army Air Force (USAAF) in January of 1942, Sebring Basic Flying School was later renamed Hendricks Field in honor of Lieutenant Laird W. Hendricks Jr., a West Point graduate and Florida resident killed in Britain while training pilots for the Royal Air Force. Following the end of the Second World War, Hendricks Field was turned over to the City of Sebring on December 31, 1945, and soon began to see use as a civilian airfield.

Ford GT40 Mk II

Ford GT40 Mk II of Dan Gurney and Jerry Grant at Sebring in 1966.

By 1950, sports car racing in the United States was mushrooming in popularity, leading brothers Sam and Miles Collier, along with promoter Alec Ulmann, to contemplate a “European-style” endurance event on these shores. With its smooth runways and ample runoff areas, the under-utilized airfield in Sebring, Florida, seemed well-suited to such a race, and planning began in earnest after Ulmann’s return from the 1950 24 Hours of Le Mans.

Sam Collier wouldn’t live to see the race materialize. While running in the 1950 Watkins Glen Grand Prix, he spun on gravel, rolling the Briggs Cunningham-owned Ferrari 166 Inter he was driving. Thrown free of the car, Sam survived the accident, only to die from his injuries later the same evening. Miles Collier immediately ended his own racing career (for the time being, anyway), and focused his attention on organizing the Sam Collier Six Hour Memorial Grand Prix with Ulmann. The race took place on December 31, 1950, and in 1952, its second running, Sebring grew from six to 12 hours in duration.

Merkur XR4Ti at Sebring

The Merkur XR4Ti of Scott Pruitt and Pete Halsmer at Sebring in 1985.

The 12-hour format is still used today, both by HSR (in its March vintage race) and by the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship. The IMSA race, for contemporary cars, is a true 12-hour endurance event, while the spring HSR festival consists of a series of sprint and endurance races for historic racing cars, the longest running four hours. Like HSR’s successful Classic 24 at Daytona, the new Sebring event is expected to consist of six run groups, each competing twice in a one-hour race to reach the 12 hours.

A vintage aircraft “fly in” will be held on the Friday before the race, with airplane and facility tours ongoing throughout the race weekend at the airfield adjacent to the 3.74-mile road course. The exact dates for the December 2016 Classic 12-Hours of Sebring, Pistons & Props, have not yet been announced, but further details on classes and format are expected in the coming months. Look for more information to appear on