1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Page Two
In addition to all those Fords and the afore mentioned Ferraris there were two new Chaparral 2Ds from 1965 winner Jim Hall’s stable. Those cars were closed coupes and entered in the prototype class. Unfortunately for Chevy and Chaparral fans the cars were handling poorly during practice and one was leaking oil badly. All of this was worrisome to Jim Hall and Hap Sharp and both showed a lot of pessimism about repeating their win from the previous year. Also in the mix was a large contingent from factory Porsche and cars from Alfa-Romeo, Matra and a host of British iron from MG, Triumph and Lotus.
During Thursday’s practice session Ferrari fans were excited to see that the only car to break the three-minute barrier was the factory Ferrari 330 P3 of Mike Parkes and Bob Bondurant with a time of 2 minutes, 56.6 seconds.
However, during the last practice on Friday the “Big Brute” Fords unleashed all their horses and literally blew away the lap records with a time of 2 minutes, 45.6 seconds for Dan Gurney in his Shelby American Ford Mk. II, 2 minutes, 54.6 seconds for Graham Hill in his Alan Mann Ford GT40 and the Walt Hansgen/Ken Miles Ford GT40 Mk. II came in with a time of 2 minutes, 58 seconds.
Added to Friday’s schedule of events was the first ever Sports Car Club of America (SCCA) Trans-American Sedan Championship known more commonly today as the Trans-Am. This series was originally derived from SCCA’s A-Production class and the race cars were supposed to be modified production (street) cars like Mustangs, Javelins, Dodge Challenges and so on. These cars were in the over 2-liter Trans-Am class and the under 2-liter class mostly included small European sedans like the Alfa-Romeo GTA.
In the inaugural event at Sebring in 1966 that Friday Bob Tullius came in first in the over 2-liter class driving a Dodge Dart and Jochen Rindt came in first in the under 2-liter class driving an Alfa-Romeo. Rindt also captured the overall win with his Alfa with Tullius second OA in his Dart and three more Alfas in third, fourth and fifth. It was a good day for Alfa.
The dawning of race day Saturday saw that the Sebring promoters were far better prepared to handle the expected record crowd that eventually hit around 60,000. Everyone hoped to avoid the fiasco that occurred the previous year when thousands of spectators were stuck outside the track in a monumental traffic jam that prevented some race fans from getting into the track until three hours after the 10 a.m. start.
As more and more people entered the 4,700 acre facility the dry conditions for March created a dusty haze that looked for all the world like Los Angeles smog.
This dust haze was especially bad in the spectator enclosure and clung to cars and sweaty bodies alike. On Sunday numerous race fans returning home after the race were seen stopped at gas stations trying to rinse the dust, now mud, from their legs and feet. Some even stopped at private homes along the way and paid homeowners for the privilege of using their garden hose.
The dusty conditions in the spectator area didn’t stop the residents of the “Zoo” from cranking up the traditional day-long party of food, drink, marijuana smoking, drink and more drinking. As a result a very rowdy atmosphere developed.
Peter McManon, commented in the Miami News that the folks of Sebring, “…simply could not control the crowd and it resulted in an unpleasant situation. No man would take his wife or family there and ever return after seeing the gross misconduct of some spectators.” (In the words of one regular Sebring fan, “Who could forget the topless bimbos dancing on the hoods of cars.”)
When a local policeman doing security at the event was asked why he wasn’t doing anything about the behavior he said, “If we locked up everybody who was drunk there wouldn’t have been enough jails in Florida to hold them.”
John Crittenden of Competition Press and Autoweek (CP&A) magazine commented in the May 7 issue that, “This was not a picnic or county fair atmosphere, but an asylum.”
Just across the start/finish line and maybe a million miles away was the striped tent of the “Patrons Enclosure” sitting serenely in the paddock.
This is where the Palm Beach crowd in their jackets, ties, spring dresses and slacks were enjoying a leisurely breakfast with a mimosa to wash down their eggs. The lunch menu included cold bird and bottles of Yquem. (A bottle of vintage 1966 Yquem today will cost you $650.)
This oasis of civility was under the direction of Mrs. Alec Ulmann and only members and guests of the Automobile Race Club of Florida (ARCF) were allowed. The price for admittance was usually $100 per couple and for that price one could partake of good food and drink right up until the end of the race and sometimes later.
Just a few yards from the Patrons Enclosure the usual morning ritual for race day was beginning in the pit area as mechanics were doing their last minute checks and warming up engines.
Arriving in the pits early were Ferrari drivers Mike Parkes and Bob Bondurant. They looked well-rested and refreshed and less haggard than some of the other drivers walking around. It might have had something to do with the fact that Alitalia Airlines gave both of them full access to the company trailer behind the pits where they could rest, get a refreshing shower and some nourishment.