65th Annual 12 Hours of Sebring

March 15-18th, 2017 • Sebring, Florida, USA

Another Florida race, another delayed flight from my home in New York. This time all flights are cancelled due to a massive snowstorm poised to unleash upward of two feet of snow. Fast forward twelve hours, the storm has dropped only a measly inch or two of wet slush and light rain. Meanwhile at Sebring International Raceway, Prototype challenge and Porsche GT3 cup car practice is carrying on as scheduled. American Airlines doesn’t seem to be as worried about it as I am though, so I’m left hunting for any possible openings to get my pale ass onto the next flight towards that glorious Florida sun and the sensory overload of the high horsepower cars about to be put to test by the historic course.

Luckily, there’s about 12 hours every day for the next three days of practice, qualifying and racing scheduled for the weekend. Despite losing nearly a full day to the snowpocalypse dud, I manage to get to the track in time for the start of the prototype challenge. About an hour later, the GT3 cup cars began their rounds of the track, sliding and lifting a front wheel through nearly every corner. As the sun began to dip below the horizon the GT and P1 and P2 cars lapped the track through the darkness, rotors glowing and plumes of blue flames from exhausts fully visible now. With the sun gone and the adrenaline subsiding slightly, I set up my tent right outside turn 13 and curled up to sleep for a couple hours. It wasn’t the morning sunlight peeking through my tent that woke me, but the distant sounds of race engines idling from the paddocks half a track away as the Continental Challenge cars were being warmed up and prepped for their practice and qualifying rounds.

Armed with three camera bodies and an arsenal of lenses ranging from 20mm to 300mm, I rolled out of my tent and set off meandering through campgrounds, the lapping the course on foot in search of the best vantage points around the course. After attending the Rolex 24 hour race at Daytona a few months earlier, I knew I wanted to capture more motion in my photos to help show how ridiculously fast these cars are. Throughout the weekend, I tried to use the nearly non-stop flow of cars to hone in my panning technique. I’ve mostly been shooting film for many years, so panning shots were not something I had a lot of experience with since the ratio of tack sharp to blurry is probably about 1 to 20- depending on how lucky you get. Digital allows you the freedom to make mistakes in a much less costly manner, so I set my shutter speed at 1/40th of a second and worked down as low as 1/5th sec exposures throughout the races.

While Daytona and Sebring are a mere 150 miles or so apart from each other, they have a completely different look and feel. Daytona is situated in a relatively urban environment- nearby to a multitude of stores and restaurants while Sebring is decidedly in a much more rural setting, nearby to a field and not much else. Daytona’s grandstands have gift shops, restrooms and food courts built in, while Sebring has outdoor tents for merchandise and small concession stands for food. Daytona has huge banked turns and straightaways encircling the infield campgrounds while Sebring is flat and home to 4 straights and 17 turns. The patrons of both events are similar to an extent, but it’s clear that Sebring’s fans are more geared to partying and take tailgating throughout the campground very seriously. Aside from tents and RV’s of varying sizes, Sebring’s campgrounds are packed with tremendous scaffoldings with chairs, couches, coolers, even refrigerators and coolers in some cases. These redneck skyscrapers are usually decorated with different themes or names in an effort to set themselves apart from the other crews a turn or straight away. Some go as far as having full bars and bbq pits at their campsites. Sebring has a much more laid back and sort of whimsical feel, you can tell everyone is there to have a good time. Oh, Daytona’s massive grandstands offer some shelter from the Florida sun, whereas Sebring offers literally none- by Friday afternoon I had already acquired one hell of a sunburn.

Unlike Friday morning I did not awake to the sounds of engines, but instead by headaches, the chills, and nausea from the sun poisoning I had acquired the day before. Luckily, with the first light of dawn came a quick practice session and a excuse to leave my tent for a little. The sun rose at the beginning of the straight following turn 13, so I shot a handful of panning shots through the corner into the morning light.
With morning practice finished, the 65th 12 hours of Sebring was set to begin. Sam Dobbins and I grabbed a few cold beers, our camera gear, slapped on some sunscreen and spent the next 6 or 7 hours straight shooting the action throughout the course.
We took a quick break to check out the vendor tents to see what kind of free gear we could score and to harass those working the tents. After a stop at the Patron tent for a quick margarita, the smokey-sweet smell of BBQ wafting from the giant smoker a few stands away beckoned us to visit for a few pulled brisket/pork/chicken sandwiches and tacos. Bellies full and now with a slight buzz we packed up our camp and managed to find a spot closer to the exit to beat the rush.
With night now upon us, we trekked from the straight over to the hairpin to shoot until our memory cards filled with long exposure panning shots. With the race nearing an end, the buzz of excitement was palpable- the crowds packed in thick against the fences and densely packed at every walkway and mound. The drivers were more aggressive with each lap, braking later and harder, making riskier attempts to pass. A few more clicks and both Sam and I had finished off our memory cards, so we left with a couple laps left to make a quick exit to make the excruciatingly boring drive back to Miami.

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