The top 10 essential tips to navigate around and maximize your experience at The 12 Hours of Sebring race.
Sebring International Raceway is America’s oldest road racing track (six decades of racing history); a legendary 3.74-mile racing circuit sits a couple of hours away from major Florida cities North (Orlando), Southeast (West Palm Beach), Northwest (Tampa) and under three hours south of Daytona International Speedway. Florida is lucky to have two legendary race tracks, but Sebring may have the most loyal and passionate campers and spectators of all racing circuits during the 12 Hours of Sebring race.
The Intimate Race Track
There is an intimacy with the track that is rare in motorsports. An example is the Wednesday morning greeting of all campers entering Sebring International Raceway by the track staff. The fans regularly tell the staff how many years they keep coming back to Sebring, “Since 1966,” “For the past 30 years.” Young or old Sebring is the favorite track for most. For many (including us at Sexto Elemento) Sebring is a highlighted date on the calendar every year, the third week of March might as well be many people’s second birthday due to the party atmosphere of the 12 Hours of Sebring. Now it is your turn to experience Sebring and all its strange (i.e., Green Park), fun and renowned motorsports atmosphere. The only question now is where do you start?
1) Florida Weather – What to expect?
The weather in Florida in March can vary drastically, like most of the weather in Florida. 2018 was a perfect race day, cooler temperatures in the morning in the 50s – 60s (F), and 70s – 80s (F) in the late morning and most of the afternoon. The best advice is to prepare for rain by having at least a rain poncho or a water-resistant, lightweight jacket to combat cooler temperatures and rain.
Sebring is a flat race track, and there are not many places for shade once you leave the main areas by the Fangio and Gurney Terraces. It’s the Sunshine State for a reason, so protect your skin and eyes. Keep yourself fed and hydrated, the further you walk from the main sections the less likely you will find places for water and food. Make sure you have some snacks and water on you at all times, it is a long race under a blistering sun.
2) Tickets – What and When to Buy?
The most important thing to remember is to buy the tickets with the “early bird” discount and be alert on when you buy your tickets. Sebring has a cut off date for mailing out online ticket sales. Buy it before the mailing out cut off date. So you receive your tickets in the mail, and you do not have to wait at will call to pick up your tickets on race day. The following are the ticket prices for entry and parking (this is without the early bird special) this is from the Sebring website:
FRI. & SAT.
[Pro Tip] Free Parking is available in Gate 3 parking section (check map above). The car will be far from the track but still walking distance if you need to get something from the car. Ideally, it is best to carry everything you need on you in a backpack (highly recommended).
3) Hotel Tips
There are a few hotels nearby Sebring International Raceway. Ideally, the Chåteau Élan Hotel is the best place to stay due to its iconic status in Sebring artworks and photos. The hotel location is inside Sebring International Raceway (next to Turn 7). Book a trackside room and enjoy a great view of the racing circuit. Check the prices well in advance of the 12 Hours of Sebring to see if it is affordable for you.
Sebring is usually a quiet town until the 12 Hours of Sebring, so book early. There is something for every price range the key is to find something with the highest rating you can afford that is close to the raceway. You will not spend much time in a hotel. The schedule is usually all day at Sebring International Raceway and only sleep in the hotel, since the majority of the time is at the track, book with a budget and distance in mind.
4) Pre-Race Activities Tip
On race day, the most important pre-race activity to attend is the Fan Walk – Pit Lane. The Pit Lane opens from 9:15 am to 10:10 am for all fans, and all the race cars are parked with team members nearby, a great time to see the cars up close, get autographs, talk to drivers, take pictures of the cars and enjoy the atmosphere of auto racing.
Up close and personal with all the cars, drivers and teams in the Pit Lane Walk.
The Pit Lane walk gets crowded so plan accordingly.
If you have time and arrive early, walking the paddock section, where all the teams have their haulers and where significant repairs take place is an exciting walk before the start of the race. You can always catch a glimpse of pre-event activities like last-minute preparations, and race cars driving by fans. The level of access to teams and race cars is not typical in professional motorsports. The key is to arrive early and walk around the paddock while waiting for the pit lane to open.
Last minute preparations before the start of the 12 Hours of Sebring.
The juxtaposing of drivers resting for a bit and mechanics doing a last-minute repair, the roles will change soon.
5) Start Of The Race
The 12 Hours of Sebring starts at 10:40 am, so plan and know where you want to see the start of the race, Turn 1 is always eventful when the green flag waves with so many cars bottlenecking into a single turn. A tip is some of the better view areas have large RVs parked in front of them so be cordial since they paid to be there. Sebring fans are a good group of people, but in some of the better viewing areas you are near their property so being friendly and unassuming is the way the go here.
Race cars bottlenecking at its finest in Turn 1 at the start of the race.
A Porsche is entering turn 1, notice the large RVs parked on the outside of Turn 1.
To maximize your time at Sebring and seeing all the turns plan your route before or shortly after the race starts. The recommendation is to follow the racing layout of Sebring International Raceway by starting your “lap” on foot with Turn 1, then Turn 2, Turn 3 (Kristensen Corner), etc. and walk bordering the race track. Make sure to pick up a map and Race Day Viewing Guide, Sebring has them in different sections. The map and viewing guides usually are near the pedestrian bridge (not the drive-over bridge) that is between the Fangio Terrace and Turn 17 (Sunset Bend).
6) During The Race
For people who do not wish to walk a lot and want to enjoy the race by lounging at certain spots the Gurney Bend and Turn 7 are your best bets. It is best to stay in one section for a while and then go to the other, in what order is up to you. The Gurney Bend’s positives are the viewing mounds, a large tree that provides shade with a small grandstand under it. You will see cars pass you by at full throttle, see overtaking and in the distance you can see the hard braking section of Turn 7. The Gurney Bend is the right place to prop up a portable seat with some shade, listen to the radio broadcast (refer to last, bonus tip for radio stations) with some food and beverages.
View from the large tree and small grandstand section side of the Gurney Bend (picture taken at the Classic 12 Hour Race).
View from the Gurney Bend large tree and small grandstand area of a Corvette exiting Turn 5 and entering Turn 6 (Gurney Bend), under the “Corvette Bridge.”
The Gurney Bend large tree and small grandstand section is a great place to nap, rest, eat, drink or watch the race under shade.
The positives of Turn 7 are a mound for better views of the track, a classic view of Turn 7 with the backdrop of Chåteau Élan Hotel, jumbotron screen near the exit of Turn 7, cross-over pedestrian bridge and the sense of humor of Green Park. The mound is similar to the one by the Gurney Bend, perfect for a comfortable seat with shade. You enjoy a great view of the track from a slightly elevated position, a big plus on a flat Florida race track. The jumbotron screen is perfect to not miss any action around the track, Sebring does not have many spots to see the majority of the track at once, so a jumbotron screen broadcasting the race is helpful. The cross-over pedestrian bridge is convenient for switching from the Gurney Bend to Turn 7 or vice versa. The infamous Green Park is directly behind you and all of its shenanigans.
On the Turn 7 spectator mound and you can see the pedestrian bridge cross-over toward the Gurney Bend.
Green Park Adventures
For the adventurous type of person with a sense of humor enjoy walking past or through Green Park. It is the infamous section (in a comedic way) of fans and campers. Green Park starts at Turn 5 and loops all the way around the general parking area (on all the maps in this post) and ends at Turn 11 (Collier Curve). The most well-known section of Green Park is Turn 10. They are known to go above and beyond with “shenanigans,” “custom spectator structures,” and are the most dedicated to the Green Park lifestyle of weird, having a sense of humor and knowing how to have fun at a race. Part of the charm and highlights of the 12 Hours of Sebring is passing through Green Park and seeing what they have come up with in that particular year. Here is a small appetizer for Green Park, you must experience the rest on your own (you will never forget it):
That chair must have a Green Park debauchery story.
Entering deeper and deeper into Green Park and its “custom spectator structures.”
Green Park transportation.
If you are lost or do not have all your faculties, Green Park is here to help.
7) Where To Rest, Eat and Shelter From The Elements
The best places for shelter from too much sun or rain is the following :
1. Manufacture display areas (free with general admission tickets)
2. The Gurney Bend large tree and small grandstand area (free with general admission tickets)
3. Snack Shack (for paying customers only)
4. Wine Country Motorsports indoor store by Fangio and Gurney Terraces (free with general admission tickets)
5. The Fangio and Gurney Terrace (Pit Box Seats) is excellent for rest and shelter from the elements, but these are a paid section. If you go to Sebring, not on a 12 Hours of Sebring week (ex. HSR The Classic 12 Hours of Sebring – classic version of the race), the Pit Box Seats are usually open with a regular ticket and a great place to see the majority of Sebring International Raceway.
Manufacture’s Display Sections As Shelter
Many of the manufacture display sections provide shelter with a canopy overhang. Their staff is there to give out free t-shirts or sell merchandise. Some manufacturers have lounging sections with televisions. In 2018 the Mazda display had an indoor display area with air-conditioning, tables, and a TV. It is rare to find an area that is air-conditioned. So if you see one make the most of your rest, there is more racing action in store for you.
Snack Shack For Food
If you need rest, shelter and are hungry, the Snack Shack is the place to go. Only customers can enter the Snack Shack’s air-conditioned eating section. The Snack Shack provides good track food (we are partial to the bbq chicken sandwich). You can eat it indoors, so it is a win-win for any tired, hungry, and sunburnt spectator.
Another Shelter: Wine Country Motorsports
The Wine Country Motorsports store is a small indoor merchandise area. Many of the merchandise tents nearby offer a short break from the elements as well. Wine Country Motorsports is known for selling all things motorsports, from safety gear to memorabilia.
8) Fireworks Display
The fireworks display happens two times in the 12 Hours of Sebring when the race starts (daytime) and the podium celebrations at the end of the race (nighttime). The podium celebration is the better of the two due to the nighttime setting; you enjoy a fireworks display in the sky and some on the victory circle podium.
Fireworks at the end of the race.
Fireworks in Victory Circle.
9) Where To Be At Dusk and Night
You cannot go wrong being anywhere during dusk (the golden hour) one of the best areas is Turn 1 with the sunset behind the race cars. The dramatic sunset enhances the Gurney Bend and Turn 7. At night the race takes on a different feel. The car’s lights flickering as they bounce around Sebring’s pavement and rough spots on the track. Any spectator area is better at night. So after you do your walking lap of Sebring, jot down your favorite spots on the map. Then, go back there at night and notice the difference in the viewing experience and how drivers adapt to nighttime driving at Sebring.
Some racing action as the sun goes down just past Turn 7.
The 12 Hours of Sebring at dusk.
A Porsche is entering Turn 7 at night after some hard braking.
10) End Of The Race
The way to cap off the race is to find a viewing area near the finish line. You can also head over to the victory lane/podium section to see the winners’ celebrations and the fireworks. An excellent spot to view the dramatic finish is a grandstand section near the Porsche Corral by the exit of Turn 17 (Sunset Bend). You will enjoy the cars passing the infamous bumps of Turn 17. Then you see the drivers lining up the perfect apex exit to the finish line. There are jumbotrons near the finish line straight to keep you informed on what is happening in the last few laps of the race.
On the other side of the pedestrian bridge is the Porsche corral and the stands with the view of cars exiting Turn 17.
Bonus – 11) Recommended Gear From Our Experience (listed in order of importance)
1. Comfortable Shoes – This sounds like a no-brainer, but you will be walking all day so make sure you wear your most comfortable, worn-in shoes. It is a bonus if the shoes are waterproof as well.
2. Backpack – The 12 Hours of Sebring is a long day for the spectator; you will be living off of what you packed in your bag. The backpack is where you will have most of your items below stored, do the best with what you can afford to buy.
3. Ear Plugs or Sound Canceling Earmuffs – When not listening to the radio or viewing the race on a smart device, these will help prevent headaches, and you will enjoy the race throughout the day and night.
4. Jacket or Hoodie – Ideally you want this to be water resistant, water repellant or waterproof. The weather changes randomly in Florida, and it is usually ranging from cooler mornings to hot afternoons in March, so something lightweight and at minimum water-resistant (It is Florida it can rain at any time).
5. Rain Poncho – If you cannot afford or do not want to buy at minimum a water-resistant jacket or hoodie then this is your best bet for water protection.
6. Small Portable Radio With A Headphone Jack or Headphones with built-in radio – This will be handy to keep track of what is going on in the race. The PA systems in Sebring is not always audible, so a radio helps. The small radio also saves your cell phone’s battery life, give it a full charge the night before and use it as much as you can (you can use your phone as a backup radio). The radio station for the IMSA Radio broadcast at the time of this blog posting was 99.1 FM, you can download the IMSA App or go to IMSA.com on your phone.
[Bonus] More radio stations for Sebring: 454.000 (Scanner Frequency), 138 (Sirius), 202 (XM), 972 (Sirius App Channel), 730 AM (News Talk), 1050 AM (Highlands ESPN)
7. Headphones/Ear Pods – This is for your radio or phone, it makes a big difference to isolate sound and hear clearly as race cars at wide open throttle race past you.
8. External Battery Charger – Always suitable to have one in your backpack for your phone or action cameras, it is a long day.
9. Stadium Seat Cushion – A lightweight EVA foam pad seat cushion. The cushion will help when you want to sit anywhere that is dirty or wet, and it is easy to store in a backpack — a great luxury to sit and rest anywhere around Sebring.
The 12hrs of Sebring is a legendary race for a good reason, the drivers enjoy conquering the bumps, and all that Sebring International Raceway has to offer a driver. The fans appreciate all the work Sebring provides catering to all spectators, and it is a significant reason fans have come back over and over for decades. Sebring is all about fun and knows how to cater to its most essential clients – the fans, and the drivers. If you want to meet your new family of car nuts, the intimacy of Sebring’s racing atmosphere is waiting for you. Welcome to the family and let the weirdness begin at Green Park, we will be waiting for you.