Bring me your Huddled Masses or Bring me the Head of Alfredo Garcia?
We the people……..
To the Central Highlands of Florida and the classic event known as the 12 Hours
of Sebring. Here participation is not confined to those pounding around the
bumps of the track. The crowd itself is famous for joining into the spirit of things
creating an atmosphere unique in racing. This tradition attracts more than a fair
share of exhibitionists, lunatics, deviants, perverts, saddoes and genuine race
This lusty mob turns up in force (115,000 this year, allegedly) and comes fully
equipped with RVs, caravans, tents, etc., creating a small town with a style like no
other. On the gate there was listed out the usual collection of dos and don'ts
(mainly the latter, this being the USA), no scaffolding over 61 feet, no peting, and
no guns past this point…maybe some of these ordinances had been altered by
the will (or the spray cans) of the people, democracy in action at grass roots.
The Right Crowd
Don Panoz has as the catchy marketing hook for his series the expression "for
the fans." I decided that this needed investigation… would they be they be the
American equivalent of the crowds that flock to Wimbledon, Henley, Ascot
hampers bulging with canapés and Champagne or would they be more like our
soccer fans……?……..On night practice at turn ten I encountered a howling
bunch indulging in the familiar manly pastimes of drinking heavily, talking
bollocks and trying to charm any passing female with witty repartee.
I fired the camera at the mob to record the scenario for posterity and was met with
enquiries as to my affiliation (actually they didn't use that expression!) and being
English and trying some gay banter of my own I replied that I was with the IRS.
This seemed to dangerously excite the masses who hurled abuse, cans and
bottles in my general direction. As I beat a hasty retreat I felt a pang of sorrow at
the voice crying plaintively above the rest "Where's my cheque?" It is a sorry
indictment of public servants that their sloth had driven a man so low as to
behave like a beast…..all because of a tax refund.
Blondes Have More Fun
My appetite was wetted for further exploration and I decided to go back next
evening before the sun went down and the moon returned to inflame the
passions of the hordes. My colleague for the journey into uncharted lands was
Sabine Hoffman; BMW's photographer and on the way we bumped into JJ Lehto
and Tommy Kristensen, the race pole sitters, and persuaded them to come too.
The first outpost reached was that of a collection known as La Bomba Racing.
Quick to recognise their illustrious guests the offered hospitality and ended up
signing the two drivers for next year's event……at least that's what I think they
said…. remember folks you heard it here first.
I have come from Akaba
From here we toured deeper into the dwellings till we came upon the howlers
from the night before who actually turned out to be really hospitable offering food
and drink to weary travelers in the manner of Bedouins. JJ and Tommy made
themselves very popular by joining in the spirit of the thing and having a ball like
everyone else…real regular guys except they could drive fast too. Autographs
signed we moved down the lot.
In Every Dream Home a Heartache
A strange phenomena observed but nevertheless widespread in Green Park was
the presence of mannequins and blow up dolls at many of the tents and RVs ….
maybe Sebring offers a chance to have a date with the girlfriend without too much
notice being taken, certainly it was more prevalent than is healthy.
Also at the extreme end of the scale was an RV dedicated to Frank Zappa and his
early seventies classic album "Live at the Filmore East" (remember albums?).
The focus was on a little ditty called "Mudshark" which is an everyday tale of
rockers, groupies, drugs, drink and of course mud sharks fished out of the creek
at the Edgewater Inn, Seattle. Why you ask? Who knows or cares? Gimme
Close but no Cigar
Other weird sights were men dressed up in cow suits with plastic udders,
looking for all the world like the Laughing Cow Cheese packet. Also a life size cut
out of Hilary Clinton with cigars inserted in inappropriate places. Saddest were
the signs offering wet T-shirt competitions, show us your tits requests, etc., surely
no takers except in their little minds.
Refreshments were served
As we wondered around, the boys signing programmes, T-shirts or walls and we
two snapping away I was struck by just how friendly everyone was. We were
greeted as royalty wherever we went, mind you that may have a lot to do with the
two blondes we had with us. Sure it was still light and the drink (or other
recreational diversions) had not yet taken hold but the girls (and boys) just
wanted to have fun.
Naturally among a six figure crowd there were some who were not so good
natured, in particular a bunch of deviant assholes near the hairpin who put a dent
in the roof of my car when I would not stop and listen to their dribble or "pay duh
tax". I hoped that the car behind was driven by a 340-pound ex-third string tackle
from the Alabama State University still bitter about not making the first team. Mind
you what can you expect from the sort of chaps who wear ski goggles, ice hockey
goalie masks and sport some sort of suede codpieces and have a baby doll
nailed to the hood of their car? These mutts needed putting to sleep.
There were many similarities between the Sebring and Le Mans crowds….most
seemed to be real race fans who liked to party hard…also the heat and dust that
pervaded the atmosphere would have been familiar to any visitors to La Sarthe in
June. Another common feature of the two classics is the state of the survivors in
the spectator areas when dawn breaks after a night on the liquor. The 1000 yard
stare, the can of beer for breakfast and the horrendous hangover made much
worse by the howling din from track as the loonies in the race pound on
remorselessly are commonplace. The Sebring crowd looked a shade worse than
the other mob at La Sarthe, Altamont compared with Woodstock.
Raw Meat against Steak Frites.