Sebring is justly famous for its International Raceway, a legendary 3.7-mile circuit created from portions of Hendricks Field – previously a training center for pilots during World War II.
The first auto race was run there in 1950. Since then, some of the greatest cars and drivers in motor racing history have tested, trained and competed on its challenging surface. Men like Mario Andretti, A.J Foyt, Phil Hill, Juan Manuel Fangio and Dan Gurney have all won at Sebring, driving cars by leading manufacturers like Ferrari, Porsche, Jaguar, Maserati, Ford, Nissan and Toyota.
2012 is the 60th anniversary of the premier 12-Hour Race, held every March. Today it is known as the Mobil I Twelve Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida. The race is a part of the prestigious Federation Internationale de l’Automobile World Endurance Championship.
The first 12-hour race, promoted by Alec Ulmann, was held in 1952. It became a part of the sports car world championship in 1953.
In 1959, Sebring International Raceway hosted America’s first Formula One Race, further adding to its stature. Recently, Sebring became the winter home for Indy Car racing. It is also the most active test facility in North America, partly because of its excellent reputation. Sebring has become an important venue to test cars and promote automotive products.
Legendary battles between drivers and automobiles have occurred over the years, drawing crowds of 150,000 people from all over the world. The track is an example of living history, with each decade bringing change from production cars to exotic international machinery. A new generation of drivers, including Bobby Rahal, Geoff Brabham and Tom Kristensen, rose to prominence with victories at Sebring. Celebrities like Paul Newman, Gene Hackman, James Brolin, Dick Smothers and Water Cronkite have driven the track, so have NASCAR legends Fireball Roberts, Bobby Allison, Terry Labonte, Bill Elliot, Ken Schrader and Ricky Rudd.
There are many events during the year, for example, the Legends of Motorsports event the first weekend of December features vintage and historic racecars. Other vintage events are held in October and the two weeks before the 12-hour classic in March. The track is busy more than 300 days of the year with club events, private testing, racing schools, corporate events, product introductions and other activities.
In 1999, Sebring International Raceway was bought by Don Panoz, owner of the Panoz Motor Sports Organization. Under his leadership the raceway completed an ambitious expansion program unrivaled by any other road racing facility in North America.
The raceway is an integral part of Sebring, with close ties to the community. Thousands of local residents support the major 12-hour race by volunteering their labor – from parking cars to providing stand-by doctors.
The entire Panoz organization is committed to continuing the Sebring tradition and play an important role in the county and city of Sebring’s future development.
True to its historical background, the raceway created the Gallery of Legends, which is operated by the Hall of Fame committee. It is available for rent to organizations and individuals. The Chateau Elan Hotel, an independently operated 122-room hotel, is situated right by the track with rooms overlooking the infamous Hairpin Turn. The hotel has meeting facilities and a cosmopolitan restaurant.
Any trip to Sebring must include a visit to this world-class motorsports complex.