The Perfect Gift
When the November calendar page flutters to the floor I naturally think of, well, Sebring. Then Christmas. December is not only where the Yule and the first day of winter live but the very calendar page where the anniversary of the first Grand Prix of the United States resides. After the recent revelries in Austin, such memories are easy to retrieve because that first USGP was at Sebring.
Look at the grid of the recent USGP and two names slide easily into the same synapse as the 1959 F1 World Championship decider at Sebring on Dec. 12, 1959 – Ferrari and Lotus. Both are still on the grid, 53 years later. And that ancient field of honor, 53 years ago, was Sebring.
There was no other option. Sebring impresario Alec Ulmann was beloved by the international motorsport community, so Florida got the date. Like 2012, the ’59 F1 title fight went to the final round. And a McLaren won both; Bruce McLaren won the 1959 USGP at Sebring and Jenson Button’s McLaren won the Brazilian GP. It’s yet more historic symmetry, if one cares for such froth. (And I do.)
This was so long ago that the pair of Lotuses that took the green flag for the first World Championship F1 race in America had their engines in front of the drivers, just like the Ferraris of the day.
All this is part of my Christmas memories because that was the year that I got my first Scalextric set with) a pair of front engine Lotus 16 F1 racers.(Honest.) As a bonus, Mom threw in a pair of sports cars: an Aston Martin DBR1 (it had just won Le Mans, after all) and a Costin Lister/Jaguar.
I couldn’t afford enough Scalextric track to make a proper Sebring course on the floor of my bedroom. But I kept adding stuff piece by piece. Most of it’s gone, but the original set survives, in the box. (Merry Christmas, indeed.) So Christmas and Sebring are forever linked (along with Lotus, Aston Martin and Lister) in my tiny mind.
Down here the Yule is the end of the old year and Sebring is the beginning of the new. The whole idea of starting over is appealing. Next March is the 60th anniversary of the first World Sports Car Championship (at Sebring, of course) race on March 8, 1953: a date I remember. Sort of.
The last summer of freedom before I entered grammar school and began the slogging 12-year death march through our appalling public school system where I learned nothing more important than to keep my head down, never volunteer and make sure no one caught me reading Henry Manney’s race reports in Road & Track magazine during study hall. This was the year John Fitch and Phil Walters won the first World Sports Car Championship race on Sebring’s unforgiving runways. It was an American victory in every sense. I’m still proud of that. (Scalextric is an English company, so no Cunningham C-4R slot cars to honor the first car to win a World Sports Car Championship race!)
Sebring is still a magical name, and because of Christmas 1959 the Yule always brings it closer. So tantalizingly near; in the same time zone and, with blood relatives living in Florida, Sebring somehow seemed potentially accessible. It took me another 21 years to get there, but I finally made it. Since the mid-80s I haven’t missed the 12 Hours. It’s my celebration of the New Year (and of the delightfully obscure St Urho’s Day that always falls the day before St Patrick’s Day).
This March 16th will be bittersweet. The FIA has chosen to exclude the 12 Hours from the 2013 World Endurance Championship calendar. That honor – in America -- will go to the Circuit of the Americas. So much for my nostalgia-fueled glee last year when the first round of the new and improved WEC was the 60th 12 Hours of Sebring.
So here’s my Christmas wish list. (As usual, I‘ll be getting none of it.)
1) A 12-hour round of the World Endurance Championship at Sebring (In March, thank you.)
2) A 24-hour round of the World Endurance Championship at Daytona (in 2014). Or…
3) A six -our round of the World Endurance Championship at Watkins Glen.
4) It’s probably too much to wish for a 10-hour round of the World Endurance Championship at Road Atlanta. (In October, on the traditional USGP weekend, please.)
5) The recently discontinued Scalextric “Full Throttle” slot car set with the Gulf-liveried Lola-Aston Martin and the 908 Peugeot HDI FAP, plus a lap counter and timer unit that counts down the numbers of laps and a timer that records fastest lap for each lane to the nearest tenth of a second and a raised bridge section and two crossovers! It’s never too late to have a happy childhood. (I prove that every race day morning at Sebring.)
Oh! And enough track to make a decent Sebring layout - the old 5.2-mile Sebring circuit that Bruce McLaren won on in ’59 … the year David Brabham’s dad won the first of his three World Championships by pushing his Cooper home fourth in that first US Grand Prix!
Only 82 dark days to Sebring from Christmas Eve.