As winter sets in across most of the nation, a few areas remain warm and bright, even as snow begins to fall up north. Perhaps one of the motorsports world’s favorite destinations during colder months is sunny Florida, which is home to one of the most storied tracks in the world: Sebring International Raceway.

Sebring will play host to the 2017 NASA Eastern States Championships. This is a bucket list track steeped in history dating back to 1950.

Familiar names of those who have raced at Sebring include Steve McQueen, James Brolin, Paul Newman and Gene Hackman. Even Walter Cronkite competed at Sebring once. The list of winners at Sebring is even more impressive, with names like Mario Andretti, Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, A.J. Foyt and Bobby Rahal.

For nearly 70 years, Sebring International Raceway has been the site of some of the best racing on the planet, and the 2017 Eastern States Championships will give NASA racers a way to add their names to the record books. Will you be there?

The track at Sebring got its start borrowing swaths of runway from an airport, and that heritage can still be seen today in the active runways just a few yards from the racing surface. The first race at Sebring in 1950 was the brainchild of aeronautical engineer Alec Ulmann, a sports car fan who felt the runways of the former Army Air Force training base for B-17 bomber pilots could work for auto racing. That event, the Sam Collier 6-Hour Memorial race held December 31, was the first sports car endurance race staged in the United States.

In 1952, Ulmann got the bright idea to put on longer, European-style endurance races, and a legendary series of events got underway. The 12 Hours of Sebring has been a “must-run” event since its inception and has seen some of the best road-course competition in the nation, including epic battles between Porsche and Ferrari that carried on when the marques returned to the European continent to contest the 24 Hours of Le Mans. Today the 12 Hours of Sebring is still a major event on the professional motorsports calendar and the infield parties in Green Park during the event are the stuff of legend.

Getting There
Sebring is pretty much smack in the middle of southern central Florida, so getting there by air requires flying into one of the larger cities on either side of the state, the most convenient major airports being Tampa and Orlando. Sebring is roughly two hours from either one, with much of the journey on two-lane state highways, so make sure to budget plenty of time to get to and from the airport if you are flying in. Orlando can be a little painful because of all the Disney traffic, so Tampa might be a better choice, even though it’s a few miles farther away.

Staying There
Although there are serviceable chain hotels in the town of Sebring, the best way to go is to book a room at the Chateau Élan, which is located on the grounds of the airport. The rooms are nice and you are literally walking distance from the racing surface, which always cuts down the stress level on a race weekend. If you like to get away from the track, downtown Sebring is charming, and there are some nice smaller independent motels about 15 minutes away down Kenilworth Boulevard.

The historic hotel in downtown Sebring, the Kenilworth Lodge, is now closed, so you’ll have to find accommodations elsewhere. Try The Inn on the Lakes or the Residence Inn on Little Lake Jackson if you like staying on the water.

Eating There
The restaurant and bar at the Chateau Élan are nice, but you would be missing out if you did not sample a little local Florida cuisine and culture at Cowpoke’s Watering Hole in town on U.S. 27. Cowpoke’s does add a fair amount of garlic to its entrees so make sure to bring everyone who will be in your hotel room with you, so as not to offend. You certainly won’t have to worry about vampires, but you might be stinky for a bit. You also can try such regional delicacies as alligator and frog legs if you are brave.

North of Cowpoke’s and right on Lake Jackson, the Sunset Grille has a deck overlooking the water, with century-old oaks draped with hanging moss to provide shade and atmosphere. Sunset Grille serves seafood, barbecue and American cuisine. If you decide to stay at Inn on the Lakes, Chicanes restaurant is right in the lobby. Chicanes features fresh Florida seafood and traditional American fare such as steaks, chicken and pastas.

For breakfast, locals all will point you toward Sandy’s Circle Café. Located on Circle Park Drive in downtown Sebring, Sandy’s has some of the finest biscuits and gravy and corned beef hash you’ll find anywhere.

Driving There
Sebring’s airstrip origins show through on the southern portions of the track surface. The surface itself is asphalt and concrete, with some rough patches where the old concrete blocks have been sealed together, but still are slightly pitched from the ravages of time, weather and horsepower. Make sure you can soften your dampers if needed, and I would strongly recommend a thorough “nutting and bolting” prior to arrival and after every few sessions so nothing falls off the car. It is a bumpy track, which some racers view as part of its charm.
With that said, the track is a hoot to drive with hairpins, sweepers, and some big speeds down the back straight into the nearly impossible-to-master Turn 17. Turn 1 is also a hang-onto-your shorts adventure because the entry is a bit blind and perspective is tough to attain for your first few laps. Check out the “One Lap Around” feature on Page XX for some good instruction.
You can really feel some ghosts riding shotgun as you blast along the storied raceway, dreaming of chasing down Steve McQueen or Mario Andretti during the glory days of the 1960s.
As for local services, the town of Sebring does have auto parts stores and some OEM dealers a short drive away. There are also some outfits over at the airport that can weld whatever fell off back on, and tire service is usually available at all NASA events.
So, as the birds and racecar haulers head south for the winter, so should you for the 2017 Eastern States Championships. Give Sebring a try and remember to watch out for the gators if you get too far off course.

Local Knowledge

Sebring Raceway
113 Midway Drive
Sebring, FL 33870

Chateau Elan
150 Midway Drive
Sebring, FL 33870

The Inn on the Lakes
3101 Golfview Road
Sebring, FL 33870

Residence Inn Sebring
3221 Tubbs Road
Sebring, FL 33870

Cowpoke’s Watering Hole
6813 U.S. Hwy. 27
Sebring, FL 33876

Sunset Grille
2650 U.S. Hwy. 27 South
Sebring, FL 33870

3101 Golfview Road
Sebring, FL 33870

Sandy’s Circle Café
213 Circle Park Dr.
Sebring, FL 33870

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