SEBRING — “It’s coming,” a race volunteer uttered moments before the main gate opened at 6 a.m. Wednesday to spectators who were ready to set up camp for the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring presented by Fresh from Florida.
“Welcome to Sebring; ready for another year?” were some of the greetings to the race fans who packed their motor homes, travel trailers, pickups, cars and SUVs for four days at Sebring International Raceway culminating with the 65th running of the 12 Hours of Sebring on Saturday.
In the darkness before sunrise, fans returned to their favorite spot, with some using flashlights, to set up their tents to settle in for the action, which started about a half-hour after sunrise at 8 a.m. with Support Series testing.
Pete Hallgren staked out an area in the vicinity of the Hairpin Turn between the Chateau Elan Hotel and the Party Zone.
“Since I am the out of towner I am the one who is delegated to get here at 6 a.m. and come in and grab the spot” he said.
Hallgren likes the relative quiet in that area noting that the more “enthusiastic fans” are across the walkover bridge in Green Park.
“This is a pretty tame area with nice people,” he said. “It seems the same people try to get the same spots every year,” he noted, pointing out neighboring campers he has seen before.
Hallgren started coming to the races after his parents bought a house in Sebring in 1980.
He drives about 4,000 miles one way in his SUV to see the race and also spend about two months in the area.
Hallgren is mayor of Delta Junction, Alaska, a small town in the central part of the state, which boasts being “The end of the Alaska Highway.”
During his telephone call Tuesday night to participate in a Delta Junction Council workshop, Hallgren was informed it was 18 degrees below zero back home.
What about the forecast of a 40-degree low for Thursday morning in Sebring?
“We’ve got the gear,” Hallgren said with a laugh.
It appeared to be a smooth opening with plenty of volunteers working in various capacities at the raceway.
Hallgren noted that in some past years it had been a “festival” getting in on Wednesday mornings.
A few yards away, Sebring residents Junior Mayers and his wife, Gloria, and their two grandsons, prepared their race vantage point in less than an hour.
“We come here every year,” Mayers said. “It’s peaceful and closer to the Hairpin.”
What are the essentials for race?
“Your camper, chairs and beer,” Mayers said. “We bring everything we need — barbecue ribs, chicken, collard greens and rice. We have the whole works right here.”
Originally from Barbados, Mayers has been in Sebring since 1979 and has been going to the races for about 30 years.