SEBRING, Fla. — This year’s Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts being moved to the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship season finale on Nov. 11-14 is a rare occurrence, but it isn’t the first time the race experienced a schedule change.
In 1974, the United States had a fuel crisis that forced the world of motorsports to react.
Just over a month before the initially scheduled Twelve Hours of Sebring that year, the race now known as the Rolex 24 At Daytona was canceled altogether, and IMSA along with Sebring track officials were forced to make adjustments to the prestigious sports car event.
Originally, IMSA was planning to change the race distance from 12 hours to 1,200 kilometers and sent out entry forms to competitors informing them of the length change.
Then there was even talk of rescheduling the race to October or moving the 12-hour event to Daytona to make up for its lost 24-hour race.
On February 19, then-IMSA president John Bishop canceled the event, fearing that incoming fans would use up what little allocation of fuel was available in Highlands County area – or anywhere else the race would run for that matter.
The cancellation of the event resulted in the usual Green Park infield crowd’s disappointment that there would be no endurance racing on the airfield-based raceway that year.
But that doesn’t mean some didn’t still show up.
Dave Westphal, a die-hard Sebring race fan that was traveling to the famed raceway to see the race, had no idea it had been canceled.
"We didn’t even know. We showed up, and nothing’s going on," said Westphal, who has gone to every Twelve Hours of Sebring since he was nine years old in 1969. "They asked me, ‘Don’t you read the newspaper?’ I thought, ‘I’m 13 years old. Of course I don’t read the newspaper.’"
Despite there being the absence of loud engines roaring through the then temporary circuit, Westphal and what was estimated to be anywhere from several hundred to 3,000 other race fans still gathered in Green Park and did what they always did.
"People set up their tents, stayed there and did everything we would’ve done except for watching cars," said Westphal, who was elected as Sebring’s Fan of the Year in 2019. "The true fans that said, ‘Screw it, we’re going.’"
One month later, the race scheduled for Road Atlanta went ahead as expected. In honor of the canceled crown jewel of the Twelve Hours of Sebring, the promoters of the track decided to name the event, "Sebring at Road Atlanta."
Thankfully, fans this year won’t have to party at the track without a race. They’ll only have to wait until November 11-14, where the tradition – both on and off the track – will continue.