By Jeff Olson
Two years ago, during an IndyCar test session at Sebring International Raceway, Marcus Ericsson was introduced to a pair of sneakers tied together by their laces, dangling from an electrical line over the track.
A newcomer to Sebring and its oddities, Ericsson had passed under the shoes multiple times that day without noticing. When he saw them, he laughed. He wasn‘t a Sebring newbie anymore. He was a Formula One veteran with a newfound appreciation of America‘s weirdest racetrack.
Welcome to Sebring, where weird is good, and weird hopefully remains.
When those who have experience with Sebring‘s oddities return later this month for the 69th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts, weird will be measured by the track‘s notorious bumps, which seem to multiply by the hour and move as they see cars coming.
It‘s been said that smart drivers quickly learn to clench their jaw at Sebring, lest they bite their tongue. It is that rough.
The bumps, though, aren‘t all that make Sebring unique. History plays into it, as well. A former airfield on which B-17 pilots trained during World War II, Sebring‘s 17-turn, 3.74-mile circuit has been conquered by some of the greatest racers: Mario Andretti, A.J. Foyt, Stirling Moss, Dan Gurney and Phil Hill, to name but a few.
If you can win here — if you can vanquish these bumps that seem to migrate with each lap — you can win anywhere. That‘s why almost every racer who cinches the belts will argue in favor of the bumps. No matter how much back pain they‘ve endured, drivers are together in this sentiment: Do not pave this inexact jewel. Let Sebring be Sebring. Let Sebring be weird.
“I don‘t think you‘ll hear anybody in my generation want to change it,” said Ryan Dalziel, who will compete in his seventh Twelve Hours of Sebring when the green flag waves March 20. “To me, Sebring is way more than the track. … The track alone is phenomenal. Some of my favorite experiences racing in North America in the CART days were running on the airports. Sebring is the last piece of airport racing history we have in this country. Let‘s hope they never change it, and I don‘t think they will change it. It‘s what makes it what it is and how great it is.”
After Ericsson looked at the lonely shoes on the power line and heard stories of other fan-fueled infield hijinks from races gone by, he smiled with approval. Sebring was perfect. Imperfectly perfect.
“This track is fun to drive,” he said after his December 2018 test. “It has a lot of character. All the curbs are different. It‘s bumpy, and the bumps affect the car differently in each corner. In F1, every track is extremely smooth. All the curbs are the same everywhere. They try to make all the tracks the same, literally. This place is unique. Every piece of it is unique.”