News-Sun photo by KATARA SIMMONS Polk County resident, and part-time leprechaun, Josh Wright enjoys the first moments of the 61st annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Saturday morning. Wright's festive costume is one of many among Sebring Race Week fans who gather each year to celebrate fun, friends, cars and of course St. Patrick's Day during the annual event.
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published: Sunday, March 17, 2013
Fun, tradition keeps fans coming back
By SAMANTHA GHOLAR
SEBRING - "Our year revolves around Sebring. We don't have a normal calendar year. It's from Race Week to Race Week. You know how some people look forward to New Year's every year, well we look forward to this. Only instead of one night, it's three nights of partying," Donny Clotz said Saturday morning just minutes before the start of the 61st annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring.
One word that can be used to describe the 12 Hours of Sebring is traditional. For years, friends and family have gathered throughout the Sebring International Raceway to partake in debauchery, fun and fellowship.
Clotz, an Indian Rocks resident, has been coming to Sebring races since he was 16 years old.
"It was 1983," Clotz said. "My dad wouldn't take me until I was 16. I watched him walk down the Midway with a stuffed pheasant and a mask on. He was just waving at people and being weird ... That's when I learned way back then, it's all about being weird and having fun. The wackier the better."
Each year, the time honored event continues to draw seasoned Race veterans, and newbies, to the beloved Raceway to carry out old traditions as well as try out a few new ones.
For first-time Race attendee Dallas Gunning, 17, of St. Petersburg, the tradition of going to the races on the cusp of adulthood is something his father and his friends have always done.
Gunning is an honorary member of the Pit Crew, an infamous fan team that posts up each year with roots going back to their first race in the late '70s.
Gunning's parents allowed the young man to make this year his first race experience under the watchful eye of them as well as a family friend.
The Pit Crew's camp gained lots of attention due to its many weird attractions: an abandoned, crashed alien space shuttle, headless plastic dolls, a mini golf course with no golf ball, a duck ride, crazy party bus and lots of bubbles.
Another first-timer, Jacksonville resident Robert Denker, is hooked only after a few short days at the Raceway.
"This place is awesome. I will not be missing a year from now on," Denker said.
The Pit Crew is composed of close to 20 race fans who were honest about their feelings about the races themselves.
"We watch the first few minutes or so of the Race, then we just hang out and party," Clotz said.
The more seasoned attendees have noticed a decline in the amount of craziness that takes place at the track.
"I haven't even been coming here as long some people. only since '99. It's gotten a lot more tame, a lot more calm I guess you would say, but it is still a blast," Dan Coryns said.
Pit Crew won a $150 prize on Friday for the Sebring Cruiser Contest.The money will be donated to an Alzheimer's association group in honor of a former member's mother suffers from the disease.
Other teams such as Team Mimosa are all seasoned Race fans. Dating back to 1971, the attendees have continued their tradition of the Racing Flamingos that can be seen near Turn 7 of the track. The cheerful bunch composed of Tallahassee, Marianna, Merritt Island and Polk County residents continue to spread the love, and the champagne, each year.
"I've been coming consecutively since 2000. But my first year out here was back in 1971," group member Mike Thompson said.
Polk County's Team Jenkem are a young crew, only becoming a part of the races eight years ago, but festive nonetheless.
Dressed head to toe and in authentic leprechaun gear, Josh Wright was getting his day kicked off early taking photos of the pre-race rides along the Hairpin Turn.
"I've got some gold coins to hand out later on," Wright said with a smile.
Wright's buddy, Allen Friedlander, was right along side of him offering his opinion of the races.
"It's fun. We don't really watch all of the Race, we kind of come and go, but we drink and hang out and have a good time," Friedlander said.
The 61st annual 12 Hours of Sebring wrapped up Saturday night following the celebration of victory by an outstanding race team. Look for race results online and in Wednesday's edition of the News-Sun.
Sebring (by: Kent Steele - 3/20/2013)
Let's hope the NASCAR backed new sportscar racing group can give Sebring a makeover. The place looks terrible, especially on the television broadcast when compared to the recently developed Circuit of the Americas in Austin, Texas. Face it, racing at Sebring has become rather boring over the past 10 to 15 years. I for one am ready for something new. Saturday's race was a yawner and watching obnoxious drunks has never been amusing to me.
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