12 Hours of Sebring 1965

12 Hours of Sebring 1965 by David Friedman and Harry Hurst

by David Friedman & Harry Hurst

Treat yourself for a few moments, courtesy of Mr. Friedman’s photographs and text as well as those of Mr. Hurst, to a weekend of racing at Sebring Florida, in March 1965. One weekend, one race, never to be forgotten.

Legendary race car manufacturers abounded: Lotus, Ferrari, Ford (GT and Cobra), Porsche, Corvette, Iso Grifo, Jaguar, Alfa Romeo, Lola, Renault, and MG. Also represented, for the first time in a long distance race, was a relatively new class of race cars called, sports prototypes, fielded by Ferrari, Iso Grifo and Chaparral. These were open cockpit cars of unlimited displacement. They were deemed “sprint” cars and they competed in the new series for the SCCA’s United States Road Racing Championship. They were faster than “endurance” cars but since they generally ran in races of comparatively shorter duration, the organizers didn’t feel that would be a threat to teams running for the prestigious World Manufacturers Championship.

12 Hours of Sebring 1965 by David Friedman and Harry Hurst

The Championship was exceptionally important to manufacturers because, unlike in F1 today, at that point this was the only series where the manufacturer won. Ferrari did not agree with the inclusion of these faster, lighter cars and withdrew their “Official” entry. Ferraris were all entered as privateers and many had factory support.

Drivers were an assemblage of the world’s racing nobility. Jim Hall, Bruce McLaren, Mark Donohue, Bob Bondurant, Peter Gregg, Briggs Cunningham, Pedro Rodriguez, Dan Gurney, Phil Hill, Richie Ginther, Ken Miles, Graham Hill, to name a few. Even the great 1965 F1 world champion Jim Clark was there. He raced a Lotus Cortina on the Friday, in a prelude to the main event. Roger Penske participated as the Chaparral team manager, his first stint in that role since retiring as a driver. The pit lane was filled with a who’s who of automotive engineers, designers, builders, tuners, fabricators.

12 Hours of Sebring 1965 by David Friedman and Harry Hurst

Add the elements of punishing heat and humidity, thunderstorms, severe flooding, cramped garage facilities, poor lighting, primitive tools, exhaustion, lack of dining facilities, inadequate sleeping accommodations, and you begin to get the notion that this really was your father’s racing. Always lurking in the background were the manufacturers, with their furtively tacit, trackside support; while the remaining “privateer” entrants had little to lose and much to gain.

The track was a 5.2 mile long circuit, formerly a WWII training airfield. It was mostly comprised of adjoining concrete slabs, where there could be as much as one-half inch height differential between each. As the authors point out, at 150 + MPH “it was like running over a 2x4 on the interstate”.  The heady mixture of a Le Mans start, extreme heat and humidity, high speeds, and wheel to wheel racing pushed the human limits of endurance. The abrupt changes in weather and track conditions reversed the order of advantage, giving lower horsepower, skinny wheeled cars superior traction and obliging all to redefine their racing strategies. This truly was “endurance racing” at its very best.

12 Hours of Sebring 1965 by David Friedman and Harry Hurst

Co-authors Friedman and Hurst have given us a documented, well photographed, chronology of the events that made up the 1965 12 Hours of Sebring. As great story tellers do, they know when to speak and when to let others speak, when to visually depict events and when to let the reader imagine them.

Where were you on March 26th and 27th 1965? If you missed it, you may not remember who won and that will double your pleasure of reading this book. Thanks to Dave Friedman and Harry Hurst, you can now go back and enjoy what many consider the most dramatic Sebring race ever run.

Jim Theriault
31 July 2012

Jim Theriault is an MMR Community Member who rides motorcycles and who, in an earlier career, sold Ferraris. He lives on Boston’s South Shore and was an avid race-goer in the period this book covers. He volunteered to review this book for you and we thank him.