Hurley Haywood first drove at Sebring in I 971, sharing a Porsche 914/6 with the late Peter Gregg, and has failed to start only once since then, in 1990 when he was contracted to Audi for the TransAm Championship.
This was his 20th start, and his views on the 40 year-old event are generally complimentary. “I remember when you used to take the two long aircraft runways absolutely flat-out at night,” he says. “It was over 200 mph in a Porsche 935 and there were no reference points at all, while aircraft were landing right alongside you. it was a thrill a minute, I can tell you.
“One year it rained, really rained, torrential, and I got lost. I couldn’t see the race track any more, the whole place was like a pond. It’s not like that any more. It’s quite a safe track actually, though I’m not very happy with the safety of any track we race on in the States.
“They never lost the flavour of the place, I tell you. . . they still don’t have decent bathrooms! The bumps are easier, but the ground-effect cars we race today are so sensitive to every ripple in the road that it will always be a problem. They’ve made every effort to smooth out the bumps and make the place safe. The bumps are a problem everybody has to deal with, and if you have smart engineers you can get around it.”
Those bumps are in every conversation that concerns Sebring, and have been since the early days when transmissions were broken almost routinely. It has never been a good track for Jaguar, though the D-type won in 1955, and the modern V12 cars tend to be too stiffly sprung, and too sensitive in the transmission department, to be regarded as bomb-proof. This year, though, it was an errant rear wheel which put Jones and Brabham back by eight laps.
For all the criticisms, all who have been to Sebring talk about the place with affection. Everyone, it seems, has good and bad memories of the place. As Haywood says: “There’s a lot of negative things, but they’re outweighed by the positive things. For me, it’s always a treat to come back to Sebring.”