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DATE News (chronologically)
03/24/11
alms
Reader not happy with Sebring's focus
Dear AutoRacing1.com, I would like to thank all of the Sebring staff for their hard work. It is greatly appreciated.

Sebring is a track steeped in history and fan loyalty. For my family, it started in 1970, when my father was recently stationed at McCoy AFB in Orlando. He was able to bring my two older brothers down to witness Steve McQueen and Mario Andretti. Many years later I myself was old enough to make the annual trip to see Hurley Haywood in 1980. This track and the racing was an experience that led to a bond between father and brothers. We reached out in our adulthood to see races around the world, but it has always been this track and race that has been special.

Last year my 76 year old father rejoined us, one last time, to celebrate the 40th anniversary of taking his sons to their first race. This is a memory we will all cherish.

I hope you have read this email so far and will indulge me a little more.

In my opinion, the magic that road racing brings over other forms of auto sport, is partly the ability to walk the track and comradery and friendliness of the fans. Seeing the drivers and their machines duel with each other and the track. The passes or the mistakes. The uncanny ability to turn to a total stranger and talk about the action happening right in front of your eyes. These are the things that create race fans. People who will gladly scrape together the time and money to support a series.

Sebring International Raceway has done some amazing changes and updates over the past dozen years. Replacing the dilapidated pits, adding bath facilities, and taming the wild crowds of "The Zoo" to a PG13/R vs. the X rating there used to be. For that I thank you as a race fan.

My group, 4 companions, and 8 of our "neighbor" of 12 years, have been camping in the same spot. We always come down on Tuesday before the race. We cook out and catch up in the overflow (which by the way was awesome in the other field this year), and talk cars. We get up early on Wednesdays and get ready to hit the gates. We rush in and make sure we help set each others campsites up. One of the things we started 10 years back was to set up tarps over the fence, with "Free Shade" signs. You can not imagine how many people we've met yearly who come under the tarps to get out of the sun, lean on the fence and look at our computers or T.V. to catch up on the action. I always knew there would be a day that that spot would not be available and I thought I understand why. Imagine my shock when I discovered a parking lot.

On Wednesday afternoon we always do our first walk through the paddock. It's a great day to do it since there are so few people there. The teams have always been genuine and accommodating to our picture taking or just gawking.

Thursday has night practice, and we always trek down to both sides of turn 7.

Fridays are for the support races and doing "the walk". We walk around the track looking for the same old campsites, seeing who's made it, and watching the races.

Saturdays are for two more walks and another paddock pre race stroll.

Now, if you've bothered to go this far, indulge me a little more.

Putting in a "Spring Break Zone" attracted a crowd who have little to no interest in this series. The people hanging out on Saturday to see the girls or listen to the music are not your fan base. The Car Corrals block off prime viewing and in my observations of a few years, attracts drive by observers. People who park their specific make with other owners, hang out for a few hours and leave (this is a generalization, but there is truth to it), these people are not repeat fans. I know they have money in their pockets and am a capitalist at heart, so good for you.

But, taking away the family campground, and now the stretch between turn 6 and the walkover (minus the 2 viewing areas) for parking lots, removing the turn 17 stands, blocking off turn 1 inside and out has taken away a good portion of the track from viewing.

Please double fence the track as it is from the walk over to turn 7 on the outside and turn 5 through 10 on the inside. This will allow true fans to walk by the Car Corrals as well as the R.V.'s who push their nose into the fence (in both paid and free parking) and see more then the 1/3rd of the track available now. Please don't push us the middle aged race fans into the Zoo because we don't buy a $400 spot. Some of us can't handle the night long music and drunken spats anymore, we're too old, and it hurts in the morning.

The group I go with and camp near are the demographic you want. We are a 100k+ income professionals. We go to more then one race a year (most to Petit Le Mans, the December historics have become a favorite, but other ALMS tracks in the series as well), we have families and children that have or are being introduced to the experience. We are not the trouble makers, the drunks, the middle aged guys escaping their wives and acting like fools. We honestly love racing and hope you can take some time to consider our request. Give us an area we can afford, without the insanity, and let us watch the race the way it should be.

Lastly, you have an employee who I will not name. We approached him on Wednesday morning. We were not happy about the new fence or the access to the track. He reacted a little poorly to our fervor. We were a little shocked, mostly because in the years of coming we had always been treated well, and we did not feel his reaction was appropriate or necessary.

The big reason I bring this up, is that he did come back and apologized to us. He genuinely cares about his job and it showed. We witnessed him as well as others working their tails off to make the track nice for the crowds. He also took the time to listen to our complaints and we know he didn't have to. It meant quite a bit to us that he came back and acted the professional that he is. If that employee sees this, I know he will know who I am. I would thank him and tell him if I return it will be because of his efforts and willingness to listen and take some ribbing from me and my group.

Thank you for your time, I understand if your organization does not invest in the facilities to give back the track to the fans. This however will undoubtedly influence if I will return for another race.

Dennis "Sean" O'Leary

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