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A First Timer’s Guide to the 12 Hours of Sebring

By  March 4, 2016
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With March arriving this week, the Rolex 24 is now behind us and we’re looking forward to the 12 Hours of Sebring. This seemed like a great opportunity for me to offer some advice for those wanting to photograph there and at similar events. When I first attended Sebring last year, I searched online for tips on what to bring to the track and how to go about watching the race in the best, most enjoyable way. My results were a bit hit and miss at the time, so I managed as well as I could from what I’d found. But this year, I decided to write a sort of unofficial guide for others seeking to attend the race.

In this case specifically, I’ll be talking about attending and photographing the 12 Hours of Sebring, and some of this could also apply to other endurance races as well as regular race weekends for road racing. It won’t exclusively center around photography, but can assist those just going to enjoy a race weekend while trying not to kill the family’s budget.

Keeping Cool

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The best way to attend an endurance race like the 12 Hours of Sebring is to stay at the track all night. Aside from a backseat on which to sleep, what else might you need? Well, in the case of Sebring, it seems to be hot for much of the year. Even arriving from Tampa back in November of last year, for the Super Trofeo World Final, it was noticeably warmer. I had dressed for a cool day leaving the house that day, but it was anything but cool when I arrived. Dress and pack to be comfortable with light weight fabrics that breathe. The amount of clothing you’ll need will depend on how long you’ll stay. Some arrive as early as the Wednesday before the race weekend and camp out in a tent, their car, or an RV.

Provisions

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Be sure to bring lots of bottled water. My wife and I went through almost a case in just three days last year. A cooler is a good idea as well, for cold food. Even if it’s food that doesn’t have to be kept cold, which is another good idea, it can be refreshing to drink cool water and eat cold food. We brought things like bagged tuna with bread, that didn’t require refrigeration, and things like mixed nuts and potato chips for snacks. This might be easier told as a quick list:

  • Water
  • Cool clothing
  • Sunscreen (SPF 30-SPF 50)
  • Hat
  • Tent
  • Rain gear
  • Shop towels
  • Bath towels
  • Baby wipes
  • Dry shampoo (or regular liquid)
  • Toothbrush and toothpaste
  • Sleeping bags or a mattress pad
  • Blanket
  • Sheets
  • Pillows
  • Non-perishable food
  • Cash, because you’re still going to want a fried something-or-other to eat or possibly a program
  • Snacks
  • Cooler
  • Drinks
  • Power inverter
  • Camera and lenses
  • Extra memory cards
  • Extra camera batteries (charged)
  • Camera battery charger
  • Laptop with enough available memory to offload images onto if and when you fill all memory cards.
  • DVD or BluRays
  • Full vehicle fuel tank of gasoline

Keeping clean can be a little tricky if you can’t afford a hotel room and aren’t bringing an RV with a shower. They do offer a shower at Sebring, but since we didn’t know about that ahead of time, we brought dry shampoo. It turned out to not be the worst idea, because the lines for the showers were long. We made do with baby wipes, bottled water, and dry shampoo. A little gross, but if you’re without air conditioning most of the time, you’re going to be sweating so much that you won’t stay clean for long anyway. Another thing to bring would be sun screen; something between SPF 30 and SPF 50.

SebringGuide_03If you take a Chrysler Town & Country to Sebring, does that make it a Chrysler Sebring?

If you don’t own a van or a large SUV and you’re planning on staying at the track for more than one or two days, you may want to consider renting one. We rented a Chrysler Town & Country last year and the Stow n’ Go® seating was extremely helpful in fitting a borrowed tent, the cooler, towels, water, clothing, and camera equipment. Just having a vehicle that is easily accessible inside the grounds of the track can be invaluable with how hot it can get out there. Having air conditioning available, just to be able to sit in the van for an hour or two at a time and chill, can be very restful. Plus you’ll likely sleep better inside with the windows cracked, letting in some air, but keeping out more of the noise than you would in a tent.

24 Hour Parties Before The 12 Hour Race

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Sebring International Raceway is a 24 hour party on race week, especially as race day approaches. There are friendly people everywhere eating, drinking, dancing, partying, drinking, rocking out, cooking (and did I mention drinking?) at all hours of the day and night. Kids in lifted Jeeps will likely be roving the track grounds, enjoying their music. You can either embrace the party and take part or jump into the rental and catch some shut eye.

Just about every day, you’ll likely be woken in the morning by the sound of racecars at full throttle, which is actually quite comforting. After a few days of hearing them all day, you start to hear it in your mind whenever there’s silence.

Viewing Mounds

SebringGuide_04Shot with a Nikon D90 at 1/125 f/5.6 with a 100mm focal length. Captured from a viewing mound. In remembrance of the Brumos Porsches.

There are viewing mounds all around the track which can provide a good vantage point for shooting photos, such as the one above.

Camera Gear

If you’re going to Sebring to shoot photos, I recommend that you pick up a digital SLR (single lens reflex) camera with manual controls. I use Nikon, but Canon will work just as well. Some folks are even using Sony mirrorless these days with great results. And don’t think that you have to have a full frame camera body to capture the action. I shot the race weekend with a Nikon D90 last year. Getting good reach with the lenses you choose to bring, getting correct exposure, and maintaining focus are much more important. A circular polarizer can be of help as well in getting interesting shots of drivers behind the wheel as well as other creative possibilities. If you’re limited in zoom lens options, consider renting a lens for a couple of days. It costs a fraction of the price to rent a lens rather than own, and it’s very affordable, costing in the neighborhood of $100 or less for a few days. This was how I was able to use a 150-500mm Sigma at the Rolex24 this year. 300mm might be the minimum zoom lens I’d suggest if you’re wanting something that can get some detailed shots of the race.

Car Spotting in the Corrals

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Sebring offers terrific access to view rare street cars and race cars. You really should take a look at what’s out there, while you’re there. You never know what’s going to pop up. You don’t get this kind of access at a NASCAR event.

Camping Is Better With Racecars

SebringGuide_07My lovely wife and I never realized that we could like camping. The one thing we’d been missing? Racecars.

These images are all from the 2015 race. Maybe we’ll see you out there real soon, for the 2016 12 Hours of Sebring. Until then, cheers!

Text by Bryce Womeldurf. Photography by Bryce and Nina Womeldurf.
Copyright 2016 HOONART/Bryce Womeldurf