1956 Sebring 12 Hours Grand Prix – Race Profile Page Six
Race day, March 24, 1956, dawned clear with predictions that it would be a warm one. Already spectator cars were lined up at the front entrance gate with early arrivals hoping to avoid the traffic jam that was to come in an hour or two. Many hoped to get inside the track and set up in a good viewing spot before the 10 a.m. start.
Because the wind was very light that morning a noticeable pall of wood smoke from spectator campfires hung over the track. Added to the smell of smoke was the sweet smell of orange blossoms from the hundreds of acres of orange trees surrounding the track. Into that mix of smells on race day spectators driving to the track would have their nostrils assailed with the smell of animals coming from a rodeo set up at the air terminal. The rodeo was sponsored by Highlands County’s Bronze Saddle Club. They hoped to siphon off a few dollars from spectators who might become bored with watching cars go round and round for twelve hours.
Many of the best viewing spots in the spectator enclosure were already taken that Saturday morning by early arrivals and viewing scaffolds were beginning to make their appearance more and more each year. Some would get to ridiculously high levels in the years to come.
It was not uncommon for some hardy spectators to risk life and limb by climbing atop the roofs of the many warehouses around the course to get better viewing positions. From its early beginnings Sebring had a very casual approach to spectator safety and behavior. It became part of the charm and legend of Sebring and stories abounded for years about drunken fans falling off scaffolding, roofs and fences.
Sebring in ’56 had seen little precipitation during the month of March and the grass in the spectator enclosure was tinder dry. All it would take was an errant cigarette or untended campfire and a brushfire could sweep the area, which it did in the early going of the race.
In the remote areas of the track the grass along the unlighted back airport straight was so high that a small car, like a DB or MG-A, could go off course during the night time hours and not be found in the high grass until daylight. Even going off course in daylight held unforeseen dangers in that tall grass. The drivers referred to those dangers as “land mines.” No, not explosives but hidden in that tall grass were the concrete foundation remnants from the old World War II barracks used to house pilots and crew training to fly B-17 bombers. Hitting one of those hidden concrete pillars could ruin your day.