Coming out of turn 12 is the Rodriguez brothers Ferrari about to overtake the Gregory/Casner/Moss Maserati as they head down the front straight. (Photo: FlaGator)
Coming out of turn 12 is the Rodriguez brothers Ferrari about to overtake the Gregory/Casner/Moss Maserati as they head down the front straight. (Photo: FlaGator)

1961 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile

1961 Sebring 12 Hours – Race Profile Page Two

While the talk in the automotive press might have been about the Germans verses the Italians among the rank and file entering the gates on race day the talk was about the six Corvettes that were entered in the race and maybe this year would be their year. While Porsche, Ferrari and Maserati were fielding factory teams the Corvette entries were all privateers without any factory support from General Motors (GM).

GM could not overtly help the Corvette entries because in June of 1957 they joined the other members of the Automobile Manufacturers Association in a gentleman’s agreement to discontinue any factory support for autoracing and motorsports. This agreement came about following the tragedy at the 1955 24 Hours of Le Mans where 83 spectators were killed and hundreds injured. However, there were some at GM who turned a blind eye when a lot of high performance goodies made their way out the factory back door and to some of the racers. Officially, however, factory support was forbidden.

The Corvettes were always welcome at Sebring because they helped raise the interest in the race, although they had never seriously threatened to take the victory away from the European entries. However, in the mind of Vette fans, this could be the year. Prior to 1961 the last time an American made car had won at Sebring was 1953 when a Cunningham built C4R took overall honors.

The Corvette C1 team in the pits during practice. The #4 car was driven by Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan and finished 11th overall and first in class. The 1P car was used only for practice. The #1 car was driven by Don Yenko and Ben Moore and finished 32nd overall. The #2 car blew an engine and failed to finish. It was driven by Ray Reardon and John Kilborn. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Corvette C1 team in the pits during practice. The #4 car was driven by Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan and finished 11th overall and first in class. The 1P car was used only for practice. The #1 car was driven by Don Yenko and Ben Moore and finished 32nd overall. The #2 car blew an engine and failed to finish. It was driven by Ray Reardon and John Kilborn. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)

Besides rooting for their favorite marque many race fans would also be rooting for their favorite driver and Sebring in ’61 provided some of the biggest names in the business including five former Sebring winners. One of those was American favorite Dan Gurney with his movie star looks. Also from Southern California was Richie Ginther and Phil Hill and from Texas oilmen Jim Hall and Hap Sharp. Sebring veteran Briggs Cunningham would also be there along with popular woman driver Denise McCluggage. Englishmen Stirling Moss and Graham Hill seemed to attract the ladies along with the diminutive duo of Rodriguez brothers Pedro, 21 and Ricardo, 19. The ladies thought they were “cute.” In the pits momma and papa Rodriguez were there keeping an eye on the boys and supposedly protecting them from predatory females.


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Jo Bonnier and Dan Gurney contemplating a Sebring hay bale. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Jo Bonnier and Dan Gurney contemplating a Sebring hay bale. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Later in the race Giancarlo Baghetti and Willy Mairesse had their factory Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa reassigned to Richie Ginther and Wolfgang von Trips. They finished second overall. (Photo: Paolo D'Alessio)
Later in the race Giancarlo Baghetti and Willy Mairesse had their factory Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa reassigned to Richie Ginther and Wolfgang von Trips. They finished second overall. (Photo: Paolo D’Alessio)
The legendary English drivers Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The legendary English drivers Stirling Moss and Graham Hill. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Briggs Cunningham in the only Maserati Tipo to finish. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Briggs Cunningham in the only Maserati Tipo to finish. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The legendary female driver, author and motorsports journalist Denise McCluggage discussing racing strategy with a shirtless Stirling Moss. McCluggage commented that Moss liked to intimidate other drivers with his superb physique. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The legendary female driver, author and motorsports journalist Denise McCluggage discussing racing strategy with a shirtless Stirling Moss. McCluggage commented that Moss liked to intimidate other drivers with his superb physique. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Fellow Californian Richie Ginther drove the second place Ferrari. (Photo: Paolo D'Alessio)
Californian Richie Ginther drove the second place Ferrari. (Photo: Paolo D’Alessio)
American Masten Gregory was one of the few drivers in endurance racing to wear glasses. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
American Masten Gregory was one of the few drivers in endurance racing to wear glasses. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)

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Show Comments (44)

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  1. Thank you a great read in to the history of 1961. It bought back memories I have of the Springbok series in South Africa and Rhodesia when I was a young lad. I would get excited weeks before the event as you would see the trickle of internationals cars and teams arrive and set up in local garages. In those days you would see ferraris, Lola’s and others on open trailers out side hotels over night. Try to imagine that happening to day!

  2. What a great early Christmas present from Mr. Galanos and the team at Sports Car Digest. Thanks for this excellent read, so wonderfully paired with images that stir the heart. Thanks to all.

  3. Another great Louie Galanos gem. Great photos to illustrate his detailed research and stories. You can get a lot of photos of east coast races from Lime Rock to Sebring at barcboys.com. As Galanos said, 1961 was a fantastic year. I was there and his story brought back many a memory. Can’t wait for more.

  4. masterful work. thank you for another great look at a moment of history with beautiful people and automobiles.

  5. Another extremely insightful Sebring story from Lou with many little known details supplemented with great BARC Boys and Florida Archive photos.
    As a former SAAB racer loved the photo of the SAAB on the track and mention that they were the “Official” track cars for the race (front wheel drive though not four wheel drive).
    Would like to see all of Lou’s Sebring articles in a book some day.

  6. Lou – you’ve done the calendar, and the calls keep coming for the book. How many treasures remain to see print? Thanks for these historical views of sports car racing in Florida – masterful. Doug Seeley

  7. Thanks for sharing this wonderful story and those great photos. I’m honored to have met both you and Dave N. (BARC Boy) – when you share your stories it is like touching history. I spied one pair of Suixtil pants, of course in one of Dave’s photos. Randy has a great idea, a book of all Lou’s stories!

  8. Fabulous photos and a great story. Here in the Uk we don’t hear enough about the great days of Sebring. Thanks.

  9. Another fantastic and detailed Florida racing story with lots of great (now us old farts must admit “historic”) photos.
    Thanks Lou.

  10. Excellent Excellent Excellent ! Much is written about LeMans and Indy but back in the 50’s and 60’s Sebring had that special mix of ingredients that was magnetic. Old southern charm,warmth, extremely talented drivers from around the world and an unbelievable array of manufacturers ! Did I mention the girls ?

  11. Blast from the past, having grown up in a racing car family, my uncle Rafael Rosales from San Juan Puerto Rico entered several of these races, ended up co-piloting with Strirling Moss at LeMans in 1962 and 63 with a DNF and a 5th place. Great memories and excellent photos, still a huge fan and vintage BMC collector.
    Thank you

    1. Thanks Alec and I appreciate the praise especially from you. Your father was a very special man who not only founded Sebring but contributed greatly to the
      golden age of endurance racing in America.

    2. Dear Alec, As a student at Princeton in about 1965, I had the pleasure on one occasion of hearing your father speak to a small, informal group of us young sportscar enthusiasts in a small classroom one evening. It was an extremely exciting experience for us! In 1970, while serving as a timer in the pits of #30 Ford GT40, I saw that fine gentleman from a distance. Years later, in 1986 I attended his funeral in Brick Church on Park Avenue, and, as sad an occasion as that was, I was fascinated to recognize in the congregation a number of greats from the world of racing paying their respects, including Luigi Chinetti and the Dreyfus brothers, Rene and Maurice.

  12. I was there as a student. A wonderful recounting of all that I saw and that which I missed. What wonderful times!

  13. Thank you, Mr. Galanos for this wonderful story with so many interesting details that bring back those golden years of racing.

  14. Another great retelling of an epic vintage racing event. If only to invent a time machine and go back to see it first hand. This is the next best thing available. Love the photos.

  15. Thanks for reminding me of what was the best time for racing (except for the awful lack of safety equipment).
    Today it is too corporate and far too aero dependent. Not to mention expensive.
    I had not seen the picture of the AC Bristol my father, James, flipped in the race. He should have stuck with the Ferrari he raced the year before!
    Dixon Johnston

  16. Good evening Louis,

    Very good story and narration, thank you very much for bringing insight and details from those great racing times !

    You mention one of the races previous to the 12 Hours of 1961, and you made a comment on a race driver who raced on the Formula Junior race, named Lollobrigida, who some claimed was a cousin of Gina Lollobrigida.

    In fact, he really was cousin to Gina. !

    He lived and raced In Venezuela for many years, before moving back to Italy. He made and directed several movies in Venezuela.

    We have a spanish forum of Races in Venezuela, where we have a thread about him, and there is one photo of him with the Stanguellini:

    http://www.pasionalavelocidad.com/foro/viewtopic.php?f=18&t=223&p=9337&hilit=guido#p9337

    (Hope you can access the forum, we are having some problems on this last week)

    Unfortunately, he passed away recently on January 2014, I am sure he would have been very happy of your mention of him.

    Best Regards,

    Eduardo Muñoz

  17. Regarding one of the comments — well-meaning, no doubt — “Southern charm” in 1961 was great for some but horrible for others because of racial segregation. Just as we should remember our racing history, we should also keep the lessons of our social history in mind.

  18. Louis I always enjoy your postings, the photos and stories are outstanding. Thanx for posting this great account of the ’61 race. “Race” doesn’t really seem like a big enough word to describe what Sebring is all about. Sixty one was supposed to be my first time there but I couldn’t put it together. Now because of you I feel like I really was there. I did make it in ’62 and from that time on have only missed a few. I live in Sebring now so no excuses for missing an event.

  19. Louis:
    I remember the bad smell past turn one. It was not a pet food factory. It was a scew worm sterile male breeding operation. See http://www.fao.org/docrep/u4220t/u4220T0a.htm

    A new rearing facility was constructed near Sebring, Florida and initiated operations in July 1958. Within three months the weekly production of sterile flies from this new facility was in excess of 50 million per week, with an average of 50 to 75 million per week for the duration of the eradication programme (Smith, 1960). Sterile flies were packaged in boxes, with 400 flies per box, which were dispersed at the rate of 76 to 304 sterile flies per square kilometre from single-engine planes flying about 500 m above the terrain. Planes flew over treatment areas in Florida, southern Georgia and southern Alabama each week on 3.2 km-wide swaths on a grid pattern.”

  20. My fellow classmates and I were heading south from Northern NJ to Fort Lauderdale to become part of the trouble that would eventually happen that year. Someone got the bright idea of stopping off for some kind of sports car race in a town on rt 27 called Sebring which just happened to be in the direction we were heading. It was at this event that one eighteen year old clueless young man became hopelessly addicted for life on the extraordinary world of endurance racing. To say the world’s best pictures do not do this race justice is an understatement only appreciated by those luckily enough to have been in attendance on that day in March 1961. It’s so true, those years, regardless of money or technology, cannot replicate the originality and naked drama from a time given to almost zero technology and low budget entries. It truly was the age of the unpretentious driver and his crudely assembled machine racing on casually designed tracks with safety as an afterthought.

    1. Thank you Robert for those well written and eloquent words from someone who was there. Happy Holidays to all who have commented on my story.

  21. Thank You Louis. You’ve taken me to another race. I could see it, hear it, even smell racing fuel and wood fires. In my opinion, you have become the preeminent writer of what to many of us were the Golden years of competition. I could feel the political setup and each stage of the race. I’ve read twice now. Lifelong associations like Bob Holbert and Roger Penske, the emergence of the Rodriquez brothers. The freedom of engineering development that led to so many variations on the grid. Your stories expand my horizon of Motorsports and Sebring and again, I thank you and Sports Car Digest for that.

    1. Thanks Burt and thanks for all the help you and your late brother gave me for several stories I have had published in Sports Car Digest. Merry Christmas.

  22. What a wonderful Christmas gift to receive early, early this Xmas morning while doing a nostalgic perusal of the web seaching for info about the Sebring races. Something reminded me of my dream car (1959 Ferrari 250 GT California) which then led to thinking about the great time I had as a high school senior at the 1972 race, and I was just reminiscing with a big smile on my face seeing Mario Andretti’s Ferrari again! I couldn’t turn off my tablet to hit the sack!

    Thank you so much, Mr. Galanos, for this fascinating and exhaustive report on one of the earlier race days at Sebring. Outstanding!

    Merry Christmas.

  23. Wonderful photographs. Those tall windscreens had been imposed by the FIA, and the drivers hated them because they could not see through them, due to the reflections, scratches etc. and they they tried to sit higher so they could see over the top of them. An other great FIA idea|

  24. Louis: What a great story/pictures of the events at Sebring. You make one feel that you are there in the “golden Age of racing” and the great names of the time. Even the pictures of the fans cars bring back memories. Keep up the great work.
    Jim Beebe Dec 28, 2015

  25. Louis: Thanks for another great story showing the talent of the Rodriguez brothers, I wonder where did you get the comment of Don Pedro Rodriguez celebrating at the local bar, but it was absolutely true (and a common practice by Don Pedro). He was another remarkable person behind the scenes supporting Pedro and Ricardo at all times.
    And for the records, Pedro’s female friend on one of your pictures is Angelina Dammy de Rodriguez, Pedro’s wife.

    1. Thanks Corey, I have also had that idea in the back of my mind. Unfortunately books today generally don’t sell well and as a result many bookstores have closed. If I publish it will have to be self-published and I am not sure if I am ready for that.

  26. Thank you Louis: I notice that you are a fellow Floridian. My late brother George and I came over from Ft. Lauderdale with a couple of friends for that race, and the next four after that. It was the first any of us had ever attended. I was a half-crazed sports car nut, starting in 1957 when I spent the day with a pile of Road & Track magazines found on a family visit to my uncle’s home in Ohio. I especially remember the front-engine Ferarri TRs, watching them for hours howling down the pit straight in the early evening. The bizarre Maserati T63 was…well, fascinating. I also fell in love with Porsche Spyders. I was fired up, seeing my fantasy cars with motion and sound after only being able to read about them for so long. Years later, I serially owned four ’60s V12 Ferraris (and raced one!), a 1957 Porsche 550A, a Formula 1 Brabham BT-26A that I watched finish 2nd to David Hobbs at the Sebring Continental in December 1969; and some other race cars of that ilk that I drove in vintage races. Wish I still had them, but I sure enjoyed living my dreams.

  27. I’m looking for materials for the 1961 Sebring 4 Hour race,particularly photos and other information of Abarth 1000 who participated in this race. Because I own the same type of Abarth 1000, which is totally unknown, but it may be one of the cars in this race.