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.
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.