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 Four

In 1961 at Sebring your place on the starting grid was determined by engine size and not your qualification speed. However, all entrants were required to practice a minimum number of laps with some of those coming during night practice. One car showing up for practice was a Ferrari GT with racing numbers on the hood and both doors. Some astute observer checked the entry list and found that the car was an illegal entry and the driver and car were escorted from the track. Interesting enough the fellow who did this pulled the same stunt in 1960 by parking his little Fiat at the end of the grid then joined the race until the folks in timing and scoring realized he wasn’t on their entry lists and the car was black flagged and escorted from the track.

Before or after official practice times the area in front of the start finish was often quiet as teams worked on their cars or set up their pit area with tires, tools and other equipment needed for the race. It was during these times that one could see some of the drivers practicing their Le Mans style run to their car and the tricky leap into the cockpit of the open racers.

During a lull in the night practice Ferrari driver Olivier Gendebien could be seen pacing off the distance to where the drivers would stand then he would dash to his car carefully placing his hand on the hood before leaping over the high expanse of Plexiglas surrounding the cockpit of his Ferrari 250 Testa Rossa 61.

His first try resulted in a not too graceful landing so he went back for another try. This time his landing was even worse and he had injured himself. When Ferrari team manager Romolo Tavoni came over to check the situation Gendebien told him that he had badly twisted his ankle and wouldn’t be able to continue the practice session. Tavoni was not pleased and, in typical Italian fashion, showed it. A pit crew member was then dispatched to get some ice for Gendebien’s rapidly swelling ankle. The injury would not stop Gendebien from driving on race day but he would be in constant pain throughout the race. On race day Gendebien exhibited a noticeable limp when walking around the pit and paddock.

An early indication of what kind of fan turnout the track might have in ’61 was the number of early arrivals with some showing up a week before the race which was becoming a tradition at the track. They were there to stake out their favorite viewing spots and set up their tents and viewing scaffolds. Since the airport property had a working environment, with many businesses and warehouses, there was no one to sell the early arrivals entry tickets. Only later in the week would Sebring personnel enter the spectator areas to collect the required entry fee and some remembered seeing race fans scramble for hiding spots in order to avoid paying for their ticket.

Some of the early Sebring arrivals were talking about not going out to the Webster turn bleachers near the warehouses along the Warehouse Straight. These buildings housed a variety of businesses and in a previous year one of the warehouses was full of “…dead whales, or at least ground-up portions of them possibly to be used as fertilizer or pet food.” On a hot day the rather unique smell could be detected at a great distance and the race track was just feet from the warehouses. According to some drivers back then they would hold their breaths when passing the buildings because the smell was strong enough to make you gag. Fortunately in ’61 the winds were favorable and race fans could actually sit in the bleachers without holding their noses or needing a gas mask.

For college students, on spring break, Sebring had become a much anticipated stop going to or coming back from the beaches in Ft. Lauderdale and Miami. The Sebring race had a reputation for being a place where students could party without being hassled too much by the local authorities. In later years a Miami Herald columnist would describe the Sebring environment as bacchanalian replete with “topless bimbos” dancing on car hoods. Needless to say that reports like that didn’t discourage people from attending the race.


The early arrivals were in luck this year because the Sebring promoters had the most active program planned since its inception. The normal Friday race schedule for Sebring was usually very relaxed with a concours d’ elegance and an antique car parade with the big fan draw being the 12-hour race on Saturday. Much to the delight of race fans already at the track the race promoters scheduled a full day of racing on Friday with a four-hour enduro for GT cars (under 1000 cc) along with a brand new 100-mile event for Formula Juniors and a one-hour event for go-karts which would be run on the 2.2 mile short course. As an added special attraction British ace Stirling Moss and his rally-champion-sister Pat would be driving Austin-Healey Sprites in the GT race along with Dan Gurney in an Abarth 1000 and Bruce McLaren in a Sprite.

The race for small GT cars started early on Friday at 9 a.m. with 27 drivers doing the Le Mans dash to their cars. Since it was only four hours long some expected a hard fought sprint to the finish but since some of the cars were also entered in the 23-hour a few of the drivers made effort to not push too hard. The winning trophy went to the Fiat-Abarth of Harry Washburn followed by the Donald Healey entered Sprite of Walt Hansgen.

Stirling Moss and sister, Pat, getting ready for the GT race. (Photo:
Stirling Moss and sister, Pat, getting ready for the GT race. (Photo:
Fiat Abarths going through tech inspection. (Photo: John Mahall)
Fiat Abarths going through tech inspection. (Photo: John Mahall)
Fiat Abarths going through tech inspection. (Photo: John Mahall)
Fiat Abarths going through tech inspection. (Photo: John Mahall)
The GT race for small cars was part of a full schedule of events on Friday. (Photo:
The GT race for small cars was part of a full schedule of events on Friday. (Photo:
The GT race for small cars was part of a full schedule of events on Friday. (Photo:
The GT race for small cars was part of a full schedule of events on Friday. (Photo:

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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 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:

    (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

    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.