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 Eight

To the encouragement of pit crews, race fans and even grid marshals the drivers vaulted into their cars to see who would be the first away. Having the advantage of being first in line two Corvettes were 1-2 under the Mercedes-Benz Bridge followed by the #18 Ferrari of Gaston Andrey and Allen Newman in third place. They were quickly passed by the #9 Nethercutt/Lovely Ferrari 250 TR 59 which finished third at Sebring in 1960.

As all eyes watched the thundering herd of cars blast through turns one and two it was almost comical to see coming under the bridge the 748 c.c. Berga of Bentley/Grady putt-putting along as the last to leave the grid.

But hold on, there was still one more car on the grid and it was none other than British champion Stirling Moss in his Camoradi Maserati Tipo 61 Birdcage. Moss was unable to get the engine to turn over due to a dead battery. To say that Moss was not happy would be an understatement and it took six minutes to place a new battery in the car so he could get going. Moss described what happened on the grid in his own words (stirlingmoss.com). Moss, “…the battery was flat as a pancake! It took six minutes or so to coax the car into life.” Before the Le Mans start Moss had asked the team very specifically whether the cars battery was fully charged. “Oh yes” they reassured him, there would be “no problems”. Once he got going Moss drove flat out for two solid hours managing to get the car up as high as second place before bringing the car into the pits for a scheduled stop and to turn the car over to Graham Hill.

Stirling Moss sits in the Maserati Tipo 61 that will fail him at the start. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
Stirling Moss sits in the Maserati Tipo 61 that will fail him at the start. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)

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Fifteen minutes after the 10 a.m. start the leading four cars were amazingly close and on the same lap. In the words of one sports writer they were so close when they passed the start/finish “…you could throw a blanket over them.”

Much to the dismay of the factory Ferrari manager Romulo Tavoni the leading car at 10:15 was not one of his but the private entry North American Racing Team Ferrari 250 TR 59/60 of Pedro and Ricardo Rodriguez. The Maserati Tipo 63 of Masten Gregory and Lloyd “Lucky” Casner was second, the factory Ferrari 250 TRI/61 of Phil Hill and Olivier Gendebien was third and the Maserati Tipo 63 of Bruce McLaren and Walt Hansgen fourth. Stirling Moss was literally burning up the track to make up for lost time on the grid. In 15 minutes he went from dead last and a lap and a half behind to 14th overall. For many race fans they were getting what they had come for and that is a duel between Ferrari and Maserati.

The older model Ferrari 250 TR 59/60 that the Rodriguez brothers brought home in third place. (Photo: Graham L. Smith)
The older model Ferrari 250 TR 59/60 that the Rodriguez brothers brought home in third place. (Photo: Graham L. Smith)

Even in 1961 there were conspiracy theorists and the start of the race spawned the thought that when Stirling Moss switched Maseratis at the last minute that someone in the Camoradi camp decided to teach him a lesson by putting a dead battery in the car. It made for great theater but, if true, turned out to be a disaster for the team because Moss beat hell out of the car in trying to make up for lost time on the grid. Moss beat his own 1960 Sebring record at least three times in the first hour and was picking up as much as five seconds a lap on the competition. Some in the Maserati pits groaned when they heard the news because they believed the car wouldn’t last long at that pace. And, they were right.

As usual during those early laps of the race some drivers will push a little too hard to keep up with the pack and not get lapped too often. For some of them it came at a high price and on the second lap the Pete Lovely, Jack Nethercutt Ferrari 250 TR 59 entered pit road trailed by a cloud of oil smoke being pumped out of the engine breathers.

The Paddy Hopkirk - Peter Jopp Sunbeam Alpine passes the Tavano - Arents Ferrari 250 GT SWB after it was hit by another car. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Paddy Hopkirk – Peter Jopp Sunbeam Alpine passes the Tavano – Arents Ferrari 250 GT SWB after it was hit by another car. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB of Fernand Tavano and George Arents suffered body damage in an accident with an Aston Martin. They retired due to a broken differential. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB of Fernand Tavano and George Arents suffered body damage in an accident with an Aston Martin. They retired due to a broken differential. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB of Fernand Tavano and George Arents suffered body damage in an accident with an Aston Martin. They retired due to a broken differential. (Photo: www.barcboys.com)
The Ferrari 250 GT SWB of Fernand Tavano and George Arents suffered body damage in an accident with an Aston Martin. They retired due to a broken differential. (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.