1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Race Profile

1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Page Two

As expected the ultra-light (1450 lbs.) Chaparrals from Midland, Texas were fastest in qualifying but their speed astounded everyone. The Jim Hall/ Hap Sharp Chaparral set a record time of 2 minutes, 57.6 seconds or 105.9 mph. This was almost 9 seconds faster than the record set by John Surtees driving a Ferrari the previous year and for the first time in the history of Sebring the three-minute barrier had been broken.

The other Chaparral driven by Bruce Jennings and Ronnie Hisson qualified second, the Shelby Ford GT40 of Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren was third, the Phil Hill/Richie Ginther Shelby Ford GT40 was fourth, then came the All American Lotus-Ford 19J of Dan Gurney and Jeremy Grant. The Lola T70 of John Cannon and Jack Saunders was in 6th place and the rest of the first ten qualifiers were all Ferraris.

Author’s Note: Jim Hall, Hap Sharp and their Chaparrals were from Midland, Texas. Carroll Shelby of Shelby American was born in Leesburg, Texas. John Mecom, Jr. was from Houston, Texas. The Kleiner Enterprises of Austin, Texas were running Ferrari factory cars for Enzo Ferrari. If Texas mothers were feeding their children something different back then I would like to know what it was and if it is still available today.

The morning of Saturday, March 27 dawned with some ground fog blanketing the nearby orange groves but the hot Florida sun soon burned through and temperatures began to rise. The weather predictions for race day were for temperatures in the 70-to-80 range and clearing. However, by 8:30 a.m. the temperature was approaching an uncomfortable 90 degrees with high humidity.

Fortune smiled on the race fans who had arrived either Thursday or Friday and were spared the misery of being stuck in the boiling heat and a twelve-mile-long traffic jam that defied description. In that long line outside the front gate, cars were overheating in the slow moving traffic and disabled vehicles littered the landscape. Some fans didn’t get into the track until three hours after the 10 a.m. start.

Richie Ginther
Richie Ginther or Paul Richard Ginther. Raised in the same California town as Phil Hill they became fast friends and Hill was instrumental in helping Ginther get established in racing after his service in the Korean War. Both Hill and Ginther were teamed up to drive the #10 Shelby Ford GT40 but the suspension failed after 37 laps.
American Phil Hill drove the Shelby #10 Ford GT40
American Phil Hill along with Richie Ginther drove the Shelby #10 Ford GT40 at Sebring until the suspension failed after 37 laps. Carroll Shelby would then put Hill in the #16 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe after driver Lew Spencer collapsed from the heat. That car finished in 21st position. Hill was considered to be one of the true gentlemen of motorsports and the only American-born driver to win the Formula One World Drivers’ Championship.
Phil Hill tells everyone what's wrong
Phil Hill (back to camera) has the rapt attention of everyone around him as he tells everyone what’s wrong. Ginther looks concerned and Jerry Grant smiles knowingly.
Bruce McLaren laughing it up in the pits
The legendary Bruce McLaren laughing it up in the pits in the days before the race. Note the lack of patches and logos on his driver suit and helmet. It was a simpler time.
Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren study lap charts
Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren study lap charts during the practice & qualifying days prior to the race. They drove the #11 Shelby Ford GT40 to a second place finish behind the Jim Hall/Hap Sharp Chaparral. Neither Miles nor McLaren would live to an old age, both died in racing accidents.
Carroll Shelby’s hands can be seen holding a clipboard
The hands of the master. Carroll Shelby’s hands can be seen holding a clipboard that shows the tire pressures on a couple of his cars.
Graham Hill and Pedro Rodriguez
Englishman Graham Hill and ‘The Little Mexican’ Pedro Rodriguez deep in discussion in the Sebring pits. Pedro drove first in the race and when he brought the #30 Ferrari 330P in for the first driver change Hill found that second gear was missing.

This Sebring was turning out to be an endurance test for spectators as well as race cars. Under normal conditions the amenities for the ordinary spectator at Sebring were seriously lacking when compared to race venues like Le Mans and some referred to the facilities at Sebring as “racetrack primitive.” The record crowd flowing through the track entrance was only going to make things worse with longer than usual lines for everything.

Jorge Cristobal of Woodbury, Tenn. was only 12 years old when he went to Sebring for the first time in 1965 but remembers it well. “The toilets were like circular fountains and everyone stood there facing each other. Not a pleasant experience for a 12-year old. The (spectator) crowd was full of crazy drunks and half-naked girls. I liked that part. The stench was weird and I later found out from my older brother that it was marijuana smoke.”

In 1965, as well as today, Sebring was a popular destination for college kids on Spring Break looking for fun. A bacchanalian attitude prevailed in their spectator area, known as the “Zoo”, with little supervision from authorities. Drunk or stoned college kids in all manner of dress or undress were common and became part of the experience and legend of Sebring.

Race promoter Alec Ulmann and his wife tried their best to bring an air of civility to the event with a hospitality tent situated along Midway Drive in the paddock. Set up by the Automobile Racing Club of Florida (ARCF) the striped tent offered well dressed patrons (many from Palm Beach) a place to meet and eat such delicacies as frog’s legs, king crab legs, roast beef, apple pie, watermelon and English tarts. There was also an open bar where one could get a cold libation anytime during the 12 hours of the race and while you were quaffing a cool brew you might rub elbows with the Governor of Florida or astronauts Gus Grissom or Gordon Cooper. To gain entry to this oasis all one had to do is pay $100 per couple, not a small amount in 1965. So you were not bothered by the common folk, a guard was placed at the entrance to the tent. Most agreed later that it was a vain attempt at trying to recreate the international glamour found at Le Mans and Nurburgring.

1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – The Start

By 9:30 a.m. almost all of the cars were in place on the grid in preparation for the start. Temperatures were now 94 degrees in the spectator area and a blistering 130 degrees on the track. The governor of Florida, under close supervision, was given the privilege of dropping the starting flag at 10 a.m. and when that happened the 67 drivers sprinted 25 feet across the track to their cars in what was referred to in those days as the Le Mans-style start.

To get their cars prepped for the start Shelby’s mechanics had warmed up the engines on the Cobra Daytona Coupes. Unfortunately the cars sat in the boiling sun waiting for the start and when the drivers got in the cars two of the four failed to turn over. The problem was vapor lock caused by the warm engines and the extreme heat of the day. Driving what was later to be Carroll Shelby’s personal Cobra Daytona Coupe, Ed Leslie stalled the #12 Daytona just 50 feet from the start and was rear ended by the #51 Volvo P1800 of Art Riley. After some quick repairs in the pits, both cars would continue but the damage to the Cobra would later cause it to pit for repairs on the tail lights and they would eventually finish in 13th position but third in class. When he returned to the track after those first hasty repairs, Leslie also found that the driver’s door had been sprung and for the rest of the race he and co-driver Allen Grant had to hold onto the door whenever making a right turn.

Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe of Ed Leslie and Allen Grant
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe of Ed Leslie and Allen Grant finished 13th despite the damage to the rear end caused by an accident at the start of the race.
#15 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe driven by Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser
The #15 Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe driven by Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser. The car finished 4th overall and first in GT 5.0.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe of Lew Spencer, Jim Adams and Phil Hill finished 21st.
Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupe of Lew Spencer, Jim Adams and Phil Hill finished 21st.

First away from the pack was the “Lightweight” Corvette Grand Sport of Delmo Johnson. He had raced the previous year at Sebring in the Corvette but this year the car was sporting a new 396-c.u. engine with what was called a “porcupine head.” This was the first big block racing engine to leave the Chevrolet factory and came courtesy of Chevy’s chief engineer, Zora Duntov. Even though General Motors and Chevrolet had “officially’ withdrawn from racing they (mostly Duntov’s engineers) were assisting Delmo Johnson and Jim Hall’s Chaparrals with some “back door” help.

The main reason why the Corvette Grand Sport was the first away from the starting grid was that Johnson had the car already in gear when he punched the starter. Also, while the Chaparral drivers and everyone else were buckling up, he did not. Nor did he even close the car’s door. Delmo didn’t buckle up until lap two and until then had to grip the steering wheel tightly to stay in his seat and not be thrown around the interior of the Corvette.

Chevrolet Grand Sport of Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan at 1965 12 Hours of Sebring
Chevrolet Grand Sport of Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan finished 36th.

Richie Ginther, in the #10 Shelby American Ford GT40, quickly caught up to and passed the Corvette after the Webster Turns but had to immediately pit because a faulty magnesium wheel was making contact with the car’s brake caliper and causing an ungodly noise. They replaced the wheels with aluminum ones.

1965 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance – Race Profile Continued

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  1. If anyone gives awards for the best vintage/historic story and photographic telling of a race this piece will be in the running. The best I have seen this year and for years past. Keep this stuff coming. Boy it makes me wish I was there like few stories have. From one old photographer to these two shooters wonderful images. Hard to put into words how good this piece is. Jamie lets get more stories and image collections like this.

    1. I was sitting on my amy bunk at Ft. Belvoir, VA listening to a live radio report of the race. One bunk over my buddy Ron (whom I met last week-end at the Watkins Glen Vintage GP) was routing for Chevy (by way of the Chaparrals). My favorite was Ferrari first, then maybe Shelby. Ron won!

  2. it was indeed a heroic race. One of the most magnificent little engined sportscars in this race was not mentioned, although it did beat most of its more powerful, more expensive cars in the race. I am talking about the Austin-Healey Sprite. This little 1300cc streamlined car came in 15th position. It was raced by Clive Baker and Raano Altonen, 2 rally pilots who could use their rally experience very well during the rain hours. Having narrow Dunlop racing tires helped to avoid aquaplanning. Still amazing that a car with only 1300 cc was clocked at 157 MpH. It won its prototype class and showed once again the genius of Donald Healey and its crew!

    1. You are correct Bruno. Because of their extensive rallying experience coupled with the narrow tires they found the wet pavement to their liking. At one point during the storm they passed one of the leading cars four times.

      1. Dear Lou, I have quite some original pictures of the Sebring Sprite “at Battle”. If you want I can share them with you! Kindest regards, Bruno

    2. As a Sprite owner and long-time fan of Sprite racers of all kinds, I too was looking for pics or a mention of the little alloy GT Sprites.

    3. Actually, I looked again and the Sprites were mentioned. The other car was driven by Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen (sp?). That car finished 18th. Great Stuff.

  3. I went to most of the Sebring races in the ’60’s , but not in 1965.
    After reading and viewing the photos, I can say that I attended the 1965 Sebring 12 Hrs.
    Fantastic job, Lou.

  4. Great story and photos! I was there, but was more interested in a girl I was dating at the time. Now I know what happened during the race. Loved the pictures of the Don Yenko ’63 Vette. Thanks Lou!

  5. Lou,

    What a wonderful recounting of Sebring 1965 in word and image. It is good to know these memories will be preserved for future enthusiasts and of course some of us “old guys” who loved the era, the cars and the competition.


  6. I was there and spent the rain storm under the drive over bridge to the pits. No one came to run us off and it made for a great viewing area of the “pit river”. Watching drivers open their doors on the main straight to let water run out was an interesting sight.

  7. I was a sophomore in high school in 1965, and a big ChaparraL fan, and sitting on my desk right now is a model of the 2D, that won at the Nurburgring in 1966. I was not at the race, but I listened to it on the radio, and it was a very memorable day. Thanks for the great article and photos, bringing back some great memories.

  8. Louis
    Another great article. And another great race. These articles bring back so many on-rushing memories. I was there and the rains and wind were just tremendous. The travel trailer we were huddled in lifted up off the ground!
    Thanks for another great trip down the corridors of my mind.
    All the best

  9. I’m in complete agreement with all of my fellow ‘posters’ – amazing work and I very much look forward to more from Lou.
    Many thanks, Chris

  10. I almost attended this event. Myself and a friend hitchhiked across country from California and made it as far as Sarasota, Florida. There we were “detained” by local law enforcement and assigned to the County work gang.

    As an innocent 17 year old I had no problems from older, tougher inmates because I became pals with ex-boxing champion Tony DeMarco, in jail for an alcohol related offense.

    I did manage to listen to the race, along with other incarcerated race fans, on the radio. I don’t recall any static interference.

    After serving a short sentence for “vagrancy” I hitchhiked back to Monterey, CA. I missed Sebring but had one hell of an adventure.

  11. Really, really great pictures. Fantastic.

    One minor point. That picture of Carroll Shelby’s hands and a sheet of paper. I think he is checking tire temperatures and not pressures.

  12. Wow, Maybe one of the best fields of race cars and drivers ever assembled? Some months later I saw the Peter Clarke, Ferrari GTO for sale in Kensington, Maryland for 5K. Terrific article.

  13. I was a senior in high school and drove over with my buddies in a beetle. We watched the race from the straight before the hairpin. When the heavy rains came, the crowd lifted my VW up onto one of the old concrete foundations left from WWII. We stayed dry during the monsoon but everyone was intent on leaving after the race and we had no one to help get the car back on the ground. I backed it off using two 2x 4’s for a ramp. The crowd at the hairpin was wild – sitting up in the metal scaffolding during the lightning storm, cheering the little dayglo orange Sprite as it passed the GT 40s and Chaparral. I also have the Chaparral model on my desk -what a race and what memories. Thanks for the great article.

  14. Hi Lou:
    What a great in depth article and photos and comments on the cars and drivers!!!
    While I never attended any events at Sebring I remember articles and pictures appearing in Sports Car magazines at the time.
    A couple recollections of Sebring,I believe,was someone cutting a fairly large hole with tin snips in the top of a Daytona Coupe to vent the heat from the cockpit.
    The other was Sterling Moss interviewing Ken Miles after Ken had a shunt with his Cobra.Apparently Ken had warned the Cobra drivers about damaging their cars during practice.Sterling’s comment to ken was since he crashed first were the other drivers “Exonerated”if they crashed?Somehow that gave a new meaning to the word for me.
    Again superb article and pictures!!!!!!

  15. En ese entonces Tenia 11 años de edad y con mi primo eramos emfermos de fanaticos de los sport-prototipos Teniamos una pista de carreras donde sacabamos la escala 1/32 a nuestros amados autos y los corriamos 2 hrs!¡sabiamos de autos por las revistas americanas “cars racing”y Sport’s Ilustrade”ademas de L’omovile …Toda esta muestra de las 12 hrs sebring me llevo a ese entonces de mi juventud ¡Gracias Lou ! Por esta gran muestra con fotos y acontecimientos de esa epoca ,donde yo era fanatico de los Chaparral.Tambien Gracias a tu equipo y demas personas que laboran contigo !

    1. Muchas gracias Julian. Me alegra que la historia trajo cariño a la memoria del pasado. Al igual que usted creo que este fue un período maravilloso e histórico en el deporte de carreras de coches de la historia.

  16. Great story and pics louis , i can’t believe it could rain that much in 1 race. Good to hear from you again keep in touch.

  17. This story as portrayed by you Lou, captures the feeling of being there. Couple the story with the photos creates an experience that should be shared with every fledgling motorsport enthusiast. This will light the fire that will continue to burn the rest of their life.
    Well Done!

  18. Fantastically narrated, detailed story Lou! The photos are top-notch and really convey what the event was like. I can’t believe all that water!

  19. Hi Lou,
    I’ve lost track of how many times I have read your story now. Every time I do I remember something else of that week. Even the smell of Castrol R and orange blossoms comes through. There was a lighter side to things though; like when Bizzarrini removed his shoes when it began to rain and placed them at the back of the pit box near the drainage ditch. I’ll never forget how much time we spent, in vain, looking for his shoes. I can only imaging the look on people’s faces when he boarded the plane Sunday in his stocking feet. Great work Lou!

  20. Fabulous writing and truly great photos! I’ve seen your Flickr album and know you have a great number of special photos, but your writing here is another level. Thank you for your work on this, a treasure!
    LD71 😀

  21. Louis, I just got around to reading your published story yesterday. What a fascinating visit back to the good old days. When I look back on my life and things that I wanted to do and did not do. Attending a Sebring race is at the top of that list. Over the years I have looked back and regretted not having attending it when I could have. I still have a fascination with race cars from that era, especially the Shelby Cobra, (the replicas now). Thank you for putting me there through you’re in depth and captivating story.

  22. Absolutely amazing writing backed by equally stunning photos. I am too young to remember those days but this is a very insightful story, Thanks so much for sharing this Louis.

  23. My Dad and I drove from NC to Sebring in a brand new Camero RS. I had just gotten my learners permit. Will never forget the sound of the Ferrari engines and fell in love with one called the GTO. At the time, I had no idea of what I was attending, but my love for that GTO, now owned by Rick Mason and probably valued at 10’s of millions of $$$ still lives on.

    1. That had to be a special car, since Chevrolet didn’t start selling them until the 1967 model year.


  25. Great read. My wife was at that race.(her last one) I had classes and couldn’t get away. My Father-in-law built the MG bridge pictured, and a couple more things at the old course. I sneaked onto the course many times to wring out my Volvo on visits to Sebring. Brings back great memories.

  26. I was at this race! It was my first big race and I didn’t know what to expect. The story is quite accurate and captures the feeling of the day, especially the storm. We spent most of the day at the hairpin and had a great view of the incoming and outgoing cars. Highlight of the day was an Austin-Healy Sprite passing the Chaparral leaving the hairpin. The water was so deep the Chaparral had to tip toe away while the smaller Sprite just gave it the usual floorboard!

  27. We had gone down for the entire race week. Bike races then too. Night before the race crowd when crazy, we had camped on the outside of the big curve before the start finish straight. People driving through the snow fences, doing donuts with tents all around, seriously scary. Who could forget the topless bimbos dancing on car roofs. Heat and sun were so bad, that 2 days before we had wandered into Webster’s garage to get out of the sun. They told us we could watch the race from there. Wise choice, When the rains came the crowd broke the fences and ran across the track for the warehouse. Team managers ordered all the doors locked. We had people beating on the doors. It was Like that scene from Key Largo with the indians wanting to get out of the hurricane.! Stayed dry though. When we got back to our tent, it had been flattened and looted.

  28. Fantastic race and a great article of the event. Keep up the good work. When I was fifteen I went to Bridgehampton and saw jim Hall’s Number 65 and 66 race and blow off the entire fleet. I still have some brownie camera images that I took in the pits.

    Now is the author going to cover the 1952 Sebring race. My uncle had a buddy that came in second place overall in a Cunningham? I met him at my Uncles wedding His name is Harry Price.

  29. My first read since my new subscribed, and I have already forwarded it to a friend.  Very good read, “thanks” for all your hard work and background into the articles.

  30. I grew up near the track and love the grand old track that keeps on challenging the best cars money can build. Lou is an extraordinary gentleman. Had the pleasure of meeting him in Sebring at the Kenilworth to pick up DVD’s I purchased. Great racing historian and love you writing sir. All the best! Go Gators!

  31. Your articles are always a great read and the pictures are wonderful. This is the second time I’ve read this one and I found something I’m not sure is accurate: “The last time an American car with an American driver won a major international sports car race was at the 1921 French Grand Prix when Duesenberg came in first.”

    A great win by a great American driver Jimmy Murphy. Though the French weren’t very happy about it.

    However, Phil Walters and John Fitch won Sebring in 1953 in a Cunningham C4R Chrysler and Sebring was one of the FIA championship races that year. I’m not old enough to remember that one but I did see the car a couple years ago at the Simeone Museum in Philadelphia.

  32. I was there having hitch hiked down from U of F in Gainsville. You could stand along the highway with a sign “Sebring” and get a ride to the track (180 miles) in 10-20 minutes tops. I remember wandering the pits and makeshift team shops the night before the race and finding the Chaparral in a quonset hut and other teams variously housed. It was truly the golden era of sports car racing and a unique blend of international flavor in sleepy small town.

  33. There was also a motorcycle race at Sebring in 1965, but not at the same date as the 12-hr race. There were several categories depending on piston displacement, from 500 cc to to 125 cc, maybe more. I was there and took pictures, but I do not know the date, organizer, or any other data. Can anyone provide data?