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

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

The Hall/Sharp Chaparral continued to lead the race at 4 p.m. with the Hill/ Rodriguez Ferrari 330P second and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 third. Positions had not changed for the top three by 5 p.m. but very dark clouds were approaching from the north and a storm was imminent. It became so dark that a few racers found it necessary to turn on their driving lights.

Some spectators went to their cars to turn on the AM radios looking for a local weather update. Unfortunately all that many could find on their radios was static or very distant stations. It seems that the cold war was still in full force in south Florida with both Communist Cuba and the U.S. Government doing their best to jam radio signals from each other.

At 5:25 p.m. the storm hit with surprising force. The initial winds exceeded 50 mph and caused the Good Year blimp, Mayflower, to stand straight up on its nose. The ground crew rushed to secure the air ship lest it break free from its mooring. A few of the tents and temporary structures in the spectator area were either blown away or blown over. One tent ended up in the branches of a nearby tree with its tie-down ropes and tent stakes still attached.

Goodyear blimp Mayflower
A familiar sight at sporting events like Sebring was the Goodyear Blimp 'Mayflower'. When the great storm hit it literally stood on its nose while attached to the mooring.

Then the rains descended like a gray wall of water on the track cutting visibility almost to zero. By most accounts at least 5 inches of rain fell during the first 30 minutes totally overwhelming the track’s drainage system.

Under these conditions race cars lap times began to double, then triple as the cars plowed through standing water on the track. Water levels reached 8 inches or more in some areas. More than one car stopped on the track or sputtered into the pits with soaked ignitions and didn’t get going until their distributor and electrics were dried out.

Low slung cars like the Chaparral, Lola, Ford GT and Ferrari prototypes had a particular problem. Their air intakes were so low that the standing water was being scooped up and force fed by the forward movement of the car into all parts of the car including the cockpit. The force of the water being funneled throughout some cars caused gauges and switches to pop out of the dash. When they pitted mechanics were seen stuffing rags and towels into those air intake vents.

Because of the newly constructed protective pit wall the pit lane was awash and looked like a canal to everyone. Spare tires and other items were seen floating around in the pit enclosures and tools disappeared in the water. Drivers, crew and race officials waded in water approaching eight or more inches. Some will always remember the comical sight of Carroll Shelby with the brim of his soaked black Stetson down around his ears standing in water up to his ankles.

As the waters continued to rise in the pit area Bizzarrini team owner, Giotto Bizzarrini, decided to save his expensive Italian leather shoes by placing them in the corner of the pit stall. He then rolled up his pants legs and went back to managing the two Bizzarrini Iso Grifos in his bare feet. In the meantime the waters rose to the point where they flooded the pit stalls and his shoes floated out in the maelstrom never to be seen again. The next day when Bizzarrini boarded the plane for Italy he did so in his stocking feet.

On the race course the cars with wide race tires began to aquaplane and lose traction and handling. Some drivers and crew said later they were waiting for the race officials to red flag the race because conditions were too dangerous. That decision was never made and the rains continued unabated.

As Paul Rainville tells it, his father Charlie brought in the Bizzarrini Iso Grifo he was driving for a scheduled pit stop and driver change. The rain was still pounding down when co-driver Mike Gammino got into the car. He didn’t bother to fasten his safety belt before reentering the race.

Two or three laps later the car hydroplaned on the start/finish straight and struck the Mercedes-Benz Bridge abutment broadside cutting the car in two.

When the corner workers arrived to render assistance they found Gammino in his seat in the front half of the car. His hands were still on the steering wheel. The driver’s seat was still firmly affixed to the floor. His firmly affixed seat belts were with the back half of the car which was now twenty-plus feet distant. It was a lucky day for Mike Gammino.

When the corner workers initially assisted Gammino from the car it was still raining heavily and he really didn’t take note of the condition of the car. After determining that he didn’t suffer any serious injuries he was allowed to walk back to the pits. When he got there Charlie Rainville asked, “how bad’s the car?” He replied, “don’t know.” Charlie said, “Well, let’s go see.”

When they arrived at the accident scene Gammino took one look at the car cut in two with the pieces over twenty feet apart and promptly fainted.

Bizzarrini Iso Grifo of Charlie Rainville and Mike Gammino
The #9 Bizzarrini Iso Grifo of Charlie Rainville and Mike Gammino was split in two when it hydroplaned on standing water and hit the Mercedes-Benz bridge. Driver Mike Gammino walked away from the accident.

Lap times for most of the prototypes and big-bore sports cars were now approaching 10 minutes. The Miles/McLaren GT40 actually did one lap in the rain that took 16 minutes. Race lap averages went from just over 100 mph before the storm to an incredible 28 mph. Visibility was so poor that one Cobra Daytona driver, seeing what he thought was a turn, found himself in one of the aircraft parking areas. Looking behind him he saw that several other racers had followed him into the lot thinking he knew where he was going. The blind were leading the blind and the fact that the torrential rain had washed away many of the course pylons didn’t help things. The race continued and so did the monsoon rains.

Phil Hill in the #16 Cobra Daytona Coupe had to stop twice in one lap to open his door and let the water drain out. According to him it would get up to his waist and slosh around back and forth in waves. Several drivers pitted so their crews could punch holes in the floor of the car and let water drain out.

Running second before the deluge the Hill/Rodriguez Ferrari got drowned, got dried out, got drowned a second time and was finally left with two gears in the transmission. In all fairness to Graham Hill, it was Pedro Rodriguez who blew second gear early in the race. At the first driver change around noon Hill found much to his consternation that second gear was gone. It looked like Rodriguez was living up to his well deserved reputation of being tough on cars. There was a rumor among the mechanics that Rodriguez didn’t like using the clutch when he shifted.

Not all racers were hampered by the torrential rains. The small displacement sedans and sports cars running on narrow tires knifed their way through the standing water. The #61 Sebring Sprite of Clive Baker and Rauno Aaltonen passed a Ford GT40 three times in a short period of time while the #62 Sebring Sprite of Paddy Hopkirk and Timo Makinen passed the leading Chaparral four times in the rain. The #62 Sprite finished fairly high up in the standing at 15th while the #62 car finished in 18th position. It was all due to the rains.

Bob Grossman and Skip Hudson in their Ferrari 330P
Bob Grossman and Skip Hudson in their Ferrari 330P had their differential break after completing 122 laps. They are going very slow so they won’t drown their electrics.
2nd place #11 Ford GT40 of Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren
This photo could be captioned as ‘The Sebring Yacht Club.’ But seriously, the 2nd place #11 Ford GT40 of Ken Miles and Bruce McLaren surf their way through the standing water at the height of the storm.
Chaparral 2A
As a result of the heavy rains laps times slowed to a crawl. Here the #3 & #4 Chaparrals plow their way through the inches deep water.
Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ of Andrea de Adamich and Roberto Bussinello
Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ of Andrea de Adamich and Roberto Bussinello stalled when their electrics got soaked. Eventually the driver managed to get the car going again and back to the pits where they could dry out the car. The car finished 24th.
#39 Porsche 904 GTS - Joe Buzzetta and Ben Pon
The #39 Porsche 904 GTS of Joe Buzzetta and Ben Pon seems to love the water and with narrower tires passed many of the leaders during the storm. The car finished 6th overall.
Gran Sport Corvette - Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan
Delmo Johnson and Dave Morgan did finish the race in this Gran Sport Corvette, but in 36th.
#49 MGB - Merle Brennen and Frank Morrill
Merle Brennen and Frank Morrill took the #49 MGB to 25th overall and in this photo probably could have used scuba gear.

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?