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

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

The lightweight Chaparrals were running on very wide tires and found the conditions next to impossible. The new Firestone rain tires were of little use in the standing water. With 7 laps on the field, and track conditions less than ideal, the leading #3 Chaparral decided to pit at 5:50 p.m. and wait out the storm. This lasted for approximately 15 minutes according to the official time charts.

The other Chaparral had a hairy spin on the track during the storm and decided to pit until conditions improved. Later in the race they had a problem with a faulty voltage regulator and it took a 40-minute pit stop to correct it.

With three hours left in the race the rains began to diminish and then stop. The standing water on the course was quickly absorbed by the soft porous sands of south Florida and high-speed racing resumed with the Hall/Sharp Chaparral still in the lead and the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40 in second.

Hissom/Jennings - Chaparral 2A
After 90 minutes the rains begin to dissipate and the Hissom/Jennings Chaparral 2A returns to the race after a series of repairs in the pits. The car finished 22nd.
Shelby Daytona Cobra Coupe - Bondurant and Schlesser
The Shelby mechanics had to punch holes in the floor boards of the Daytona Cobra Coupe so water could drain out. Otherwise the rain filled up the cockpit almost waist high.

As far as some spectators were concerned the race was already over. Not because the Chaparral was in the lead but because many race fans were soaked to the skin and tired of wet clothes, the heat, and the mud. They just wanted to get to their hotel or home, take a shower and change into some dry clothes. At 7 p.m. the tail lights of many spectator cars could be seen exiting the track.

In those days some race fans going to Sebring for just race day dressed for the event. Men in sports jackets and ties and women in dresses and heels were not uncommon. But, for most of the in-crowd the dress code was casual dressy. Men in sports shirts and dress slacks while women wore stretch pants and silk blouses. A reporter from Women’s Wear Daily was present to report on the latest trends in racing fashion. People, especially the Palm Beach crowd, wanted to look good for an international event where the foreign press might be present. Race promoter, Alec Ulmann, and team owner, John Mecom, Jr., were classic examples of what a proper gentleman should wear on race day.

If you were not close to your car or shelter when the storm hit you got thoroughly soaked. Those who found shelter near concession stands or in some of the paddock tents discovered water rising around their feet, then up to their ankles, then above their ankles. Shoes, pants and dresses were ruined.

Very few of those folks came prepared for the deluge. Umbrellas were of no use in the high winds and if you wore a poncho or rain suit it didn’t take long for you and your clothes to get drenched in perspiration in the Florida heat and humidity. Even if you had a change of clothes and shoes there wasn’t a proper place to get dressed unless it was the back seat of your car and remember they didn’t have tinted windows in those days.

In the 9th hour of the race and after completing 133 laps the Graham Hill – Pedro Rodriguez Ferrari 330P finally succumbed to clutch problems. When they retired they were running in third place and with only two gears left in the transmission. Moving up to replace this car was an authentic private entry the #31 Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs.

And that is the way it stayed until the checker flag at 10 p.m.. The Jim Hall/Hap Sharp Chaparral 1st with 197 laps completed and 1,019.2 miles covered with an average speed of 84.723 mph. Not a record and you can blame the deluge for that.

In second place and four laps down was the Miles/McLaren Ford GT40. As the race wound down Miles and McLaren wanted to make a run at the leading Chaparral but Carroll Shelby vetoed that request. Later when reporters asked why he said, “We’d rather finish second than not finish.” The British racing green colored Ferrari 250 LM of David Piper and Tony Maggs finished third but first in class. Fourth but first in GT was the #15 Daytona Coupe of Bob Bondurant and Jo Schlesser.

1965 Sebring 12 Hours winning Chaparral 2A of Jim Hall and Hap Sharp.
Winning Chaparral 2A of Jim Hall and Hap Sharp.
Winning Chaparral of Hall and Sharp.
The view most other drivers had of the winning Chaparral of Hall and Sharp.

Obviously this finish made many folks happy. First were Jim Hall and Hap Sharp. They proved that regardless of heat, flooding rains and a notoriously rough track their revolutionary cars could go the distance. Despite the fact that Chaparral won, Carroll Shelby was happy. His Shelby American GT40 came in second and first in the prototype class. Also, Shelby Cobra Daytona Coupes came in 1-2-3 in the GT class, a clean sweep.

Porsche fans were happy because there were four Porsches (three 904’s) in the top ten. Despite their smaller engines the well-engineered cars proved they had staying power. Sports writers were already predicting that Porsche was another “dark horse” with which Ford, Ferrari and now Chaparral must contend.

American race car fans were no doubt very happy. An American-built car driven by American drivers beat the best Europe had to offer and did it on American soil at America’s most difficult track and under terrible weather conditions. 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.

Chaparral went on to have its most successful year ever in 1965 with 16 wins in 22 starts. Ford picked up valuable experience at Daytona, Sebring and Le Mans that year and it paid off big in 1966 when Ford finished 1-2-3 at what Dearborn considered the Holy Grail of racing, The 24-Hours of Le Mans. Ford would repeat its victory at Le Mans in 67, 68 and 1969.

For Carroll Shelby and his Shelby American organization 1965 was a great year. His cars went on to win eight of eleven races entered and the Cobra Daytona Coupe is the only American made car to win the World Manufacturer’s Championship for Grand Touring Racecars. At the end of 1965 the FIA revised the rules again making the Cobra Daytona Coupe obsolete in international competition.

The Chaparrals would race again at Sebring but in a different configuration. The winning 1965 car would be transformed into a coupe and race as a prototype at Sebring in 1966 and 67 but the biggest contribution Chaparral made back then was to the creation of the Can-Am series which was probably one of the most popular racing series ever run by Sports Car Club of America.

For decades European machinery dominated the world of sports cars and endurance racing. For a brief moment in time in the 1960’s that domination was interrupted.

For Further Reading:

The Sebring Story by Alec Ulmann Chilton Book company 1969

12-Hours of Sebring 1965 by Dave Friedman and Harry Hurst Hurst Communications 2006

Automobile Magazine Sept. 2009 “Henry Ford II vs Enzo Ferrari by Joe Lorio p.” 56

[Source: Louis Galanos; photo credit: B/W by Dave Nicholas and Color by Walker Fricks, Jr.]

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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?