Ken Miles Lloyd Ruby Ford GT40 Mark II roadster, Sebring 12 Hours 1966
Ken Miles – Lloyd Ruby Ford X-1 was only one lap behind when the Gurney/Grant car expired thus giving them the win. Gurney was later disqualified for pushing his car on the course. If Gurney had left the car where it stopped he would have been awarded second on laps completed. (Ford Motor Company photo)

1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile

1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Page Four

At the one-hour-20-minute mark the pace was too much for the Phil Hill/Jo Bonnier Chaparral 2D and they retired due to a persistent oil leak that plagued them all week. When they entered the pits for the last time the rear window on the 7-liter mid-engine car was covered in oil.

Eight laps later the other Chaparral retired with a broken rear suspension. The team was kaput after completing only 35 laps. When asked by Bill Fleming of ABC’s Wide World of Sports about the problems that Chaparral was having Hap Sharp said, “We don’t seem to be able to build a closed car as well as the open cars we campaigned here last year.”

According to Sharp the additional 300 pounds of weight required for the prototype class was too much for the underpowered 327 cubic inch Chevrolet engine. “Everything we have was designed for a light-weight automobile”, said Sharp.

At 2:40 p.m. the #18 Canadian Comstock Ford GT40 driven by Jean Oulette pulled into their pit for fuel, brake pads and a driver change. When it left the pit Bob McLean was at the wheel. Just minutes later on the short straight just before the Hairpin Turn the rear brakes locked up causing the car to slide off the pavement. It hit a ditch and begins a barrel roll before making a hard contact with a telephone pole on the passenger side of the right hand drive car. That is where one of the fuel cells was located.

The fully loaded car burst into flames then went end over end before landing on its top. The ruptured gas tank had spilt most of its contents and the car was a mass of flames. Bob McLean was trapped inside.

Those who wrote about the incident at the time claimed that McLean was killed outright by the impact with the pole but the photos in this story indicate otherwise. The driver’s side of the right-hand-drive car did not impact the telephone pole.

Canadian Comstock Ford GT40, Bob McLean, Jean Oulette, 1966 Sebring 12 Hours
The Canadian Comstock Ford GT40 of Bob McLean and Jean Oulette. It failed to finish due to an accident that took the life of driver Bob McLean. (Ford Motor Company photo)

Although there was a fire truck nearby all they had on board was water (no foam) and two ten pound fire extinguishers, a CO2 and a dry chemical which was totally inadequate for the job at hand.

The fire burned for a long time with the magnesium wheels seen sparking from a long distance. The mushroom of black smoke drew almost 2000 onlookers and the police had their hands full trying to control the crowd. One photographer was roughed up by the police and his camera destroyed when he got too close to the burning car. The action of the police and the inability to rescue McLean or douse the fire quickly drew scathing criticism in US and international newspapers after the race.

Sebring 12 Hours 1966 fire
Spectators can be seen running toward the smoke and flames from the Bob McLean accident. The crush of spectators caused problems for the police. (Harry Kennison photo)

Back in the pits the black smoke was clearly visible and a strange hush came over the mechanics, crew members and families of drivers as each stared intently down the front straight hoping to catch a glimpse of their car coming out of turn 12. When the word of McLean’s death finally reached the folks in the Comstock pits it hit them very hard and, as was the tradition back then, they withdrew their other car from the race. This was only the second death for a driver in the long history of the Sebring race with the first coming in 1957. However, more deaths were about to follow on this tragic day in Sebring racing history.

Russo, Andrey, Adamich, Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2, Sebring 12 Hours 1966
Despite the Bob McLean accident and fire the race continued unabated. This is the Russo/Andrey/Adamich Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2 which finished 14th. (Bill Stowe photo)
Factory Porsche 906 Gerhard Mitter, Gunther Klass, Sebring 12 Hours 1966
Factory Porsche 906 of Gerhard Mitter and Gunther Klass. It failed to finish because of valve problems. (Bill Stowe photo)
Going into the Hairpin Turn the Elva Courier Mk IV Ford of William McKemie and Fred Opert experiences some brake fade and goes wide to avoid hitting the Whitmore/Gardner GT40.
Going into the Hairpin Turn the Elva Courier Mk IV Ford of William McKemie and Fred Opert experiences some brake fade and goes wide to avoid hitting the Whitmore/Gardner GT40. The Elva will end up in the sandbank. (Bill Stowe photo)

It is interesting to note that if such an incident were to happen at an auto race today, the course officials would immediately red-flag the race until the fire was extinguished and wreckage removed. In 1966 the race continued its blistering pace as the GT40 burned, and burned and burned. This was nothing new back then. The previous year when a deluge of five inches of rain flooded the Sebring track making driving extremely dangerous the race continued unabated. You either had to be nuts to race in those days or be one tough son-of-a-gun.

Mario Andretti Pedro Rodriguez Ferrari 365 P2-3
The McKemie/Opert Elva Courier is in the sandbank at the Hairpin Turn while the Andretti/Rodriguez Ferrari 365P2/3 and another Ferrari try to avoid hitting the Courier. (Bill Stowe photo)
Elva Courier, 1966 Sebring 12 Hours
The driver of the Courier is about to dig his car out of the sandbank while a Corvette Sting Ray and a Ferrari cautiously pass by. Even as late as 1966 some race cars were equipped with shovels for this eventuality. (Bill Stowe photo)
Dick Thompson, Dick Guldstrand, Penske Corvette Grand Sport, 1966 Sebring 12 Hours
Dick Thompson and Dick Guldstrand drove this Penske Corvette Grand Sport at Sebring in 1966. They failed to finish due to an accident. (Bill Stowe photo)

1966 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile Continued

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Show Comments (44)

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  1. Mr Galanos has yet again produced the definitive history on a race. This profile oozes with wonderful details and tidbits that bring it back to life. And the pictures are a wonderful accompaniment to this masterpiece. Many thanks to all.

  2. Thanks for the trip back to the golden age of endurance racing, when finishing the race was a victory in its own right…especially at the torturous Sebring.

  3. Yes Lou has taken us back in time once again. Tomorrow I’m going to the SVRA races at Sebring and this made for a great warmup piece. Thanks Lou.

  4. Great follow up story on this 66 Sebring 12 hr race. I was there
    During the 12 race and witnessed the glory of Sebring with all
    The remarkable varied race entries. Of course the big boy
    entries got all the attention, as they usually do. This has always
    Brought the fans an opportunity to see these prototypes up close
    And personal.
    The 1st SCCA pro Trans Am race was the prelude to the 12 hr.
    Joachim Rindt did a remarkable job in the aluminum body Alfa,
    Having won the race with his remarkable driving prowess and better
    Fuel economy. The other part of the T A race story was the debute of
    Group 44 inc. Dodge Dart, which also Won class over two liter and 2nd
    Overall. This American car entry was the beginming of the Pony Car
    Entries that made the Tans Am series so popular. The Group 44 Dodge
    Dart became the Winingest Chrysler car ever in Trans Am History.

    My cograts to Louis for his fine story and all the photo contributors.
    See more at my bio site…. http://www.a2zracer.com

    Cheers !. Tony a2z racer
    See more at my bio site http://www.a2zracer.com

  5. Great job, Lou. I was sitting in the hairpin with my brother, Don. We witnessed the McLean crash.

    We’ll be in our 3 spaces on Turn 14. We’ve got a 39′ scissors lift. Come see us.

    Regards, Dickey Weinkle

  6. Hi Louis
    Another great peace of writing by you, The story and photographs are a credit to the detail you go to.
    Hard to believe it was so long ago as we only restored the Alan Mann Graham Hill GT40 a a couple of years ago and to read about it just makes you realise how much punishment all these cars went through.
    Best Wishes
    Nigel

  7. Once again fantastic photos, relevant details, and a very descriptive article of this storic event.
    Keep it up –

  8. Hi Lou,
    Want to thank you for another tremendous article, It is accurate and complete. Your investigation to bring the truth about all details from the past is always evident in your articles. Thanks again, Don

  9. Lou,
    Many thanks for another comprehensive, excellent article on the tragic 1966 Sebring race. Although I was there, your article including interviews with Mssers Andretti and Wester were able to fill in many of the questions that I always had regarding that event. Glad I could be of assistance.
    Harry Kennison

  10. Lou,

    This is up to your usual high standards. Excellent photos, too, from Harry and Bill.

    Fred Lewis

    PS. It was great to see you and Thomas at Daytona in January.

  11. Another great write-up. As I read about the race many details came back to mind which I had forgotten over the years. Thanks again.

  12. Great story, Lou! Great pix, too. I was there, covering for Car and Driver. Your story brought it all back.

  13. 1966 was my only trip to Sebring for the race. I was, and still am, a huge Gurney fan. It was heartbreaking to witness him pushing that car across the finish line, but it’s still one of my fondest memories. Thanks for revving up the Wayback Machine for us.

  14. Fantastic Article !!!!!!!!!!! Mr. Galanos , it put me on the track as if I was there , years later (1976) I was fortunate to enter the race myself .

  15. A great piece, thanks. I grew up in Central Florida, Lakeland, and went down to Sebring every year starting with the USGP in “59. I skipped school Thursday and Friday to attend in “66, probably on of those hiding from the ticket takers. I hung around the Ferrari garage, just a small wooden building, and was there when they unloaded the P3 and 206 SP. It was the Golden Age and I am so glad I was able to see it. All the great drivers were there, F1 drivers drove endurance at that time. I still love the 8mm I shot there. There was a tragedy, I knew the people killed on the Webster straight. They were from Lakeland. I went to school with Willis Edenfield who was killed along with his father, brother and a family friend. I saw Willis crossing the walk over bridge to the paddock pre-race. His father was in the citrus business so they had access to the Webster warehouse area. I think it stored citrus irigation equipment. I didn’t know about it till I read the Sunday paper. Thanks for the great piece and pix.

  16. Wonderful and exciting writing style! Very sympathetic coverage of the tragic events. Fantastic photographs and captions, too. As a sexist pig, perhaps I should ask if there are any photos of the afore-mentioned topless bimbos…

    Seriously though, more of the same!

  17. Willis Edenfield, Jr. was a classmate of mine at Emory (’68). He lived up the hall from me in Longstreet our frosh year (64/65). Tough weekend at Sebring.

    1. Willis was my roommate and “little brother” in Kappa Alpha fraternity..He had invited me to the race but I chose to return to my home…I attended the services in Lakeland and later delivered his eulogy at Emory…a very difficult time for all who knew him and the family…I think of him often..Bill Robbins

      1. William Robbins: Thank you for your comment. Willis was a friend of my older sister, his little brother, Mark, was in my mother’s class at Southwest Elementary School. It was such a hard time for everyone who knew the Edenfields. It is somehow comforting to see these young people are so fondly remembered nearly half a century later.

  18. Another chapter to this tragic story occurred 5 months later when 1966 Sebring 12 Hour race winner Ken Miles was killed while testing the Ford “J Car” prototype at Riverside. Miles also won Daytona 24 hour that year.
    At the 1966 Le Mans 24 hour Miles was leading when the Ford PR people ask him to slow down at the finish so they could take a picture of their 1,2,3 finish. Miles and co-drive Denis Hulme were credited with second place even though they were the first car to cross the finish line.
    Ken Miles’ last year of racing was one of the greatest in history.

  19. Thank you Lou, you’ve done it again! (Though I must admit I still like your 65 story best so far….).
    All the best at the next one and looking forward to reading from you again soon,

    Vincent.

  20. This article was superb! The photos that were included were great. I remember watching this race on Wide World of Sports when I was . This ranks as my favorite Sebring race of all.

    Keep up the excellent work!

    Dave

  21. Very nice article, Mr. Galanos. The thing I like best, after your stirring and accurate race description, is your sticking to the known facts in the controversies that surrounded the thing. We who participated were, as always, consumed with the race and frankly somewhat inured to the accompanying drama and tragedy. Later, when it became clear that ’66 was a marred event and the press came down on it, there was a lot that our friends and family wanted to know that was impossible to provide. You supply some of that info now, and I thank you.

    Our “antique” #35 GTO was beautifully prepared by German Motors of West Palm Beach, with “performance assistance” from Firestone Tires. We had high hopes for her, and we ran extremely well in the opening hours. Unfortunately (as pictured in your article) my co-driver became entangled with the Hairpin sandbank, at just about the time of McLean’s awful crash, and the ensuing chaos in that area of the track effectively put an end to our ride.

    Ferrari 250 GTO, s/n 3223 GT, was the first of the 36 built, and its 50th birthday was two weeks ago, on Feb. 24, 2012. It was also the last to run in an FIA endurance race, and thus its career bracketed the entire span of GTO dominance. The car has now been meticulously restored, by Motion Products of Neenah, WI, to an exact representation of its set-up for the ’66 Daytona 24 Hours, where we won “1st In Class” the month before Sebring. It has recently garnered six trophies for the owner, Scuderia DiBari, including two for “Best GTO”, at the Pebble Beach Concours d’Elegance last August and the Cavallino Classic Concours last month. Old 3223 GT runs like a top and continues to strut her stuff for the faithful !!!

    I join Tony Adamowicz and the others in complimenting you on your fine research and writing job for this article.

    Sincerely,
    Larry Perkins

  22. Harry Kennison’s second grid photo on Page 2 is instructive.

    This is not a good pic of our #35 Ferrari GTO, but I think it is an interesting piece of history. It’s a middle part of the grid for the 1966 Sebring race. Pomp and ceremony are about to start, and we drivers are probably off in the drivers’ meeting. My former wife, Joy, is standing beside the GTO driver’s door (but that’s not the interesting history!)

    The cars, drivers, positions, qual times, etc. are:

    Foreground:
    #18; Ford GT40 (1000); Bob McLean/Jean Oulette; Grid 16; Q 3:08.9; DNF (McLean killed, accident, lap 84)
    Line-up:
    #35; Ferrari 250 GTO (3223); Larry Perkins/Jack Slottag; Grid 35; Q 3:30.3; DNF (Slottag crash, lap 62)
    #64; Alfa Romeo Giulia TZ2; Sam Posey/Harry Theodoracopoulos; Grid 36; Q 3:30.4; DNF (motor, lap 16)
    #33; Ferrari 250 LM (5845); Arthur Swanson/Robert Ennis; Grid 37; Q 3:30.2; DNF (motor, lap 71)
    #57; Porsche 904 GTS; Millard Ripley/Herb Wetanson; Grid 38; Q 3:32.6; DNF (gearbox, lap 95)

    So, as an indicator of how tough Sebring could be, 64 cars started & 29 finished; every car in this picture DNF’d.

    As for endurance, Sebring was/is a tricky place, including the heat and such challenges as the 140 mph Big Bend followed by a 20 mph hairpin. And, in those days at least, we usually used two drivers and had a couple of old runway straights that BRUTALLY rattled the cars and those drivers. So chassis set-up, weight, brakes, acceleration, skill, and RELIABILITY – all get severely tested. It’s what still makes the venue one of the premier endurance tracks in the world.

    Larry Perkins

    1. Louis Galanos covers events vividly, and they snap right back into focus. I remember James Garner’s Lola’s at Sebring, and all the rest, with help from Lou. He was the Sebring/Daytona beat reporter back then, and I have his 2011 racing pictorial calendar which is a collector’s catalog of his crisp images from the early 70’s, and I’m waiting on the book… Keep on keepin’ on, Lou.

  23. Thanks for the great article. You transported me back to 1966 when I went to my Sebring and was 17 years old on spring break with my brother and his fraternity brothers from Purdue.
    I remember vividly Andretti’s NART Ferrari spinning toward me in the dark as I was pinned up against the fence by people hearing the accident and running to see what had happened. When the Ferrari came to a stop the front doghouse was badly damaged and the driving lamps were hanging down at a strange angle. Andretti stopped briefly and drove off into the dark. Later we learned that the spectators across the way had died in the accident. Very tragic.
    The quote about Gurney’s car sitting there and seeing it stopped from the stands was exactly as recall.
    I wish I had articles like this for every race I ever attended.

  24. Very good article. I have searched for details of that race a long time. I am originally from Lakeland, Florida. My sister, Connie Berg (Plunkett) had occasionally dated Willis Edenfield. She’s now deceased herself, but I recall that they had been out the night before the accident, while each was on spring break (in her case from Wesleyan College in Macon, Georgia.) She was devastated. For the rest of my junior high school years, I walked or biked past the home at 2223 Eden Parkway where the only surviving member of that family (Willis’ mother) lived. At the time, I had never seen a Porsche, though a neighbor had a Ferrari. I’ve since made up for that, becoming a serial Porsche owner and competitor. I’ve always wondered how much influence that race had on my fascination for Porsches.

  25. Ihad forgotten about the deaths at Sebring in 66. Mostly just recall the Chaparral’s DNF’ing, Gurney’s bad luck and Miles win.

    On another related subject. There were two Yenko Stingers entered in the 1966 event. They did not do will at all. Race number 36 was DSQ after 25 laps and race number 37 DNF’d on lap 1. Does anybody have photos of eithr or both cars.
    Thanks,
    Historically Yours,
    James Rice
    [email protected]

  26. I went to school with Willis Edenfield. We had our 50th high school reunion this weekend. And there was a big picture of him at a prom. Brought tears to my eyes. We took piano lessons together and played many duets together. What a tragic loss. Have never forgotten Willis. So sad!

    1. Willis lived down the hall from me at Emory, Longstreet Hall, freshman year (64/65). I was at Sebring when he was killed.

  27. Willis was my best friend. He had stopped by in Gainesville to invite me to join them at the race, but I wasn’t at the fraternity house that night. Had I gone, the tragic event would most likely have played out differently, perhaps with my death also. Devastated me, even to this day I get tears just thinking about them. I bought Willis’s pride, his 65 GT Mustang, which I drove for many years, always thinking of Willis and his wonderful family.

    1. Dan, I have enjoyed reading these posts. I was a cousin to Willis Jr. and am on my way to Lakeland as I write to attend his mother’s funeral. She was 91 years old and I became like a son to her after the tragic loss of her sons. She lived there in Lakeland and was loved so much. So glad I found this information.

      Thanks!

      1. Thanks so much for your reply. So sorry to see of her passing. I used to visit now and then over the years, and always felt I lived a life for Willis, who would have remained my best friend as he was in High School and early college. I dream about him from time to time, and just watched a video I did of he and I at the Word’s Fair in NYC in 1964, where we had sailed back from England together on the SS Rotterdam. I had, by coincidence, visited the SS Rotterdam in Rotterdam, Netherlands, last month, and went up to the sundeck, where Willis and I were looking for girls to dance with, and still remember hearing the Beatles sing, “And I love her”. Always think of Willis when I hear that song, among others. Driving his Mustang always evoked memories over the years, since he and I drove everywhere in it, including a trip to Daytona Beach. I had the coolest car in my fraternity at UF, thanks to an excellent choice that Willis made, after he and I took the ride in the 64 1/2 Mustang at the World’s Fair. Do you have the cemetery name, if so, I would like to know which one it was? I visited with my young son almost 28 years ago, but forgot the name, although I sort of remember where it was, near the cemetery my folks are buried in off highway 98 if I recall. I would like to visit the gravesite when I’m in Lakeland at Christmas, and pay my respects to the entire family of someone who had a profound effect on my life. Dan Baggett ([email protected])

  28. Lou, excellent article and photos of the event. Always enjoy reading/viewing your stuff.

    Does anyone have photos of the 4 hour Trans Am race or paddock in 66? Specifically the Minis……Looking for photos of the Mini Charles (Chuck) Dietrich and Suzy Dietrich drove as part of the 3 car Ring Free Oil team.

    Cheers,
    Rachel
    email: [email protected]

  29. This race, which claimed the life of his teammate Bob McLean, was the last motorsport event my uncle Jean Ouellet ever entered. He passed away 28 april 2015 at the age of 85.

  30. I enjoyed seeing the 1966 race at Sebring, enjoyed re-living the event when I first read this article in 2012, and I again enjoyed re-reading it now. Really a great job. Well done !

  31. A lot of folks express wonderful feelings, but….

    I tend the grave EVERY week!! I haven’t seen single flower

    Mrs. E (Phenia) changed my life.

    Baggett? A vulture. As usual.

  32. I attended this race, my first one, as a 12 year old boy who successfully pestered my non-racing-fan father to make the drive from Miami, which he did by departing in the wee hours of the morning, depositing my younger brother and I in the bleachers across from the pits, and going to our ’56 Oldsmobile to sleep.

    I still have vivid memories of ole ‘shel waving the hammer, the awful plume of smoke and all those amazing cars blasting by right under my nose.

    Years later I stood in the pit area, with our car leading at the time, and just stared at those bleachers again.

    Thanks so much for the wonderful story, fantastic reportage and memories!