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 Seven

Epilogue: 1966 Was The Death and Re-birth of Sebring

1966 Sebring 12 Hours ProgramThe day following the March 26, 1966 Sebring 12 Hours of Endurance and for the rest of the week the newspapers at home and abroad were replete with the news of Ford’s 1-2-3 victory. But this story was overshadowed by the reports of the death of a driver and four spectators at America’s premier sports car event. Editorial criticism of the track and promoters in regard to adequate equipment to put out car fires and the lack of safety for spectators was very strong.

The Orlando (Fla.) Sentinel of March 29 bitterly reproached the Sebring organizers for their failure to “provide spectator protection from the hurtling juggernauts.”

This criticism continued throughout the summer as automotive and sports magazines, with later deadlines, joined the chorus of nay-sayers with critical articles and editorials. Sebring founder, Alec Ulmann, got more than his fair share of the blame for what happened at that tragic event.

The June issue of Car and Driver magazine ventured the following: “The track at Sebring is far from being a paragon of safety, and certainly the promoters should be called to answer why, after 16 years of operation on the same site, more had not been done to generally improve the crude facilities.”

As expected, some local Florida politicians also jumped on the “kick Sebring when it’s down” campaign. Florida legislative candidate, Leo Furlong, pledged, that if elected, he would introduce legislation to create a state Athletic Commission that would, in part, regulate safety at automotive events like Sebring.

In the midst of all this criticism of his management of the Sebring race and the track facility Alec Ulmann got an offer that summer that seemed too good to refuse. It seems that the folks who owned and managed the Palm Beach International Raceway (PBIR) were interested in putting on a race. To be more specific they wanted Ulmann to move the Sebring event to Palm Beach, Florida. (Note: PBIR is actually situated in Jupiter, Florida.)

Ironically the 12-hour endurance race got its start in the Palm Beach area in 1949. It was held on the Beach Road on Singer Island. It was eventually moved to Sebring because area residents complained about the noise and spectator interest was small.

Pete McMahon, the general manager of Palm Beach International Raceway was willing to invest $1.5 million in track upgrades to the two-year-old track that would include extending the existing track length from 2 miles to 5.5. miles and the track would have 20 hairpin turns. According to Alec Ulmann, with that many sharp turns drivers would have to gearshift about 200 times for every lap of the track.

In addition 80 covered pits would be built for the entrants plus bleachers for the spectators, private parking, a scenic lake and roads the spectators could travel on to see parts of the course. All Ulmann had to do was sign a 10-year contract and change the name from The Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance to the Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance with the first race to be run on April 1, 1967 (Note the date.) On September 6, 1966, after several visits to PBIR, Alec Ulmann announced to the media the death of the Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix of Endurance and the birth of the Florida International Grand Prix of Endurance.

This must have made “somebody” angry because the ink was hardly dry on the contract when it began to rain, and rain and rain some more. It rained regularly for almost two months in the Palm Beach area causing delay after delay in the PBIR track improvements.

Finally the PBIR people announced on November 22, 1966 that they were giving up the 10-year contract to hold the race because the rains and high water table prevented them from getting the track ready, as contractually agreed, for the April 1 running of the Florida Grand Prix of Endurance. (Was the Big Man Upstairs pulling an April Fool’s Day joke on Ulmann and PBIR?)

With no PBIR, Ulmann was forced to hurriedly move the event back to the aging Sebring 5.2-mile facility where it has been ever since, except for 1974 when it was cancelled due to the energy crisis. To address safety issues at the Sebring track the promoters first move the race course to a road that paralleled the Warehouse Straight. They then eliminated the old Webster corner and replaced it with the high-speed Green Park Chicane.

To protect the buildings and their inhabitants along the Warehouse Straight they erected war surplus nylon belting that was designed to catch Navy planes that might overshoot a carrier landing or a short runway.

A week before the 1967 Sebring race a $1 million wrongful death law suit was filed in Sebring, which is the county seat of Highlands County, Florida. Legal papers were served on the three “principals” in the ’66 tragedy and that included Alec Ulmann, founder and director of the Automobile Racing Club of Florida and driver Mario Andretti. The third principal, Don Wester, was not at Sebring that year.

Enzo Ferrari knew from experience that such a suit would eventually be filed and could guess that doing so right before the 1967 Sebring race would guarantee maximum media coverage. They addressed this problem by announcing earlier in 1967 that both Ferrari and their North American representative (NART) would not field any cars at Sebring that year. Their excuse was that they were getting their cars ready for Le Mans and would skip America’s premier sports car race. However, they did show up for the Daytona 24-hour race and did brilliantly there by coming in 1-2-3.

According to a report in Road and Track magazine, “Luigi Chinetti of North American Racing Team said he feared the action (the Sebring suit) might result in a writ of attachment which would prevent him, as Ferrari’s U.S. representative, from removing his cars from Florida after the race so he wasn’t going to come.”

Both Don Wester and Mario Andretti were called to give depositions in this case. Andretti had to fly down to Sebring to answer questions from the lawyers while the same lawyers flew out to California to depose Wester who was still recovering from the injuries he sustained at Sebring.

The Edenfield family lost a father and two sons at the ’66 Sebring race and the Heacock family lost a mother and had a son seriously injured. The Edenfield family pushed for the lawsuit when negotiations with the insurance company broke down. The Heacock family settled things quietly because of their close relationship with Alec Ulmann. There is no indication that the suit ever went to trial. Information available on the Internet indicates that the deaths were officially ruled a “racing accident.”

The fall-out from the deaths at Sebring in 1966 was profound for track owners. Insurance companies demanded that spectators get no closer than 120 feet from the track rather than the previous 75 feet. Snow fencing was ruled inadequate for restraining the crowds and track owners had to install chain-link fencing and protective Armco barriers. After 1966 racing got a little more expensive for track owners and promoters but a lot safer for spectators.

March 26, 1966 will go down as the bloodiest day in the history of the Sebring 12-hour race and the aftermath of that event had a profound effect on American motorsports when it came to spectator safety issues.

The tragic death of Bob McLean at this race also led to some much needed modifications in later Ford GT40s to make them safer. This included a stronger roll cage and thicker fuel bladders to prevent fire.

To this day a controversy still surrounds what happened to the remains of the burnt-out car. One version is that it was buried in a landfill outside of Sebring. The other is that it was returned to Comstock Racing in Canada. A third is that a person in England has restored it. In motorsports folklore it is referred to as the “Ghost GT40.”

Ever fearful of any negative publicity affecting the company Ford hoped to bury the story of what caused the death of Bob McLean and refused to respond to any inquiries concerning the accident. To this day no official cause of the accident was ever produced by Ford. Bob McLean’s widow felt that Ford wanted to sweep things under the rug as quickly as possible.

During Le Mans testing on April 7, 1966 well known American racing champion Walt Hansgen was killed driving a 7-liter Holman Moody Ford GT40 Mk. II when the car aquaplaned in the rain and crashed heavily.

The deaths of McLean and then Hansgen within weeks of each other shook the Ford executives to the core. On top of that they were both at the wheel of Ford’s pride and joy, the GT 40 when the fatal accidents occurred.

The April 23, 1966 issue of Competition Press and Autoweek had a front page article that said. “Win or lose Ford may drastically curtail road racing after Le Mans.” It seems that the bean counters at Ford had convinced the executives that supporting a racing program might do more harm to the corporate image (and bottom line) regardless of how successful they might be.

The 1966 Sebring 12-Hour Grand Prix was just one of many battles in the Ford versus Ferrari Wars. As in most battles and wars there are winners, losers and casualties. At Sebring Ford was the winner in 1966 while Ferrari was the loser. However, Ford’s victory was overshadowed by the tragic loss of a driver and four spectators. Other Sebrings were races to remember but this one most would like to forget, if they could.


For further reading:

The Sebring Story, Alec Ulmann, Chilton Book Company, 1969

Sebring: The Official History of America’s Great Sports Car Race, Ken Breslauer, David Bull Publishing, 1995

1966 Sebring 12-Hours of Endurance, Harry Kennison, motorsportsmarketingresources.com

Competition Press and Autoweek, April 23, 1966, front page

St. Petersburg Times, November 24, 1966, P. 1C

Race on Sunday – Sell on Monday, www.aarcuda.ch

Sportscars.TV, www.sportscars.tv/newfiles/6612hrsebring.html

Daytona Beach Morning Journal, November 24, 1966

Sports Illustrated, April 4, 1966, www.//sportsillustrated.cnn.com/vault

The Legend of the Buried GT40, Gary Grant, The Garage Blog, Sept 7, 2010

[Source: Louis Galanos]

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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!