Eppie Wietzes in N.A.R.T. Ferrari leads BMW

1974 12 Hours of Sebring – Race Profile

Story and photos by Hal Crocker

As it lay there all twisted and rusting its steel skeleton reminded me of the remains of a giant dinosaur. Since the last Sebring Race the old MG Bridge had fallen during a bad storm; could this be an omen of things to come? Stirling Moss was interviewing Alec Ulmann, the founder of the Sebring 12 Hour Race, in front of a group of old abandoned World War II airplanes. The interview was for a documentary on the history of Sebring, titled “Sebring – The Glory Years.” The making of the documentary only added fuel to the rumor that this would be the last Sebring. This had been a running rumor from the first time that I had attended the Sebring 12 Hour back in 1970 but this time it could very well be for real.

History
The Fédération Internationale de l’Automobile (FIA), sanctioning body for the Sebring Race, had given Alec Ulmann an extension on required safety and track improvements for the 1971 race and then charitably extended it for 1972. But when these much-needed improvements were not made, the FIA felt that they had no choice but to drop Sebring from the World Sportscar Championship calendar for 1973.

Additionally, the Auto Racing Club of Florida withdrew their sanction of the event, the Federal Aviation Administration imposed stricter regulations on the use of the airport, insurance costs accelerated, sponsors dropped out and Alec was now getting up in years and just could not justify it health or business wise. Thus, Alec reluctantly decided to give it up at the end of 1972. It had been a long hard battle and Alec had fought it with passion and zest but the Ulmann era was over and it appeared so was the Sebring Race.

To the Rescue

John Bishop at Sebring
John Bishop at Sebring
Just when it seemed that Sebring was lost in 1973, John Bishop, with the help of Bill France of NASCAR, saw an opportunity and engineered a business deal that saved it once again. Bishop, ex-head of SCCA and then founder of the new International Motor Sports Association (IMSA), knew full well that Sebring was the crown jewel of American sports car racing and thus the importance and value of the event.

For this rescue and the task of running the ‘73 race, Bishop recruited the help of Reggie Smith, a long-time associate of Alec Ulmann. Reggie formed the Sebring Auto Racing Association to replace the role of the Auto Racing Club of Florida. Together the two men, with the help of other good citizens of the motorsport community, were able to organize, promote, sanction and stage the 1973 Sebring 12 Hour Race thus saving it for yet another year.

The crowd and entry for the 1973 race was more than a bit off along with the media coverage but that was expected given the circumstances. That said, the event was considered a success by most so it would stand to reason that the same players would follow through and do the 1974 Sebring 12 Hour Race. Not so.

OPEC Crisis
Once again the Sebring race would be threatened, this time by strong geopolitical forces, namely the Arab OPEC oil embargo and the fuel crisis that followed. Politically savvy Bill France canceled the 24 Hour sports car race at Daytona in February and did not want nor need the extra heat of public opinion associated with running a gas-guzzling twelve hour race at Sebring. Plus, he had his plate full just trying to save NASCAR. This left Bishop out in the cold without his important ally for the 1974 Sebring race. Reluctantly, Bishop withdrew IMSA sanction and support of the race much to the disappointment and dismay of a number of manufacturers and the sports car racing community.

For a number of entities, this represented a large financial loss if the race did not run. It was a Catch 22 – lose what you already invested or go forward and see if you could save the program. A number of players were not ready to give up.

Tampa businessmen and race enthusiasts Charles Mendez and Dave Cowart stepped up to the plate to have a go at it. Mendez would later form Sebring Motorsports Inc. to promote the 1978 Sebring Race and would also win that race with co-drivers Brian Redman and Bob Garretson. That drive was the first race Redman drove after his recovery from his career threatening Can-Am accident at St. Jovite.

Back to the 1974 race, Mendez and Cowart recruited their high school friend Peter Pheil to help save Sebring once again.

New Sponsor
Peter Pheil, a Tampa-area native and now president of Pheil Industries, an international conglomerate based in Zurich, Switzerland, stepped up with sponsorship for the race. The money was coming from the agrochemical division of Pheil Industries and the product promotion budget of a new fertilizer named “Black Bull.” PAC, Pheil Agro-Chemical, was about to introduce “Black Bull” for the fast emerging Florida organic farming industry that was being driven by the new health food craze that swept the country.

Now with a big dollar sponsor in place, the Tampa Gang, as they would be known, proceeded ahead at full speed but now running late on the schedule. With time needed to get everything back on track – mainly insurance and media – the Tampa Gang would miss the Sebring traditional date of the third weekend of March even though 2,000+ fans showed up that weekend anyway. The race was moved to the first weekend in April, which meant that they would lose most of the spring break crowd. Even so, with PAC money and the support and encouragement of the motorsports community, the Tampa Gang soldiered forward.

The Players

Ferrari
The running of the Sebring 12 Hours was much to the relief of Mauro Forghieri, Ferrari’s director of racing, whom already had a great deal invested in the event, having built two cars just for this race.

The Ferrari entry at Sebring was somewhat of a surprise since the company, having achieved their goal of winning the World Sportscar Championship in 1972, elected to withdraw from this series and sports car racing in 1973 to focus on Formula One. However the Sebring race was very important to Ferrari because of the large American market for their street/road cars. Thus the Ferrari race department, under the direction of Forghieri, prepared two of their new 365GT 4/BB Boxer models and contracted four hot-shoes, Mario Andretti, Jacky Ickx, Milt Minter, and Eppie Wietzes to pilot them.

There was a problem with tire company contracts since the cars were derived from a Ferrari street/road car and not a purpose-built racer. Andretti was under a Firestone contract, so to solve the dilemma, the cars were entered – wearing Firestone tires – by Luigi Chinetti, the North American importer for Ferrari. This was not the first time that Ferrari had used Chinetti’s North American Racing Team (N.A.R.T.) to solve a political problem. Chinetti in his youth had been a driver for Cavaliere del Lavoro Ferrari – the Commendatore. How Chinetti became the importer for Ferrari cars to North America is a story for a movie but the short of it is, he was caught out by WWII in the U.S.A.

BMW
BMW was the only official factory entered team for the event. BMW Team Manager Jochen Neerspasch entered two new CSL models and a stellar driver line-up of Hans Stuck, Brian Redman, Ronnie Peterson and Sam Posey to contest the race. The CSLs were in every way examples of Teutonic engineering at its best from the taped-on graphics to the sophisticated sound of the engine.

Porsche
Jo Hoppen, the man at the helm for Porsche racing in North America, may well have had the biggest vested interest in a Sebring Race. Like Ferrari and BMW, the United States represented the largest market for Porsche and part of Hoppen’s job was supporting sales and marketing of the marque through racing. Porsche represented by far the largest number of cars entered in the race, all entered as privateers.

Four entries of note were the 1973 Sebring-winning Brumos team of Peter Gregg and Hurley Haywood, the West Coast Vasek Polak team of Danny Ongais and Tony Adamowicz, the Penske team of Mark Donohue and George Follmer and the future 1976 Sebring-winning Holbert team of Al Holbert and Michael Keyser. All four teams were a force to be reckoned with, with back door Porsche factory support.

Corvette
The two outstanding teams of Greenwood and DeLorenzo headlined the Corvette contingent of eight entries. Long-time Corvette racer Tony DeLorenzo had set the pole here in 1973 and was back with a new car sponsored by Bud. John Greenwood, another Tampa Gang recruit and a noted Corvette man, was present with two new wild-bodied Vettes.

Greenwood, now with his manufacturing facilities located in Florida, was on board right from the start with the Tampa Gang. In fact Greenwood’s car was being used as a promotional piece for the race with a wild “Spirit of Sebring” paint scheme. The other Greenwood Vette had an even wilder paint and signage that read “Chicken ______, You Can Eat Here Too.” Jack Ansley was running the Chicken Ranch car as a separate deal. Jack would later go on to be part owner and manager of Road Atlanta and then move to Team Lotus Sport. Today Jack owns a chain of Chicken Ranch eateries and Jack’s Bars but is best known in the racing community for throwing the best damn parties in racing.

Tech
I had never seen such a collection of weird-ass race cars. It was obvious at tech that the word had gotten out: there is a Sebring 1974 Race and it was a real outlaw. There were just two categories, GTO and GTU. Charlie Rainville and Billy Cook were given the job of finding eighty cars out of the hundred plus that showed up for tech to make the field. “Homologated hell, does it have rubber tires,” Rainville asked with a big smile. This task was solved by gridding the top seventy qualifiers and then having a ten-lap shoot-out race for the last ten spots on Friday afternoon.

Practice
The first practice session was cut short due to Gordy Offjaw crashing in a big way for no apparent reason on the back straight. Offjaw would die two years later in a mental intuition. This is another story for another time.

Night practice was nothing less than three hours of chaos and carnage highlighted by James Brolin hitting a hog – the four-legged kind. And yes, James Brolin the movie star. The hog was guest of honor the next night at a barbecue.

Qualifying
Friday started with an early two-hour practice session followed one hour later with the only qualifying session. Tony DeLorenzo in the big 482ci Bud Corvette drew first blood on his second lap out by bettering his pole winning time from ‘73 by over a second. The ink was not dry when Milt Minter, last year’s fastest race lap holder, swatted DeLorenzo’s mark with a speed of 108.960 mph. Yes the Ferraris were fast, to no one’s surprise. Greenwood, in what the fans were calling “The Bat Mobile,” got in the record books until Andretti went out and moved the bar higher yet. From there it was a shoot-out between the two Ferraris, Minter and Andretti back and forth with Andretti ending up on top with a time of 2:47.937 for a speed of 110.910 MPH. After qualifying Minter said, “Damn! I would have been fast if it had not been for Andretti.” Typical Uncle Miltee.

At 2:00pm there was a ten-lap race for the last ten spots on the grid. Forty-two cars started this shoot-out. John Greenwood was in the middle of an engine change. Like Greenwood most had things to do but like Greenwood almost everyone sought a location to watch the race from. Greenwood and I made it to the top of a transporter. Our effort was rewarded by a show that ranked with a good figure-eight race.

1974 12 Hours of Sebring Grid

1. Andretti / Ickx, Ferrari Boxer, 2:47.937
2. Minter/ Wietzes, Ferrari Boxer, 2:48.676
3. Peterson/Redman, BMW CSL, 2:49.238
4. Greenwood/Brockman, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:49.643
5. DeLorenzo/Durst, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:49.793
6. Follmer/Donohue, Porsche Carrera, 2:50.114
7. Haywood/Gregg, Porsche Carrera, 2:50.985
8. Keyser/Holbert, Porsche Carrera, 2:51.163
9. Felton/ Ramsey, Chevrolet Corvette, 2:51.897
10. Posey/Stuck, BMW CSL, 2:51.915

Race Day
This was the first time that I drove right into the track on race day without a queue. It was still early but there was no sign of a crowd, which is not normal for Sebring. This would be the smallest attendance of a Sebring 12 Hour ever. Not good for the promoters but it made life easier for me.

Pre-Race
The wild and wide-bodied Greenwood Vette managed by Jack Ansley was the hit of the pre-race grid. Ansley had cut a sponsorship deal with the world-famous Chicken Ranch, a bordello located outside Las Vegas. Part of the deal included supplying support personnel from the Chicken Ranch for the race. Ansley kept this quiet until it was time to grid the cars. The ladies from the Ranch, outfitted as risqué team members, escorted Gene Felton, Rex Ramsey and the Chicken Ranch Car, now with its full signage painted in, “Chicken Ranch, You Can Eat Here Too,” to the grid. Needless to say, Ansley’s car and ladies stole the pre-race show and damn sure topped the Hawaiian Tropic Girls.

Start of the Race
Andretti, the master of the rolling start, nailed it perfectly and had a four-car lead on the rest of the field coming out of turn one. Greenwood, Minter, DeLorenzo, Peterson, Follmer and Gregg in that order were in a tight pack giving chase. The leaders were followed by a herd of A Sedan-type cars, mixed in with a whole lot of Porsches.

Coming out of Big Ben, Follmer got his nose to the inside right of DeLorenzo putting Tony to the outside for the upcoming right Hairpin. Tony, realizing the situation, tried to make the best out of a bad situation by braking early and tucking back in behind Follmer. Gregg, seizing the opportunity, closed the hole and in doing so, missed his braking point and nailed Follmer’s Porsche square in the rear, sending Follmer spinning into the dirt bank on the outside of the Hairpin.

As the last car in the field cleared the Hairpin, Follmer was able to restart his wounded mount and limp off on a flat left rear. Knowing Follmer I speculated as to what he must have been thinking and that was that Gregg was into him for about three of these now. Payback with penalty and interest can be hell.

The Gregg/Follmer incident shuffled the field a bit. As they crossed the line for the first lap, it was Mario with almost three seconds on Minter followed by Greenwood, DeLorenzo and Peterson, with Gregg now the leader of the second group. Andretti kept the lead until he was called in for gas. Minter followed one lap later along with about a dozen big blocks. This shuffle gave the lead to Gregg in the Porsche until he pitted giving the lead back to Andretti.

Race – First hour
At the end of the first hour it was the Ferraris running one-two and Haywood, now in for Gregg, in third place but a lap down to the second place Ferrari with Wietzes now in it.

Andretti stayed in the car on the first pit stop and only took on gas thus extending his lead even more. Andretti in the Ferrari without a doubt had the field covered and it was beginning to look like another Andretti roust.

Sebring, with the Hairpin hole shot and those long drag-strip straights, favors horsepower and the cars with the horses were pulling out a study lead on the smaller cars. However horsepower is expensive in more than one way and on the Sebring rough track, horsepower can be a cars downfall and this was the case for the Greenwood car in the third hour. Horsepower, the one thing coveted most by race drivers, was just too much for the transmission of the Spirit of Sebring Corvette as it coasted to a stop at the end of the front straight with its 650 plus bhp engine still very much alive but its transmission in pieces.

Race – Third Hour
Andretti and Ickx were setting a killer pace and four of the eight Vettes were already out of the race along with a number of other cars by the end of the third hour. Minter and Wietzes in the other Ferrari were the only car on the same lap with the leader. One lap down were a brace of Vettes and BMWs, led by Jack Baldwin in the Revell Corvette followed in close pursuit by DeLorenzo, Peterson and Redman.

DeLorenzo and Baldwin were having quite a go at it for third. At the little kink in warehouse straight on the far backside of the track, just before the track turns back onto Flying Fortress Straight, DeLorenzo accidentally tapped Baldwin, sending him off track into a loading dock behind one of the warehouses. It was a hard hit and as Tony rounded the turn he looked back to see the car on fire and no sign of Baldwin getting out. Being the good guy that he is, DeLorenzo cut back across the apron of the runway and drove back to Baldwin’s car. There were still no workers on sight as DeLorenzo pulled an unconscious Baldwin out of the wreck. While DeLorenzo was tending to Baldwin, the workers arrived to save the car with fire bottles. As the last flames went out the workers had to redirect their attention to now saving DeLorenzo from a very irate Baldwin who had regained consciousness and was now straddling DeLorenzo on the ground and beating the [email protected]#t out of him. Once separated, Jack calmed down and petitioned DeLorenzo for a ride back to the pits over the protest of the corner workers. They were at a loss as to how to stop it so they turned a blind eye as DeLorenzo drove away holding his bloody nose and with Baldwin as a passenger.

Both men would recover from the incident to go on to big things, Baldwin became the Trans-Am Champion driving the Hot Wheels Camaro in 1998 and DeLorenzo would win the Country Music Entertainer of the Year Award the same year. Both are now good friends and laugh at the mention of this.

With the Baldwin / DeLorenzo event, this put the factory BMWs into third and fourth leading a procession of Porsches followed by Ramsey in the Chicken Ranch Corvette and the Club Arnage-sponsored French Corvette of Claude Ballot-Lena and Jean-Pierre Beltoise, the former at the wheel.

Rex Ramsey in cockpit
Rex Ramsey in cockpit

Cheap suits
Somewhere about this time men in cheap suits showed up at the far end of the pits. On the track in the Chicken Ranch Vette, Rex Ramsey coasted down the run out at the Hairpin all the way to the end and pulled to the side. A crew member then appeared on the scene to assist with whatever the problem was. The car was soon restarted and back on its way. In the pits, more cheap suits set up a perimeter around the far end of the pits. About twenty minutes later, Ramsey came in for a scheduled pit stop and driver change. Everything looked routine as Felton returned the Chicken Ranch Vette to the track. As Rex prepared to take of his helmet the cheap suits with their hands on their guns closed in. Just as the suits were set to pounce, off comes Ramsey’s helmet and the suits recoiled in shock, as it’s George P. Burdell the team’s engineer/driver from Georgia Tech and not their target. Rex is twenty minutes out at 2200 feet in a Cessna somewhere over Florida on his way to being the focus of a Newsweek drug article and a legend in motorsports.

Jack Baldwin then became the only driver to drive two cars in the race, as he replaced Rex Ramsey, Gene Felton’s AWOL co-driver, for the remainder of the race.

Halfway point
At the halfway point the Greenwood Vette sat on jack stands as its crew did open heart surgery on the transmission. Of the eight Corvettes that started the race, the DeLorenzo and Chicken Ranch Corvettes were the only survivors still on track, running strong in eighth and ninth behind three Porsches, and the factory cars of BMW and Ferrari. It was still Andretti and Ickx setting the pace with the Munich team of BMW keeping everybody honest.

Show Time
After lunch, Ansley’s ladies from the Chicken Ranch made their way to the Green Park, an area of the infield, for a stage show. The show had been promoted by the ladies handing out flyers with the time and location of the show, which was organized and sponsored by Pimp, a men’s adult magazine. A motorcycle gang provided security. The top of a big yellow box rental truck served as the stage for what turned into a XXX act as the handouts had promised. Not only did this divert a large number of fans from the race at hand but also a contingent of the press. A number of photographers documented the event while members of the Sheriff’s department looked on. In the next issue of Pimp, photos from the show and the race appeared as a sixteen page spread. Ansley’s Chicken Ranch Team would get more ink in this and other magazines than any other team.

Sunset
While the sun set behind the Martini Rossi Bridge and the track cooled, Ickx set the fastest lap of the race just before twilight turned into night with a time of 2:48.251, a speed of 110.638 MPH just 0.314 one hundreds of a seconds off the qualifying pole time. Yes, the Ferrari was running a hell of a pace for a twelve-hour race.

Tenth Hour
With less than two hours left in the race, Ickx pitted the leading Ferrari for a routine stop and informed Andretti that the transmission was barking when engaging first gear and suggested no longer using first except for the pits. As Andretti left the pits, Wietzes brought the second team car in for its last stop and driver change. Few knew it but at this time in life, Minter was somewhat night blind and tonight it would cost him. On his first lap back out after making Tower Turn onto Flying Fortress Straight, Minter would spin to avoid a slower car without any tail lights. Minter, now talking into the radio, something that he was rather famous for, was totally disoriented and did not know where the track was located. He later told me the story. He sat there in the dark until he saw a set of headlights. While headed for what he thought was the track, he ran through a worker’s station. He laughed as he told me that all he saw was the white overalls scattering. The lights turned out to be another car off track and also lost in the dark. Once again a set of headlights appeared and Minter headed for them with the other lost soul in tow and damn, this time both of them ran through the worker station again. That was one of Minter’s favorite stories even though that little adventure ended up costing him the race.

The Spirit of Sebring Vette, after a lengthy rebuild of its transmission, was back on track with Mike Brockman at the wheel. Exiting the Hairpin, its transmission locked solid like it had been wielded in place. Brockman could not get it out of gear and the workers could not move the car. This brought out the safety car for the first and only time during the race. A motorcycle gang, partying in their usual campsite on the outside of the Hairpin, saw the situation and vaulted the fence to assist the corner workers. Having sufficient numbers they simply manhandled the car off the track. All this was done quite efficiently and the pace car went back in after only two laps.

Restart
Andretti was good for the restart and led the pack off into the dark and back around to the Hairpin. Mario, now using a highly modified line around this turn due to the lack of low gear, was braking quite early. He was going wide trying to carry as much speed around the turn in second gear as possible rather than taking the faster hole shot in first. Gregg, caught out by this maneuver, braked hard and early to accommodate Andretti’s crippled car and was tapped in the rear by George Follmer. It was a light tap but that was all it took. Gregg in an unbalanced car under heavy braking goes hard into the right side of Andretti’s Ferrari. Racing incident or payback, we will never know, but it was the coup de grâce for both Andretti and Gregg. After leading for all but two laps and having a two-lap lead on the rest of the field, Mario’s bid for his fourth Sebring win came to an abrupt end.

With the two leaders now out of the race this moved the DeLorenzo Vette into the lead on the track but still three laps down on the charts with less than fifteen minutes left in the race. Just as it appeared a done deal, with less than five minutes left DeLorenzo’s Vette came limping out of the dark and into the pits with its right bank exhaust blowing smoke like a mosquito machine. DeLorenzo, in a heads-up move, pulled the car to within inches of the start/finish line in pit lane and killed the sick beast but not before a couple of fire units responded to all the smoke.

This moved the number 17 Armadillo Breeders Association-sponsored Camaro into the lead on the track but still two laps down on the charts to the crippled Andretti/Ickx Ferrari that was slowly crawling back to the pits.

The Armadillo Breeders Association was a marketing ploy created by my long time friend and drinking buddy Bill Neely for a new line of car care products developed by two friends that were ex-Lockheed Martin chemical engineers. Neely, a motorsport icon, had headed up the public relations department for Goodyear in the 1960’s during a period that is referred to as the “Tire Wars.” With the blessing of Goodyear, Neely authored a book of the same name, launching Neely onto a new career as a very successful writer.

Hal Crocker (left) and Bill Neely

For a number of years he was an AutoWeek editor and a freelance writer for a number of magazines. He abandoned the editor position for more freedom to write on his own, authoring hundreds of articles and 19 books. One might say Neely was well connected in the industry. With the help of Neely, the car care product line was an instant success, accelerating Neely and his two out-of-work friends to multi-millionaire status in less than two years. I was happy for my long time drinking buddy, now man about town and race team owner.

Minter, in the surviving Ferrari, was closing on the Armadillo Camaro at a high rate followed by Baldwin in the Chicken Ranch Vette. The Camaro owned by Bill Neely, built by Vince Gimondo and crew-chiefed by Lugs Harvey had run a perfect race. Collectively between Nelly, Gimondo, and Harvey there was years of racing experience and a wealth of knowledge. The drivers had done their part by running the pace and keeping out of trouble. While the team hoped for a good finish, realistically a top ten was a stretch and never did they dream of an overall win.

A few of us media types savvy enough to see what was about to happen started to gather in the Neely team pit. Neely with a big grin on his face kept saying, “If this doesn’t beat all.” I was happy for my friend Neely for we went back a long way, hell; we are founding members of Club 720, a men’s club for those serious about drink and fun.

The Finish
With the checkered flag in the starter’s hand, Minter caught the Camaro going into the last turn before the front straight and went to the inside for the pass but the Camaro, having none of it, closed the hole between him and the pit wall forcing Minter to back out or be forced down pit lane. Minter realized his mistake of not going to the outside but it was too late as Stroker Ace took the checkered flag in the Armadillo Camaro to win the closest finish in Sebring history.

Who would have believed it? After Ace walked away from NASCAR and the big dollar Chicken Pit fast-food restaurants sponsorship from fried-chicken mogul Clyde Torkel at the end of 1973, starting the 1974 season with a win in a new genre was almost too good to be true. Hollywood or Neely could not have written a better script.

Tony DeLorenzo saw the flag, put his car into first gear and hit the starter, thus pulling it slowly toward the finish line in pit lane. Yes, the finish line runs across the track and across pit lane. Andretti in his badly-bent Ferrari queued up behind the DeLorenzo and assisted him across the finish line with a push. The scene reminded me of a giant red crab attacking a Corvette. With this generous maneuver Andretti salvaged fourth place for his team and fifth for DeLorenzo.

Winners Circle
The winner’s circle was chaotic and no indication of the small spectator crowd. The mob reminded me of the 1970 victory circle when Mario Andretti ran down Peter Revson for the closest finish at that time. The crowd was for Steve McQueen, Revson’s co-driver.

As Stroker Ace managed the car to victory lane, Walter Mitty, Stroker’s co-driver, and Lugs Harvey, crew chef/mechanic, escorted team timekeeper Pembrook Feeny through the crowd to the winner’s circle while Bill Neely commandeered Jack Ansley’s Chicken Ranch girls for his entourage. The Chicken Ranch girls definitely added a new and different set of dynamites to winner’s circle.

Stroker and Walter were the true odd couple in racing. This had been a long and problematic journey for both men. For Walter it had started in 1939 New York City. Walter was born the son of a famous writer and humorist for The New Yorker, a well-respected and established cosmopolitan magazine. Growing up he had all the advantages of money and position. Stroker on the other hand was about as opposite as you could get being born in depressed 1942 West Virginia the son of a dirt poor undertaker.

Not only would this be the first Sebring win for both Stroker and Walter but also the last appearance for both in this classic American endurance race. Walter would withdraw into a somewhat secret life but would reappear with Miss Orange Blossom, the Sebring 1974 Race Queen, some years later in vintage racing much to the delight and surprise of his old friends and fans.

Stroker, well hell, we all know what happened to Stroker.

1974 12 Hours of Sebring Final Results

1. Ace / Mitty, Chevrolet Camaro
2. Minter / Wietzes, Ferrari Boxer
3. Peterson / Redman, BMW CSL
4. DeLorenzo / Durst, Chevrolet Corvette
5. Andretti / Ickx, Ferrari Boxer
6. Felton / Baldwin / Ramsey, Chevrolet Corvette
7. Follmer / Donohue, Porsche Carrera
8. Keyser / Holbert, Porsche Carrera
9. Posey / Stuck, BMW CSL
10. Haywood / Gregg, Porsche Carrera

[Source: Hal Crocker]

Show Comments (50)

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  1. Hmm…what a great story, seems almost too good to be true. Hmm. Is there something going on today???

  2. The story had everything worthy of a novel plus vintage photos to boot. Maybe we need more “Chicken Ranch” girls, guys in “cheap suits” and druggies escaping at the last minute to spice up sports car racing today. It certainly would draw a bigger audience.

  3. Well done and my congratulations to Stroker and Walter:)
    As well as Hal’s wonderfull writeup:)
    I’ll bet it seemed like a dream LOL

  4. Great story Hal! A Camaro beating a Ferrari on a road course and a XXX show in the infield during the race! Awesome stuff indeed!

  5. I was at this race but, as usual,was distracted by all the off-track stuff Sebring seems to offer. Thanks for filling in the blanks! 😉

  6. Hal..That’s the best damn race report I’ve ever read! The pictures too were incredible. You need to sell this story as a movie script and become wealthy like Neely and all the rest of the great characters in this tale. Keep ’em coming..great fun! Peter Brock

  7. Hal,
    And all that time I thought you were just taking pictures! Hahaha! I’m glad I managed to stay ahead of Mario in the results column even though he bunted me across the line! Great fun and an excellent job of reminding all of us about the great “’74 Sebring race” saga.
    Best,
    TonyD

    PS: Jack helped me hide my “Roman” nose!

  8. Great except for the fact you mis-spelled Dave Cowart’s name. You spelled it “Coward” all through the story.

  9. Mr. Crocker:

    This is absolutely a marvelous piece of history and your great photos help us to relive these moments.

    Thank you for all the time you must have in this work!!

    Regards,
    Samuel M. Hay, III

  10. Absolutely wonderful job, with all the vibes of central Florida on race weekend. Would have given anything to have written it myself.

  11. Two important oversights: The bit about bumbling photographer Al Corker
    being kicked out of the facility for walking on the track at night while the race was still on.

    Then, of course, Corker’s retaliatory death threat to communications director Ben Keslauer.

    Ah, memories…

  12. This was my first year of working corners, not at this race. The pictures bring it all back. I can smell the clutch and brakes burning up! Where in On-The-Gas these days?

  13. Damn Crocker,

    Without your still functional brain I would never have recalled some of these events. Could it be we went to a party and a race broke out??

    Thanks for the memories!! Gene

    PS You are the master at what you do!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!!

    1. B.S Levy with a camera – thanks Hal for making me laugh again, but still not frequently enough. More,More!!!!

      Bob Bagby

  14. Hal, what a great story. Your ability to communicate all the sub-plots and personal bits along with the race details is unprecedented.

    Your photos, as always, are the best images we have of this period in racing.

    All the best.

    -Chad

  15. Dear Hal; Wonderful piece of history about the ’74 Sebring. However you never mentioned the fact that Ali A. Lugo was leading the under two litre GT class in his Morgan +4 for most of the race, that was untill the the old Lucas generator gave up the ghost,in the tenth hour. But before then, he leaded all the Porche Carrera’s, he did it by outbraking them into the Webster hairpin. He told me so himself. By the way there is a misunderstanding about the Armadillo Breeders Ass. There is no money to be made in Armadillo breeding, but the Armadillos real like it! Un abrazo fuerte, Michael.

  16. The part about Rex Ramsey actually sounds credible…..He was years ahead of Paul, Sr., Lanier, Whittingtons, Hinze, Belcher, etc…..

  17. Great job Hal! I love the way you tell the story of the event and include more than just the race action. Your stories are about the cars AND the people – plus your photos are outstanding, of course. You fill the black and white photos with so much color.

  18. There are 29 photo portraits in there, and each one is bleepin brilliant. Nobody’s reading this story, everybody’s just looking at the pictures because they can’t stop!Crocker has written a page-turner.

  19. Hal,
    What a great story. It never ceases to amaze me that you can be such an entertaining story teller. Although the 70’s were a little before my time (hum) they were exciting and fun times, and this type of story should be told more often. You know I have a great deal of respect for your photography, it is ruly amazing. The photo of Al H. brought a tear to my eye as do so many of your photos. reat job.

  20. Hal.
    What a great ride I just took, to relive the races of the 70s. It was like I was still there and could smell the fuel and the smoke.
    Thanks

  21. I loved the story. It was one of the few events at Sebring i’ve missed since 1954. (Charlie’s son)
    Thank you,
    all the best,
    Paul

  22. It is a great story from my good friend bill neely wilm nc have lots of memorabilia & memories we ALL miss ya bill !!!

  23. Great story and so very well done. Thanks, we need more real racing stories.

    12 Hours in a stiffly sprung Corvette is a lot of work and very hard on the race car. We pushed all the time to get into exotic car territory. I actually put in a few hours for Del Taylor in the first GTP car as well.
    The view of the track was great from 2200 feet.

    Rex Ramsey

    1. Rex,you had Smitty,your mechanic,and your LeGrand Formula A in our garage at Competition Technology out by the airport in Miami,Fl. prepping for the 1970 “Continental Formula Race” at Sebring. Smitty was a cool head,and I hope life has been good to him. Dana Barlow,and I are still alive,and we are glad to see you are too.Good memories!! Bill Baros

  24. Great piece. What memories. Remember Jackie, Ronnie, Mario, Mark, with the great Jackie Stewart, and Cevert, Denny… et. al. at Mosport in ’71.

  25. I can’t wait to read this. Stumbled in looking for pics of Peter Gregg. I’m 47 — old enough to remember these days. Before I was born, my father used to play table tennis with Roger Penske, long story there I can’t get into in this space but Roger was always a class act. I am a photojournalist myself and these pictures are just so spot on, thank you for this.

    1. Actually the results/photos here are from 1975… No 12 Hours was held in 1974 due to the supposed “fuel crisis” in the U.S. that also saw Daytona shorten their stock car races and cancel the 24 Hours that year as well…