US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (Photo: Lou Galanos)
US Air Force B-52 Stratofortress (Photo: Lou Galanos)

The Sebring 12 Hour – H-Bombs and the Planned Invasion of Cuba

By late afternoon most of us were back at the camp site only to find that two of Dave Nicholas’s New York buddies (known as the BARC Boys) had brought over some oranges and grapefruit that they had misappropriated from nearby groves. They were a welcome treat for all and after another night of partying Russell and I retired to our humble sleeping quarters.

Again, I had to make an early morning visit to the bathroom and upon my return saw a UF coed by the name of Gail awake and looking toward the airport. She said she was a former Sebring High School grad and one of her classmates was a sheriff’s deputy doing security at the raceway.

He told her that there were strange goings on at one of the big World War II era hangers but he was not allowed to go over there. Her curiosity was peaked and she asked if I was interested in going over there with her to check things out. I couldn’t turn down an invitation like this from a pretty lass and I grabbed my camera from the car. When I turned around Gail had two bicycles for us and two flashlights and before I knew it we were biking down the racing surface and on our way to the hangers.

It was pitch black in that area of the race circuit and the flashlights helped illuminate the way. However, as we got near the runway I noticed that the area beyond one of the very large hangers was aglow with light and the sound of generators could also be heard.

I called for Gail to stop and turn off her flashlight. When she asked why I pointed to a cluster of Air Police and Highlands County Deputies in the distance standing around a burn barrel to keep warm and smoke cigarettes.

We were near enough now to the backside of the hanger, which was in shadow, to walk the rest of the way. Coming around the south corner of the hanger I saw this huge B-52 Stratofortress under auxiliary lights. As I raised my camera to take a picture one of the race cars came flying by between me and the bomber. This shocked me and I didn’t know if I had actually taken the picture until later when the film was developed. No less than 30 seconds later a Sheriff’s car zoomed past us chasing down the race car. Fortunately we were still in shadow and they didn’t see us. I found out later that race mechanics were known to take cars out at night to find open area where they could test repairs and suspension settings.


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I had a sinking feeling that if the deputies were in hot pursuit of the race car the Air Police were not far behind so I asked Gail to follow me trying to keep the hanger walls between us and the Air Police. We found a man-sized door in one of the hanger walls and went inside the darkened hanger to wait until things cooled off.

After about ten minutes Gail began to stir and turned on her flashlight which freaked me out. In a low shout I asked her what she was doing. She said she “had to pee” and went off looking for a bathroom which she found in the far corner of the hangar. While she was doing her business I stood there transfixed at the sight of a World War II era B-25 Mitchell bomber that looked like it was undergoing some kind of refurbishing.

Gail began to beckon to me to see what she found in one of the rooms at the back of the hanger. As I entered what used to be a large parts storage room I turned on my flashlight to see what she was talking about. On the walls were a number of old Sebring racing posters and several girlie calendars which drew my rapt attention.

When she saw what I was looking at she said, “Not that you dummy, look over here.” As she swung her flashlight to a corner of the room I saw a large metal cylinder. As I put my light on it I knew immediately what it was and my heart literally missed a beat and I began to get nauseous.

I said, “You know what that is, don’t you?” She got a wicked smile on her face and said, “Yup!”

Not until later did I confirm that we were looking at what was a Mark 27 Thermonuclear bomb from the disabled B-52 outside. On top of that there were three more in that room.

“We need to get out of here.” Gail said. When I asked why she shown her light on the warning sign about radioactivity. She joked that if we stay any longer we would start glowing in the dark. I had the presence of mind to take a photo of the bomb before we left.

Years later I would find out that the B-52 was from the 4047th Strategic Bomb Wing out of McCoy Air Force Base in Orlando. It had been doing patrols just outside Cuban airspace and began to experience mechanical difficulties on their return to base. The pilot thought he could make it home but when things got critical he landed at Sebring.

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Show Comments (40)

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  1. What a coincidence ! When you first told your family the story it was April 1st. and, now that you decided to write your Sebring experience, it’s published on April 1st !

  2. What an exciting story, I wondered why you “glowed” at times…..Thanks for sharing. Jim Beebe

  3. Hey Lou, I was at Sebring in ’62 and there were no B-52’s in the area…or H-bombs in the warehouses. Good April Fool’s story though! Great job.

    1. Dennis, how could you even remember who or what was there in ’62 because you spent most of the race under a pile of beer bottles and cans? You and your friends were
      a major contributor to the party legend that Sebring has always been known for. ;-))

      1. Did we know each other back then Lou? I was with the Gang from Lake Worth High…we did leave a mark…climbing the water tower, campfires fueled by Cutty Sark, lifting bikes to get around, jumping from the trees onto unsuspecting trespassers, lighting a minor fire (a haybale) on the MG Bridge, etc. Our camp was located in the Big Bend area. Do you live in Gainesville?

  4. LouMeister…I just saw that you are a VN vet and UF grad like myself. If you are still living in Gainesville I will look for you around town.

  5. didja notice the cover blurb with the pic of phil hill? “will sportscar racing survive tv?” it hasn’t. things go around road courses but they’re rolling equalized commercials, not sportscars.

  6. p.s. i was there in ’62 also. i’d forgotten how fine everything was when it was still a sport…

    1. I remember you driving (Morgans?) at Sebring back in the day Toly. You were (are?) a fine driver and good ambassador of the Sport. Those were great times and fun events.

      1. i ran an alfa veloce spider and 2000sp abarth and studebaker gt hawk–2hr sedan race ’64–and an rx/7 in ’84 and lotus europa in ’76 and maybe others, but the mog you remember was driven by the late great george waltman. he’d drive the car down from n.y., race it, and drive it back. he also drove solo at a daytona 24hr but had to stop every 4 hours by the regs for 1 hour. he’d nap and his mechanic would go completely over the car. i heard he collected ww1 seaplanes. i wish he was still with us.

  7. Being young once(..Long ago,) I, can well appreciate the excitement
    as written by Junior in School. I was also 17 when I made the Big Trip
    from California, but had been finished with school and eager to see
    all the drivers and their machines I had merely read about in the
    pages of Road & Track..

    For me it was worth every dollar.!
    Phil Hill urged me to go- -” if I wanted to’
    become a real journalist. “. Good advice. !

    Mine was 1956 with Jaguar, Aston Martin
    Porsche, Maserati and the winning Ferrari
    of Fangio and Castellotti.
    .
    Thank you for the story and Memories

    Jim Sitz
    G.P. Oregon

  8. I was Jim Hall’s mechanic at Sebring 62. That could be my arm in the photo of him. This is no April Fools joke.

  9. Lou,
    You could not have a better source for April Fools Day than fellow BARC co-founder, Dave Nicholas. I think all of the BARC co-founders were there (Nicholas, Dave Zych, Steve Vail & myself). Gordie Ruston and I once again served on Denise McLuggage’s crew. The magic of the previous year when she won GT in her Berlinetta was not to be repeated, but we all had a great time. Later that year I was in the Army ready to travel by ship to Stuttgart; plans changed and we were almost deployed to the Havana blockade. Fortunately, the Army decided it was better to not pack the ships with sacrificial lambs so we were sent to Germany by airplane. You had me going with the Cuban Blockade because it brought back strong memories. Well done. Joe

  10. Reading your story, Louis, which was sent by Dave Nicholas has made my evening which, by the way, is April 1, 2016. We came late to the sport, and my first trip to Sebring was in 1982, exactly 20 years after your adventure. I was part of our little Zapata Racing, a vintage racing group from Nashville, TN. I drove 1 1953 yellow MGTD, and thought I’d gone to sportscar heaven, and the orange blossoms just confirmed it. We were part of Ford Heacock’s Southeast Vintage Association ( SVRA). At subsequent Sebring races we, too, got to meet some of the icons you mentioned, including Jim & Sandy Hall, Brian Redmon, Hap Sharp, and Mike Arnolt ( Wacky’s son). They came for the 1985 anniversary of Hall & Sharp’s 1965 victory. I was in the Air Force, and spent my last year at Turner AFB in Albany, GA. Gen. LeMay was our boss. Thank you, again, for a terrific story of memories. Bob Coleman/Franklin, TN

  11. Proof that hard work pays off. A brilliant story made all the better by the selected photos. I enjoyed it a lot. USAF, SAC 69-73. Nothing more beautiful than a B-52. You had me until you said you got anywhere within a mile of an H-Bomb, especially with General LeMay anywhere within a 1000 miles. LOL Speaking of racing on Air Bases. A friend of mine started racing on U.S. Air Bases right after the end of WW-II – in Japan. He was one of the first Japanese Members of the SCCA, and went on to help form the Japanese Sports Car Club. 15 years later he would come to America. Mr. Yutaka Katayama.

  12. fantastic story telling>enjoyed it so much>wish u had had some pics of the 3 hr race>i was in that in either a VOLVO 544 OR
    a siata>those were the days>thanks for the memories< nedra ware

  13. Great story Louis, we worked out of that hanger in ’70. It was spooky. You made me miss all the “Gails” in my life. Great pics, great photo shop, great story and terrific sense of humor. Don Yenko and Milt Minter would tell me stuff like this and just leave out there to figure out – of not. Thanks again

  14. When I spoke with Gail years ago she told the story a little differently, oh well. Time does cloud the facts. Guido

  15. Dear Lou,

    Thank you for the great story that she’d such a great historical perspective,

    One detail we’d like confirmation about – could Dave have been irradiated during the incident? He and Honey Bee seem afflicted by a permanent glow (day or night) that actually shines brightest on the Sebring track… Thanks in advance for the insight and looking forward to your next great story,

    Vincent.

  16. One of my old college profs (Ralph Edelbach) was there around that time too.
    When I was in college (at The College of NJ), he had an MGA 1600 Deluxe and I had a ratty ’56 MGA 1500 roadster. So he and I chatted about cars on a regular basis.
    These days, he has a nice ALFA Spider (and I have a vintage racing Spridget plus a street Midget, MGB and Lotus Super 7).

    Ralph has a nice set of photos on his Google website from Sebring. You can see them here—-> https://plus.google.com/u/0/photos/112731095695917016663/albums/5841105453734904929?gpinv=AMIXal9r3ZgAZ2hUHJe5BxSGnlj5vUnk11-33cT2YciZZRW5Dgouo9b8x2VIFAA4YOXpi3PG06ToCN_l2ODLdTR0zrJqSADz2FtFjYkjFz50w1tNc04KiMA&cfem=1

  17. Lou,

    It appears that all these folks have your number! 4-1-2016, that is. Well written as usual. Did “Big Mo”, the alligator, get near the H-bomb and maybe glow at night during the race? Unlike today, it was DARK there at night and “Mo” would’ve been easy to see. More seriously, I remember that my father took me to Jacksonville Beach during the missile crisis to see troop landing ships anchored just off shore as far as my eyes could see in preparation for the invasion. With three major Navy bases in the area then, we’d have been high on the target list.

  18. Besides the fascination that started in 59 with sports car racing the
    memory of the R&T pictures like of Phil Hill help started my love of racing .
    I remember papering my bedroom walls with R&T double photo pages in middle of issues !

  19. Lou,

    I really enjoyed the story.

    Thank you for the fact related fictional entertainment.

    Best Regards,

    Clint

  20. Hi Lou,
    Big thanks for this story. Many of “US” have similar stories real or fictional AND, great old pictures — Lou, I hope your wonderful offering here prompts others to submit their stories and pictures to “SCG” — Lemay on a go-cart – priceless

    Again thanks,
    Sam Smith

  21. Note to Guido Levetto: Hey schoolmate, long time no see. Please call or come by cruise-in at Guiseppi’s Thursday evenings.

  22. Lou is such a great writer (and storyteller–) and this was a light note considering I had, only a week or so ago, read his less-than-lighthearted story of the 1966 Sebring event…. Thanks for both pieces, Louis!!

  23. Thanks for such a great story and, of course, all of the fabulous pictures. While I am a couple years younger than you I had been to all of the Sebring races (don’t remember much from the first ones) but my dad was a special deputy with the Sheriff’s Dept. and my mom helped with the feeding of all the police officers that came from all over the state. They officers slept and ate at a large old building where the new airport tower is. I would watch from that building as the track turned at that building, running in front of it and then just beside it. It was a 90 degree lefthander that brought the cars off the first north/south runway and onto the road course at the S’s. Then, later, as Cub and Boy Scouts, we helped people with seating in the grand stands on the start/finish line and also at the old Webster turn. I worked in that Winn Dixie you pictured, and went to Sebring High which is shown behind it (now demolished). The Winn Dixie parking lot, out of the picture but to the right, was also the place that the cars would go through tech inspection for a number of years and many of me and my fellow SHS students got caught by coaches and teachers missing classes because we were over at “tech”. The race cars would drive in from the track, go through tech and then drive back out to the track. I made it back this year after missing two years for health reasons (damn CANCER) and was even one of the thousand or so who showed up during the fuel crisis when the race was cancelled. Anyhow, I really enjoyed seeing all of your pictures and hearing your story – there were rumors about what was going on with the active military and planes being there – but I never heard the story so detailed. And just for the heck of it, I’m going to look in my old yearbooks and try to determine who Gail was.

    1. I was there also, Had work for Jim Kimberly, who was friends with LeMay…Wasn’t a real friendly man when I had to deal with him.. I graduated in 64 from Palm Beach High.. Great Story! Thanks for sharing …Ken Collins

      jim

  24. Enjoyed the story and pictures very much. I have never experienced Sebring but have been to vintage racing a number of times. I like all things automotive. One observation I wanted to make in regard to the photos is on page 1 the color photo of Carroll Shelby. He looks great but I looked past him and in the background is what I first took for an early Corvette but on second look I realized it is the 1954 GM concept car the Oldsmobile F88. And it appears to be simply parked with other vehicles and nobody giving it a second look. I don’t know if there were more than one F88 but if not then this could be the one featured at the Gateway Museum in Colorado that is now painted gold. I remember a few years back the car was purchased by the museum at a Barrett Jackson auction for $4 million.
    Anyway, it’s always fun to check out what’s in the background of these vintage photos. I wonder what the story is behind what this car was doing at the race.

    1. I too noticed the F88 in the background of the Carroll Shelby photo and realized that if the photo is from 1962 than the F88 was about 8 years old. I haven’t checked to verify, but I believe that GM made two or three F88’s and at least one “escaped” from GM and was owned by a member of the public. I do not know if this green car is the same car as the Barrett-Jackson gold car. I’m sure there are many sources which trace the history. In the photo this green car looks pretty good for an 8-year old car in those days.

  25. WETHER TRUE OR NOT GREAT STORY AND PICTURES UNFORTUNATELY THE NEXT CUBAN CRISIS WAS A BIT MORE FRIGHTENING

  26. Great story – and the photo of Gen. LeMay on a go-kart is priceless! I would like to hear the tale of that 10 hour drive from Dillon. SC to Sebring, FL in 1962 before the Interstates were built. I remember the cops and JPs in those small SC, GA and FL towns being unmerciful back then, the inspiration for the term “Speed Trap”.

  27. Louis, you’re not going to believe this, But i’m from Wilkes Barre and in 1962, as a Senior at St. Mary’s High School myself and my buddy, Frank Smith did exactly the same thing and drove down to the Sebring event. When I read your article, I just couldn’t believe it!!!!

    Also, Every year I would attend the Giant’s Despair Hillclimb and was a member of the NE PA SCCA. Interestingly the Seinfeld collection that was recently sold included the Porche RSK that was driven by Penske at both Giant’s Despair and Bryn Van Tydden.

    I now live in Ft. Myers and still go over to Sebring….

  28. Lou, Great story! I’ve been enjoying your photos in The Checker. I’m a long-time (since 1972) corner worker with SCCA. I remember you from when we raced in Gainesville. Your story/photos, of the 1961 Sebring, in The Checker, was particularly interesting. It was the first race I ever went to. I never got over it! I was also at the 1962 race. Actually I’ve been to every one since 1961 except the ones of 1967 and 1968 when I was in the Army; worked every one since 1972. I took lots of photos during all those years, but I had only a Brownie Starflash. Most of them are barely- recognizable-as-racecars specks in the distance. I, too, am a retired teacher/school counselor (Manatee County) and a Viet Nam vet (191 MI Det, 1st Cav Div Air). I hope to see more of your photos/stories!