Sunday, March 22, 2009

Mardi Gras in a war zone

There is in my past a spring tradition that I have neglected for the past 20 years and this weekend I made amends. I talked about the Sebring 12 Hours sports car race in a March 3rd post. When my friend Steve said he had tickets and asked me if I wanted to go , I enthusiastically said yes. For various reasons, I haven't been in awhile. The Winter Park Sidewalk Art Festival is the same weekend and participating in that has sometimes conflicted. Other times just plain old lack of ambition has kept me away.

Going to Sebring demands preparation. If you do it right, it's a camping event. So provisions are necessary possibly including old couches, tents, lights - decorative and utilitarian, an electric generator, a grill, maybe some plywood for a outdoor deck, some astro turf, a potted plant or two and oh, copious amounts of beer and ice. This year was a day visit so a grill, cooler and camera was all that was needed.

Sebring should be on your life list. It is a weekend of dirt dust, noise, and people watching that somehow adds up to a non stop grin. The race is run on a road course spread over about 3.5 miles, and there are few grandstands for the spectators. The fun is in moving from spot to spot along the fences. The cars are racing at different speeds around the circuit and the scenery changes as you move about. Turn 10 is the core of Sebring infield culture and a walk through after dark will - well, bring a camera. I suppose you would call this extreme camping. There are people who brought pool tables, ping pong tables, house plants, japanese lanterns, a lit fish tank - with fish, roofed tiki bars with flooring, easy chairs of every description usually perched atop motorhomes or scaffolding. Satellite dishes are everwhere. Flat screens glow along with campfires as the race is broadcast live. It's not a problem to keep abreast of the leaders as you walk. Most everyone is welcoming and happy to share the tv. Meanwhile a race is screaming by a few yards away. Sebring is an outdoor party for 85,000 people punctuated with racing noise, wood smoke and dust. Think Mardi Gras in a war zone.

On the drive home late Saturday, I was thinking about the experience now and 20 years ago. The racing was still awsome. But honestly, I could have seen the race better in the comfort of our family room. I think I went back because I wanted to see if the party was still on. Darn if it isn't. Maybe next year I'll take the fish tank.

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