Sebring, Florida in 1963 was a small sleepy Southern town sitting on the minimal rise along the spine in the center of the state. A hundred miles from nowhere. We arrived in a smaller town, Avon Park, directly north of Sebring about ten miles, from our northern previous abode of Elkhart, Indiana. Mother, new step father, and older sister were now ensconced in one of the most rural areas in the U.S. It was a typical redneck community. Complete with rattlesnake round ups and wild pig bow-hunting, pick up trucks, beer, cowboys. I was in the 9th grade and my new step father was the only pharmacist in Avon Park and in Sebring. I was “the Yankee” from up north. We were snowbirds. Once a year everything changed and Sebring became the mecca for celebrities and race cars. The Sebring Grand Prix was held out on the abandoned WWII military landing strip. The state was flat, so the concrete strips that had been used for military aircraft were now being used to race the most expensive exotic cars in what was the search for the perfect speed machine. Ferrari, Porsche, Lambourgini, Maserati, Jaguar, Mercedes Benz, and the new pretender to the throne of high speed; Ford. I was sitting in my 9th grade English literature class, with twenty eight other sweating local students and listening to the old lady teaching us about literature. There was no air conditioning and the heat was stifling. The “no-see-ums” buzzed around my ears, and up my nose. But the sound that also blended was from ten miles away at the time trials for the up coming Grand Prix race. The similarity of distant screaming of highly tuned engines blended with the whining of the bugs in my face. I could not wait to get out of the school day. I met a new friend who had also moved down from Elkhart. His dad had become mayor of Avon Park, and he intimated that we could go down to Sebring and enter the sanctum santorum of the racing world: the pits. We were allowed to actually walk around the pit area and admire the sleek racing cars in all their glory. Hoods up showing their gleaming carburetors. Mixing with the daily growing swell of movie stars like Paul Newman, Sophia Loren and an overwhelming new crowd of beautiful people from the international jet set. Sebring was transformed into Nice, or Lemans, Paris, or Nuremberg. Any of the exotic places in the world where the glamorous sport of car racing was being attended by the luckiest and most beautiful people in the world. My step father chuckled over dinner, that an IYtalian race car driver pulled up in front of the pharmacy in his racing car, and entered the store with a bevy of international beauties and asked for Vaseline. It was a a wacky few minutes for the translation to take effect. The locals witnessed another level of reality as some of the drivers flaunted local traffic laws and drove their million dollar prototypes on the streets of this sleepy southern village. It was heaven for me. I had just tasted culture a small bit with music and art lessons in Elkhart. Indiana, just east of Chicago when for some inexplicable reason we moved to the swamps of Florida. This was a breath of sunshine from another dimension. The race started during the day, about noon, bleachers were filled with famous people and local politicos. We stayed close to the pits, looking down on the intense pit crews keeping the cars running. The aphrodisiacal scent of burning high priced tires and hot, expensive racing oil was pervasive. They sped around the flat race track at speeds sometimes exceeding 200 miles per hour. But then they had to brake hard and negotiate the “S” turns at the Websters; the location of many a crash. Then the cars would stand on it along the back straight away and go faster than greased lightening with the wail of banshees. Surreal set in as the sun set, and the grueling pace took it’s toll on the cars, the drivers, and also the spectators. It became a night of debauchery, with 50 gallon oil drums offering fire light along the course, as the cars continued their winding path through the humid night. The brake pads on the cars glowed red hot in the darkness as the back-fire flames shot out of the exhaust pipes, and rumble of the engines rattled me to the bone. Then the drivers braked hard, gearing down to negotiate what was not really too visible but was now second nature to them. People camped out, drifting off with the sounds of screaming engines pushed to their limit, exceeding 7,000 RPMS that tortured the steel of these imaginary beasts. Sunrise came and we watched winners pouring champagne over each other, and laughing through grime stained faces while beautiful women kissed them. The next day. It was all over. They all left. We went back to the sleepy little redneck town that had rattlesnake round ups and wild pig hunting with bow and arrows. But there was always next year.

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