photos by: the author
We Head to Sebring to Take in the Sights and Sounds of Vintage Trans-Am
Sebring, Florida is the quintessential small town in South Florida; beautiful lakes, miles of orange groves, and friendly faces are things you’ll see every day of the year. Where much of Florida has succumbed to development, Sebring still retains the beauty and serenity that was once a hallmark of almost every town in Florida.
However, the calm stillness is broken every March when competitors pour in from all over the world to compete in the famous 12 Hours of Sebring endurance race. Semi-trucks loaded with the finest race cars thunder down Highway 27 and thousands of spectators transform this mostly rural area into a mecca for motorsport enthusiasts.
Sebring International Raceway is the oldest road race track in the United States, having held its first race in 1950 and the first 12 Hours of Sebring in 1952. Built on the site of a former WWII U.S. Army base that trained bomber crews, many parts of the track are original runway sections from the 1940s. A total of 17 turns over 3.74 miles, combined with almost no banking and a rough track surface, make Sebring a challenging course for even the most experienced drivers.
At the beginning of March, usually about two weeks before the 12-hour race, Sebring is host to the SVRA Spring Vintage Classic, with many classic race cars competing in various classes. Porsche, Datsun, and Alfa Romeo, along with vintage American iron and many others, are all well represented at the event.
The 2016 Spring Vintage Classic was even more special, as it marked the 50th-Anniversary of the first Trans-Am race held at Sebring on March 25th, 1966. Racing legend Bob Tullius was present as the Grand Marshal for this momentous occasion, and it was Tullius who won that first race at Sebring in the Over 2 Liter class in 1966, piloting a Dodge Dart.
When Timeless Muscle arrived at Sebring, it was sensory overload: race fuel, brightly painted and numbered machines, and the concussive rhythm of vintage American V-8 muscle. Strolling through the pit area on a beautifully sunny morning, we spotted some of the most famous Trans-Am race cars from the late 1960s and early 1970s. We were almost in disbelief at the sheer volume and quality of cars when we bumped into Richard Goldsmith of Gilroy, California who owns and drives the famous number 77 Dodge Challenger made popular by racing legend Sam Posey. Goldsmith states, “All of the cars you see here are authentic, not replicas. We’re gonna have some fun today.”
And what fun it was, getting up close and personal with such cars as the 1971 Penske AMC Javelin that Mark Donohue raced to the Trans-Am championship in 1971. A. Ross Myers brought his gorgeous 1967 Mercury Cougar along with his sinister looking 1969 Boss 302 Mustang. The Edelbrock team was there as well, with a few iconic machines in tow, including the black and gold 1968 Smokey Yunick Camaro and the George Follmer #16 1969 Mustang.
These historic cars are raced hard, but not recklessly, with special care taken to minimize contact. If there was one minor quibble we had, it would be that the feature races lasted only about 20 minutes, but that can be forgiven, considering the value and collectability of these iconic machines.
In the pits, spectators could be found taking pictures and videos while asking the drivers questions about their favorite cars. We spoke briefly with Rob Kauffman, who had the only Pontiac entry in the field, the white and blue 1970 Firebird Trans Am made famous by legend Jerry Titus. The staff at Timeless Muscle are big Pontiac enthusiasts, and we pressed Rob for a few details about his ride.
“It’s a de-stroked Pontiac 400 engine that’s now 305 cubic inches. We had a special crankshaft made for it to achieve the correct displacement, I try to keep it below 7,500 rpm,” he says. Rob finished in fourth place in both Saturday and Sunday’s feature races. Walter Brown of Scottsdale, Arizona took first place in Saturday’s main event in his silver 1970 Camaro, and Bill Ockerlund drove the #6 Penske Javelin to victory on Sunday.
The Sebring Spring Vintage Classic has been a great event for race fans throughout the years, and the special 50th Anniversary event made it that much sweeter. The Historic Trans-Am tour continues June 2-5 at Sonoma Raceway in Sonoma, California, with stops at Laguna Seca and Lime Rock, before concluding September 8-11 at Watkins Glen International in Watkins Glen, New York.
These are ‘must see’ events not only for race fans, but any American muscle car enthusiast. Mark your calendars and be sure to experience the visceral thrill of vintage Trans-Am racing!
Dave’s a very passionate musclecar aficionado. An automotive painter by trade, he’s done a complete restoration on his very first car, a 1970 Pontiac LeMans that he’s owned for over 20 years. Dave’s superior photographic skills, writing talents and Florida location make him an ideal year-round contributor.