Local News

12-Hours of Sebring closes up for the year

SEBRING - Although Marino Franchitti got the checkered flag three days ago, for officials, maintenance workers and cleanup crews, the race won't end until Friday or Saturday.

And for Highlands County economy, the race should perpetuate until the green flag is dropped again next March.

The 62nd Annual Mobil 1 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh From Florida road race began March 12 and ended March 15 after a week of pre-race festivities, hobnobbing, preparations, organizing and finally pushing on the gas.

In the end, race officials said they expect to top last year's attendance of 164,000 over four days.

While grounds crews toted plastic garbage bags and trash pickers meandered around the grounds of the Sebring International Raceway Monday, inside the raceway administration offices, raceway President and General Manager Tres Stephenson said official numbers weren't in.

But, he said, based on ticket sales and hotels being totally booked around Highlands and into neighboring counties, he would expect to beat the 2013 overall attendance.

Stephenson, in his 29th year as general manager, said the impetus for this year's turnout could be a week of great outdoor weather coupled with the first-time merger of the Grand-Am Rolex and the American Le Mans series races, now known as the Tudor United SportsCar Championship.

He said the result was the ability to draw fans of both series into Highlands County and beyond.

This year's race featured four classes of competition under the Tudor championships: Prototype, Prototype Challenge, GT Le Mans and Gt Daytona.

"We found followers of both together to view one of the most important endurance races in North America," he said.

Overall, Stephenson said there weren't a lot of major changes at the 2014 race, noting the race start time was moved from 10:15 to 10:30 a.m. March 14 for a part of a television broadcast on FOX Sports 1, which for the first year televised the first three hours live.

The network broadcast a three-hour recap March 16 and last year's entire race was shown on the Speed Network, which ceased operations Aug. 17, 2013.

"Even with the time change, we were still able to get all the race fans in before the green flag dropped," said Stephenson, who said due to this year's success, the race entered into a three-year extension with Chevrolet, one of its major sponsors.

"I'm proud of the impact on Highlands County we have with the 64 teams here. People had to stay up to two hours away because Highlands County was full and had been for some time," he said.

Those no-vacancies mean more fan money was dropped this year.

John Scherlacher, in his sixth year as executive director of the Highlands County Tourist Development Council (TDC), said in 2013, about $73,000 was generated from taxes correlating to the race in March, the biggest proceeds for the month month of the year for the TDC; in 2012, it was $75,000.

He said, as an example of revenue coming in, two percent of a hotel bill goes to the TDC to market and promote Highlands County. Proceeds are up from a recent low of $58,000 generated from the race in 2009-10.

"You can see the impact is where we were before the recession; we have the numbers back now. You're putting money back into the community," said Scherlacher, who cited good weather for part of the 2014 race's success. "From our side, regarding tourist and visitors coming into the county, it was a success and 'thank you Mother Nature.'"

Outside on the speedway paddock, Rosalyn Cross, crew leader for JURGENSEN and Company hospitality of Bluffton, S.C. helped take down a food tent with her crew of six. She said it takes about seven hours to disassemble the tent. She said both setting up and taking down the tents have their pluses.

"The setting up is the anticipation of the race and events and the tearing down in the anticipation of getting to go back home," said Cross, who lives in Winnecone, Wisc.

Part of the wrap-up is also looking at incidences of crime.

Overall, as far as illicit activities or crime, the crowd was relatively well-behaved this year, Nell Hays, Highlands County Sheriff's Office spokeswoman, reported. Over the four days, there were 10 arrests for possession of marijuana; 10 for possession of drug equipment; five for possession of cocaine; five for possession of a controlled substance without prescription; three for possession liquor by person under age 21; two for resisting an officer without violence; three for disorderly intoxication; three for battery; and two for disorderly conduct.

"Race fans left the Sebring International Raceway in an orderly fashion on Sunday and by noon almost everyone, vendors and spectators alike, had left the facility and were on their way to their next destination or home," she said in a written statement.

In summary from a law enforcement perspective, it was a very peaceful crowd

Although the 12-Hours has concluded, it doesn't mean the track will get a reprieve from rubber anytime soon. Stephenson said Thursday, open-wheel car testing will take place at the speedway, and David Gourley, raceway assistant director of sales and marketing, said Chin Motorsports rented out the track for car testing.


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