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Hometown heroes

SEBRING INTERNATIONAL RACEWAY - In 1959, Australian race car driver Jack Brabham was in Sebring competing in a Formula One event. The track was hosting the United States Grand Prix, and despite Brabham needing to push his Cooper T51 across the finish line on the final lap after he ran out of gas, he managed to finish fourth and win the Grand Prix World Championship.

Decades later, the family name is still being carried at the 12 Hours of Sebring.

Jack's sons, David, Gary, and Geoff, have been perennial contenders at the 12 Hours. Geoff won in 1989, and two years later, Gary helped Geoff to another overall win. In 2005, David captured his first 12 Hours. For almost 10 years, it wasn't uncommon to find the brothers competing against each other in Sebring.

Now Matthew, Geoff's son, is carrying on the torch.

He was awarded the Gorsline Scholarship Thursday afternoon, an annual award that "recognizes aspiring drivers by providing programs and tools that will assist them in developing skills on and off the track." Georgia's Sean Rayhall, 19, and Maison Snow, 18, of Utah were the other two candidates up for the reward.

"The only thing regrettable about this award is that I can't give it to all three recipients," Gorsline said.

"I'm absolutely honored and it really means a lot to receive this award," Matthew said, who's been racing karts in Australia since he was 7 years old. "There's been some really big names to win this, like Danica Patrick, Ricky Stenhouse, Jr., and Katherine Legge. I'm so proud to be a part of that list now."

"I've known John (Gorsline) for a while now, through my father, and to have my name on the list with previous recipients with such outstanding pedigrees is really, really cool and special," Matthew added.

Meanwhile, David, who will be driving for Extreme Speed Motorsports in the Mobil 1 62nd 12 Hours of Sebring Fueled by Fresh from Florida, said that the unique physicality of Sebring's track can really test a driver's resolve.

"It's everything, from the heat to the bumpiness to the speed," he said. "It's a fantastic place to test the reliability of your machine, your driver's resolve, and your team's strategy. And because it's so early in the season, the 12 Hours is fantastic in prepping for the big race in June."

That "big race" is the 24 Hours of Le Mans, or what David calls the "Holy Grail of sports car racing."

"The 12 Hours of Sebring can let teams know how they're going to do at Le Mans," David said, who won the vaunted race in 2009 while a part of Team Peugeot Sport Total.

"Teams want to try and get in about 30 hours, taking into account the racing and all the testing," he added. "Teams know that if they can survive this week and race day, then they can compete at Le Mans," he added.

David's bevy of racing experience at Sebring, combined with his personal connections to track, make competing in the 12 Hours that much easier.

"I've been racing here a long time, since the early 1990s," he said. "It's a favored track for sure. Parts of it haven't been repaved since my dad was out there racing. There's familiarity to it. We consider it our home track."

Even after 20-plus years of competing in Sebring, David still considers winning the 12 Hours a lofty accomplishment.

"Now that Grand Am and Le Mans merged, there's less emphasis from Le Mans," he said. "But some teams still make the jump to the 24 Hours after racing at Sebring. But at this race, it doesn't matter if you're a large or small team, a big-name manufacturer or unknown, you win this race - it's a big deal."