The Sebring 12 Hours is one of the endurance classics. In its 65 years the race has seen just about everything. The track layout has changed but the spirit has remained the same. The brutality of the race has prompted some to say 12 hours at Sebring is tougher than 24 hours at Le Mans. The 12 hours has seen it all but for pure insanity nothing quite matches the 1955 race.
1955 marked the 4th running of the 12 hours and was packed with nearly 100 entries. One of whom was Ray Crawford and his Lincoln powered Kurtis Kraft. Crawford was worth noting because he had received special permission to drive the entire 12 hours solo. Crawford would go on to not only finish the race but he also won his class.
Promoter, Alec Ulmann came to the decision to limit the field to 80 cars and put the remaining cars on the reserve list. Some of the reserves actually clocked faster laps in practice and they were not pleased. Their response was one of the great protests in automotive racing history.
The chosen 80 took the green flag via the traditional Le Mans style start. 6 of the reserve teams, not content to sit idly by while others got to race took action. Taking organizers completely by surprise the 6 “Outlaw” entries started the race despite their reserve status. An opening just beyond the pits allowed the Outlaws to enter the track and start the race despite their denial into the race. The timing and scoring team were caught completely off guard. Having to account for 6 additional cars they were not expecting caused mass confusion and near panic.
You could just imagine these Outlaw cars giving the officials the 1 finger salute every time they crossed the start finish line. This is the beauty of old-time, black and white racing. The craziness didn’t end there, on the 3rd lap an accident occurred and as was the norm an ambulance was dispatched. Seems very standard, however there was one tiny thing… In those days there weren’t safety cars, so racing continued. Naturally Bob Said’s (Father of current road course specialist, Boris Said) Ferrari struck the Ambulance adding to the chaos.
Fortunately after the Ambulance incident the race settled down and 2 cars emerged as the class of the field. The Briggs Cunningham Jaguar D-Type and Ferrari 750S Monza. The Ferrari was driven by 2 gentlemen you might have heard of, Phill Hill and Carol Shelby, both driving at Sebring before they attained their fame. The 2 cars battled into the night leaving the likes of Maserati, Porsche and Austin-Healey well behind.
The final laps were wrought with tension as the 2 frontrunners fought for overall honors. In the tension confusion ensued as the clock ticked over to 0:00. Initially the PA announcer declared the Ferrari the victor, while the Jaguar took the checkered flag. Both teams believed they had won, so naturally they both arrived in Victory Lane ready to celebrate. While officials attempted to make sense of it all 2 Victory Lane celebrations were held. Eventually the frazzled officials dispatched poor Joe Lane to declare a winner. By a margin of 22 seconds Lane declared the Jaguar the victor. Naturally the Ferrari team filed immediate protest, but after 2 weeks the American Automobile Association confirmed the results, officially crowning the Jaguar team the Champion.
Craziness like this just wouldn’t happen today, there is a reason they called this era of racing the Golden Years. Every manufacturer took place, the racing was fraught with drama and the legends drove everything. Imagine today if Lewis Hamilton decided he wanted to Drive at Le Mans, Mercedes would have a hissy fit.