Held every year since 1953, the “12-Hours-of-Sebring” is technically America’s oldest sports car endurance race. In reality, it’s an exhaust-flavored Woodstock without the hippies. Lots of blue-collar buds and gals, hanging out for three days with their favorite adult beverages, grilling and chilling, while brightly-colored, corporate-sponsored, turbocharged, fuel-guzzling death machines, engines wound tighter that Pamela Anderson’s bikini, speed around a track at 130 mph.
Don’t mistake it for anything NASCAR, though. Instead of a symmetrical oval, the course is a drunkenly-inspired, 3.7 mile track snaking its way through 17 hairpin turns. But the point here is that it wasn’t so much about the cars, or even who won the race, but the underlying subplot, an ultra-casual block party, stuffed wall-to-wall with several-thousand RV’s, three times that many tents, hundreds of grilles and smokers, plus a cast of some 107,000 happy souls, all satisfied to lay back and cruise on their own tiny tract of scrub for three days, with no responsibilities but to eat, drink, play music, sling BS, and generally just take a breather from life.
This is something I have trouble doing. It defies my sense of order, my need to justify how much I accomplish during each hour of my spare time, something I call “casual productivity”. But this weekend, I was determined to abandon my orderly lifestyle and “waste” a weekend. So off I went with my friends, who over the years had already learned to successfully navigate the road of sloth.
We quickly stumbled onto one party of typical die-hard Sebring-ites. One RV, 5 tents, assorted canopies, four LP-cooking units, and enough supplies to fill three shopping carts at Publix. Oh, and numerous characters. Steve, the cook, held court in his tank top and Mardi gras beads. He was engaging and eager to offer samples of his venison steak filets. When I gushed about his efforts, he slipped me some of his “secret stash” of special-battered shrimp. Catching on quickly, the more I bragged, the more he shared. Before the weekend was over he and his buddy, Dallas, a former butcher, insisted that I try some of their venison jerky. And the coupe-duh-grass: Dallas’s homemade venison-garlic-onion sausages, grilled on a warm bun, flavored ever-so-slightly with the essence of diesel fumes.
Dallas turned out to be a character in his own right. A certified fire-inspector in Georgia, Dallas also answers to his professional name: Dilly-Dally the Clown, a proud member of the Georgia Firefighters’ Clown Society, specializing in balloon animals and magic. And, like me, more interested in how cold the beer was than in the race.
Later during a random walk through RV city, beverage in hand, I encountered others worth remembering. The three “liquidly-enhanced” amigos in Chick-fil-a Cow costumes; one burly fellow lumbering through the 80-degree day in Viking horns and hides; a chap riding a motorized beer cooler. I observed dozens of the obligatory cornhole games, two pole-dancing stands (G-rated), hundreds of lawn chair lawyers, at least two professional BBQ cooking teams with sophisticated grille rigs with sinks, one generator-powered 96” TV, and a life-sized female inflatable doll, swimming with her “date” in a kiddy pool. But no troublemakers. Just a lot of “individuals” making a good case for relaxation.
Oh, and there were those pesky cars, zipping around the track, fans parked in lawn chairs at strategic dangerous turns hoping a driver that might down-shift too slowly and lose some minor accessories, like, oh, say tires, or transmissions. The constant decibel level at these track-side viewing areas was intense, something I liken to a high-pitched chain saw revving full throttle a foot from my ear.
But when the weekend was finally over Saturday evening, and the hundreds of thousands began to pack up and orderly stream out, I realized that even though I had not actually “accomplished” anything, I did have a surprising sense of mental well being. My stress level was abnormally low. And in retrospect I recognized that Steve, Dallas, the Cow Boys, and even the professional racers and pit crew, all had one thing in common. They had all taken a break and taken part in something that filled some unnamed void, whether it registered on the value meter or not.
Not sure if I will make another Sebring, but I made some new friends and gathered some new memories and maybe learned how to slow down a little bit, even if no goals were met. Maybe between now and next year I can learn to do balloon animals. That would make Dilly-Dally proud.