Once again, that itch to migrate south began to worm its way into my mind, shortly after I returned from the previous winter’s journey in March of 2021. With the winter holidays behind me, and only the chilly, colorless days nearing on the horizon, Sola, my 4-year-old Shibon, and I headed back to Florida this February.
Sola is the perfect co-pilot. She lies on the passenger seat, never correcting my choice of direction on the road or the selection of music on the radio. Never does she whine for a potty stop. Now she will, after several miles, aim her big brown eyes in my direction, and think “Jim, are we there yet?” I will tell her, (Yes, I do speak to her) “Too soon.” Upon hearing this, she will droop her head back on the seat, close her eyes, and return to sleep. Try that with your human companions.
Last year, Sola and I rambled down the east coast of Florida in my RV. But for this year’s excursion, I sold the RV and purchased a 2018 Porsche Macan S. Great decision! This little rocket ship is powered by a 6-cylinder, twin turbo, 340 HP go getter engine. Plus, it has a superbly quiet ride and the ability to swallow road imperfections effortlessly. The speedometer gracefully rises, no, make that shoots past speed limits rapidly. This has been verified by a Lone Jack, Missouri gendarme. A radar detector has since been added to the Macan S.
This year, the 12 Hours of Sebring, in Sebring, Florida, was my ultimate destination. With no scheduled itinerary except Sebring, Sola and I gradually drifted south. Graceland, Tennessee, Elvis’s home and burial site was the first pause on the trip. Having been in the home some 30 years prior, I felt no need to revisit the interior’s green shag carpeted floors and walls. Instead, I strolled past the music themed gates and stone walls in front of the residence. These are now besmeared with Elvis’s fans’ names and phone numbers (go figure) from around the world.
One of my favorites, the Barber MotorSports Park Museum and race track, just south of Birmingham, Alabama, was next. I first visited last winter, but felt I had only scratched the surface of the four story monument to racing cars and motorcycles. Motorcycle enthusiasts especially enjoy Barber, as towers of racing and pleasure bikes, new and antique, are on display. Also, numbers of Formula 1, IMSA and SCCA racers are situated throughout. This is a bucket list stop.
Tallahassee, Florida became stop number three. The Tallahassee Automotive Museum collection, which additionally showcases grand pianos, Remington cowboy art and other unusual collections, stood ready to entertain. To my surprise, on the second floor, there was a large sampling of antique outboard motors and boats. Being a retired marine dealer, I was a ready audience. Polished aluminum, steel and brass outboards joined varnished wooden race craft and pleasure craft, most from the 30’s, 40’s and 50’s. And to top off the day, an exact duplicate of my first new car, a 1966 Mustang coupe, sat nearby. Memories.
Rolling further south, the price of fuel rolled up. Around $4.95/gal. was the peak price I paid. Luckily, I could get between 325 to 350 miles on a tank, keeping my foot light on the accelerator. That seldom happened.
Next on the tour came the town of Crystal River, Florida, home of manatees. These large amphibians, aptly nicknamed sea cows, languish in this area in large numbers before they continue their yearly migration. Here you can observe the manatees safely on guide boats, or snorkel in the water beside them. They are an endangered species, due to water pollution and loss of feeding grounds, so treat them with respect.
At last, Sanibel Island, just north of Ft. Myers became our month-long stopping point. Sanibel is unique as its location is off the gulf coast of south central Florida, and its crescent shape makes for an ideal shelling site. The island boasts of having no stop lights, no structure over two stories tall, and less than a handful of chain businesses. Here, in near perfect weather, Sola and I experienced 84 degree days, lunches and dinners by the beaches, and explored bicycle trails throughout the island. A heavenly place.
An hour south of Sanibel, lies the trendy city of Naples. Here, hidden away in an industrial park, is one of the best racing auto collections in the world, the Revs Institute. Cars that actually participated in iconic Le Mans, Formula 1 and other world renowned races held in the 30s through the 70s are viewable and usually touchable. The Porsche brand is heavily represented.
As the weekend for the 12 Hours of Sebring in mid March drew near, Sola and I reluctantly departed Sanibel and made quick work of the short drive north east to Sebring. Unfortunately, my tardy response in making hotel reservations in Sebring resulted in a stay in Frost Proof, Florida. Situated 25 minutes north of the race track, in the middle of acres of orange groves, Frost Proof has almost disappeared. Small town general stores, antique two-pump gas stations, a red brick train depot and a few other retail buildings still stand. However, paint peels from many facades and warped plywood shutters most doors and windows. A few structures have been given a second life. The train depot now makes for a quaint coffee shop. Today, the movie theater on the one block stretch of Main Street, provides occasional dinner mystery theater productions for the locals. It’s 1950s and 60s recycled.
My fortunes at the track were better. Just outside of turn seven is the aptly named Turn Seven Hotel. From the hotel, I purchased an all-access pass that provided parking, track entrance, three brunches, a seminar with David Hobbs, (more on that later), entrance to their bar and restaurant, also pet friendly, and of course, up close and personal lawn seating by the kink of turn seven.
The first race of the week was Thursday’s North American Porsche Carrera Cup support race. Very tight racing provided a good show for the fans, as the young gun drivers try to impress teams and sponsors.
Later that afternoon, an IMSA Michelin Pilot Challenge race took to the track. Here, K.C. Region Porsche Club’s mechanical guru, Karl Wilen, saw his team take the checkered flag. Fuel strategy and terrific driving held off challenges from Mercedes, Toyota, Porsche and BMW.
One morning, the Turn Seven Hotel hosted David Hobbs for a Q and A session. David is a former professional racer, who has had seats in Indy, Formula 1, CAN-AM, IMSA and Le Mans cars. Following his racing tenure, Hobbs, due to his quick wit and tell-it-like-it-is mouth, became a TV race commentator, especially for Formula 1. I would highly recommend his sweet read, Hobbo, to any racing enthusiast.
Saturday morning began the 12 hour race. Thanks to the local Porsche club and their many volunteers, a Porscheplatz was set up on the final turn. A large tent offered shelter from sun or rain. Soft drinks and water were always available, along with morning coffee and donuts. Porsches’ corral car count dwarfed the nearby Corvette group, showing once again how loyal Porsche owners are.
Pits opened an hour before the race, so an up close and personal opportunity to visit drivers, mechanics and cars was enjoyed.
Promptly at 10:10 AM the race began, with five different classes vying for a win within their class and the overall. This gave me a chance to wander the infamous infield of Sebring. If it rains on race day, the infield can be transformed into a mud pit, but was not a problem this year. Homemade scaffolding makes for elevated viewing platforms that are decorated with glowing pink, blue and yellow Florida style lighting, i.e., flamingos. At night a carnival atmosphere engulfed the surroundings. Beer was in ample supply, along with all kinds of barbeque. There is no match for the aroma of hot brakes, racing fuel, beer and barbeque wafting through the warm Florida night air.
Unfortunately, Porsche did not come away with a winner’s trophy this year. However, the season is young, so hopefully better results are in the future.
Over the next several days, Sola and I wandered back to KC, returning just in time for a slap in the face of cold air and frozen moisture. In order to keep my spirits up, I immediately began planning next winter’s escape to a beach.
My new-to-me Macan S performed flawlessly. Who would have thought that an SUV could be so much fun to drive? Those guys and gals in Stuttgart know how to put performance in all of their cars.
Next trip? The club run over Labor Day weekend to Colorado. Join us. I hope to see you on the road.