May/Jun 2023 edition
Issue #28 AutoMobilia Resource Magazine
As a kid growing up in Arcadia, FL, in the 1970s, Doug Morton had no idea what Sebring was, except for being a town in the middle of orange groves stretching about 50 miles northeast. But after experiencing the time-honored tradition of sneaking into the race under a blanket in the back of his brother’s Mustang in 1988, he became hooked on the history of this legendary motorsports event.
Morton was born with the genes of a collector, and this has led him to scour yard sales, flea markets, and eBay for anything related to the 12 Hours of Sebring (12 Hours). “I started going every year in 1993, and I could see all these cars – Porsche 962s, Jaguars. When the race started, I was just blown away. I fell in love with Sebring and became interested in its history.”
Morton started acquiring every program from the event’s first year in 1950, and his collection grew from there. Today he cannot tell you how many pieces he has, but it is certainly in the tens of thousands; he has almost 4,000 slides and negatives alone.
The collection covers a wide scope: tickets and passes from almost every year, posters and programs, officials’ armbands, and a range of items related to the Automobile Racing Club of Florida (ARCF). He also has found many unique artifacts, including a map of the Sebring course, dated 1950, that he believes was drawn by the race founder Alec Ulmann himself.
Morton has also learned about archival storage techniques that help preserve the paper artifacts. “I keep them in archival boxes with proper calcium carbonate backing so that any acid in the paper is neutralized.”
Currently, Morton has his entire collection at his home, but he hopes to have it displayed in a yet-to-be-built museum devoted to the history of the 12 Hours. But in the meantime, he is happy that his collecting fulfills his mantra, the words of Edward Bok, which he first saw inscribed at nearby Bok Tower: “Make the world a bit better or more beautiful because you have lived in it.
Above: In the early years of the 12 Hours of Sebring, all the drivers received gifts for participating. In 1952 it was a money clip, in 1953 they received a keychain, and in 1954 they were given a tie clip with their name engraved. This clip was given to Jim Hendrix, who co-drove a Triumph TR-2 with Alan Patterson to 24th place overall and third in class. Morton has not seen any driver gifts from races after 1954.
Above: The role of the ARCF, while initially conceived to be the replacement for the AAA as the race-sanctioning body, was expanded by Alec Ulmann’s wife, Mary, to be more of a social club, appealing to the more glamorous crowd she wanted to attract. The race was promoted as a day trip for well-heeled Palm Beachers, complete with catered lunch under a green-striped tent behind the pits. Membership in the ARCF included receiving a cloisonné pin each year.
Above In addition to having examples of items produced in the thousands, such as tickets and passes, Morton has also been able to acquire one-of-a-kind items. This is a hand-drawn map of the original Sebring circuit in 1950 showing where signs, hay bales, concession stands, and flagging stations were to be placed. This 3.5-mile course was essentially the same as the later 5.2-mile course except for the addition of the famous Hairpin turn.
Above: 12 Hours of Sebring was always held in early spring and was a good excuse for Northerners to come down for the warm weather. The week before the 12-Hours was filled with numerous events in the area, from low-budget beer fests to fancy balls. Harder Hall, across Lake Jackson from the town of Sebring, was race headquarters; Sebring Shores Country Club was the site of the bigger events; and the Grand Prix Ball was held at the Sebring Pier Auditorium. This Grand Prix Ball poster was done by Vincenzo M. Zito, a popular artist and caricaturist in the Palm Beach area in the 1950s and 60s. He later did the 1963 race poster, among the most prized of all vintage Sebring posters.
Above: Pinbacks were first used to identify functionaries at Sebring in 1953, but it wasn’t until AMOCO came on as a sponsor in 1955 that they were widely adopted. There were 20 or 25 different types of pinbacks every year. They identified nearly every imaginable function related to the race: driver, crew, pit steward, photographer, working press. They were all color-coded, and some had windows to insert names. In 1960, Amoco left as a sponsor, and Alitalia airlines came on board, but they did not do the pinbacks again until 1963, when they stepped up their involvement. By 1966 the race just had the generic Ring-Free Motor Oil pinback that held a paper credential.
These Sebring endurance patches were sold to the public beginning in the early 1950s. There were subtle differences among them from year to year – one reason Morton continues to buy them when they come up for sale. For example, there are several different varieties, ranging from Sebring Grand Prix to Florida, and with helmet or without. There was also a Grand Prix Club in the 1960s where you received a letter and a Grand Prix member patch with the same style of crest.
Up until 1955, the American Automobile Association (AAA) was the sanctioning body not only for Sebring, but for almost all international motorsports in the U.S. Morton acquired these Chief Steward armbands at top from Alec Ulmann Jr., and they belonged to his father. After the disastrous 1955 Le Mans accident that killed 83 spectators, the AAA withdrew from auto racing. Ulmann founded the Automobile Racing Club of Florida (ARCF) to be the sanctioning body for Sebring. The armbands at bottom were worn by the Clerk of Course (Alec Ulmann), Chief Starter Jesse Colman, and Race Director (possibly also Alec Ulmann).
To read more great automotive art columns like this one from Sebring memorabilia expert Harry Hurst...
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