SEBRING — When fans pass through the gates this week, Wayne Estes, head of Sebring International Raceway, hopes they’ve packed extra patience. They’ll need it.
“Allow more time to get in and see the whole show,” said Estes, president and general manager of the Sebring International Raceway. “I’m being kind when I say a little more time.”
What he means is, a lot, he said.
So race fan should bring a bit of patience?
Estes laughs, then answers: “Please.”
He said the Raceway is experiencing the kind of growth that can make for some growing pains and asks fans to bear with those changes, although some of those changes and improvements were specifically to make pedestrian and motorist access run smoother than usual.
The new vehicle bridge into Green Park, for example: two lanes and a tunnel under it for pedestrians, but wide enough for emergency vehicles.
People won’t have to wait for a light to change to drive over a decades-old rickety bridge.
“That’s a huge game-changer,” Estes said.
There may still be a line, though.
He originally planned to put landscaping on the banks on either side of the bridge, but then realized they were great places to sit and watch the race.
Fans will be allowed to gather there and watch, he said.
“They’ll have views they never saw before,” Estes said.
Grandstands will allow fans to sit down and watch the race at many popular turns. Although some fans, who requested not to be named, grumbled about the fact that their favorite camping spots no longer have a direct line of sight to the track, Estes said the grandstands were well-received by race fans last year.
JumboTron screens are expected to help fans get a good view, too.
People are likely to feel a bit more crowded and cramped, in general, he said. Campsite boundaries are smaller and more strictly enforced to help accommodate the 40-60 percent more people he expects to see at the event this year.
The usual crowd size is more than 150,000 — already 50,000 more than the entire Highlands County population.
The predicted increase will swell the “city” of people at the Raceway to more than 225,000 over the course of the week.
That’s 35,000 more people than in Tallahassee and 25,000 less than St. Petersburg.
While at the track, Estes suggests, fans could also show appreciation to first responders — law enforcement, fire and medical personnel — for being out there to keep them safe.
“Just say a kind word,” Estes said. “Respect them when you’re out there.”
A kinder, gentler crowd, he said, will go a long way to making sure everyone has a good time.
With a new eight hours or 1,000 miles of endurance World Endurance Championship on Friday, followed by the 67th Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts on Saturday, there will be plenty to watch.
“This will be a show unlike any other,” Estes said. “We will do all in our power to get people off the road and to what they want to see.”