March 2020 will mark the 50th anniversary of what many feel is the greatest endurance road race in history – the 1970 Sebring 12-hour. Yes, there have been many great 12- and 24-hour races over the years, some with more historical significance. But none can match the 1970 Sebring for its combination of legendary drivers, great cars, and an incredible finish.
It’s difficult, today, to truly appreciate the international status Sebring had in its first 20 years. All the greats raced at Sebring at one time or another: Fangio, Moss, Hill (both of them), Surtees, and Stewart. Even Jim Clark in a Cortina when he was reigning World Champion!
These days, drivers generally must devote themselves to only one or two series. But in 1970, the great drivers drove everything. One week they’d be in the orange groves of Central Florida, the next in Europe racing F1. And team contracts weren’t so restrictive. They could be driving a Porsche at Sebring and a BRM at Monaco or an Eagle at Indy.
Many top F1 drivers were at Sebring in 1970: Andretti, Ickx, Rodriguez, Siffert, Elford, Parkes, Redman, Courage, Cevert, and Gurney. This year also had an additional element of glamour – Steve McQueen had entered a Porsche with Peter Revson as co-driver.
Few gave Steve McQueen and Peter Revson much of a chance. McQueen’s film company, Solar Productions, had entered the Porsche as “research” for the movie Le Mans, which was to begin shooting that summer. (Their 908 was converted into a camera car and actually ran in the 24-hour race and finished 8th! Unfortunately, because they had to stop more frequently than the regulations allowed to change the film in the cameras, they were not officially classified as a finisher.)
Revson, of course, had by now established his driving credentials even though he initially suffered from a “rich boy” image. (His uncle was Charles Revson, the founder of Revlon.) McQueen had done some of his own stunt work in The Great Escape and Bullitt and had run some club races (and the 1962 Sebring in a Sprite), but no one thought he was on a par with the top drivers at Sebring. Plus, he had broken his leg a week earlier in a motorcycle accident and had a cast on his clutch foot.
As it turned out, they almost won the race.