SEBRING: At age 46, Greg Lodde is already retired from aviation mechanics.
He’s just an average guy who’s trying to have an above-average time, so he races a Corvette, he said wryly. “Because I can’t think of anything more wasteful of my time, I guess. I don’t know why.”
The 12 Hours of Sebring is an endurance race. It’s designed to apply stress to more stress.
“With the vintage car race, it’s really a relaxed environment,” said Lodde, from Saint Cloud. “It’s kind of like a car show, except you get to run the car hard. You can’t do that on the street.”
Race Week is a series of events, from vintage BMW laps to the Porsche GT3 Cup.
John Dean 2nd won’t get to race his Sick Sideways Mazda this year.
“Our race was cancelled,” said Dean. Mazda got behind in production.
“Everyone buys a new MX-5 from the manufacturer, and every car is the same,” said Dean.
That’s the bad news. The good news is that because he won the 2015 MX-5 Cup, Mazda gave him two cars. And a $100,000 scholarship to compete in the 2016 Mazda MX-5 Cup.
So now, Dean has seven cars.
“Yeah,” said Dean. “It’s incredible.” He owns the racing shop Sick Sideways on Sebring Parkway, near the Charlie Brown skateboard park.
Dean is the team owner, the team driver, and the team engineer. “That’s a fancy word for the guy that sets up the suspension, and figures out how to make it go faster.”
Dean has been racing since 1997 or 1998. “Not the 12 Hours, but on the track.”
If his name sounds familiar, his father, John Dean, was the racing announcer for 21 years. Yes, his was the voice of Sebring International Raceway.
Jeff McKee of Delray Beach owns a Ford GT 40. The GT stands for Grand Touring.
“And the 40 is because it is 40 inches tall,” said McKee. “It was built to race.”
It’s a replica of a car that won Sebring in the 1960s, and like Lodde’s Corvette, both appeared on Friday at the Circle of Speed in downtown Sebring.
REASONS TO RACE
Just like athletes with the talent to jump higher, McKee was born to race faster. It’s why he races.
“Because it’s my passion and I’m really good at it,” McKee said. “I didn’t discover that until about 20 years ago. I won a go-karting race, and I realized I had quite a bit talent. I’m able to drive quickly and smoothly around the track without getting in trouble.”
Go-karting, as it turns out, is the gateway drug for many race drivers. “I was a kid when I started go-kart racing. I fell in love it and knew what’s what I wanted to do,” McKee said.
“There was a race when I was 10 years old,” Dean remembered. He finished 13th out of 30 karts. “But 12th place was this girl. And it demoralized me that this girl beat me. So I opened up to listened to what Dad said. He was in a lot of races in Florida and England, so I had it in my blood.”
McKee was here two weeks ago for the sports car vintage races, and took second on Sunday and first on Monday.
“I always planned on doing this,” Lodde said. “If you wait until you can afford to have it, chances are you’ll never do it.”
Lots of people would like to own drive a race car, but few can afford it.
Lodde does it cheaply. He has a crew of one. “Guys who are willing to work for beer.”
He found a 1965 Corvette that had been converted to race. After a few years on the track, it was rebuilt and became a 1968, and again become a 1971.
“The original owners who raced the car in the ‘70s, they re-bodied it. It evolved and moved up in classes,” Lodde said.
“If you comb the classifieds, you’ll find cars that you can buy for a few thousand dollars. There are some that are a few hundred thousand.”
McKee’s GT 40 is worth over $200,000, he said. “The way it’s set up. And I own a trailer, and a diesel truck. That’s another $100,000. For Race Week, and tires and fuel and lodging, that can be $10,000. A set of tires is $25,000, and I’ll get two weekends out of a set. Race fuel is $10 a gallon.”