By Pete Vack
From out of nowhere up pops Harry Hurst and his book 12 Hours of Sebring 1970, the subject of a rare and most enthusiastic editorial by Thom Bryant in the hallowed pages of this month's Road & Track. Bryant is about as jaded as one man can get, and literally slobbers all over the pages of Hurst's book.
(VeloceToday's review will be published right here, next week).
Well, it is good, in literate, visual, and artistic sense. It is enjoyable. We need books like that.
And who might we have here? How about Wayne Sparling with sideburns, on the right, and in the foreground with back to the camera is Nereo Lori, NART Chief mechanic, as Chinetti appears ghostlike in the background.
So who is Harry Hurst anyway and what makes him tick?
His grandmother, of all people, wound his clock but good when she gave him an MGTD when he was only 16, in 1967. But Harry had already been reading SCI, R&T, and tons of other now defunct magazines since the fifties, so the TD was just icing on the cake. He still has it, which must set some sort of record for MG ownership.
A Photographer Develops
At the same time, he was influenced by the photography in other more mainstream magazines. "The fifties and sixties were the golden age of photojournalism," says Hurst. "Each weekly issue of Life and Look were mini courses in composition and lighting." He became interested in photography. "I bought my first 35mm camera and started reading about developing, printing, composition, etc. And, I shot a lot of film."
It didn't take long to combine his interest in cars and photography. Living in Florida, he went to his first 12 hour event in 1965, at 18 became an SCCA flagman on the Webster Turn, and by 1970, now a ripe old 19, he was asked by Sebring press officer John Smiley to take some photos at the race in exchange for credentials. Zap, Hurst is in the pits, on the course, in the way.
getting ready for another stint at the wheel of the Ferrari 512S. His car failed to finish.
Harry goes on to a successful career in advertising, using that experience and talent to make a living. The images of Sebring 1970 sit in a box, long forgotten. Thirty years later he got to thinking about them. "Several of my photos had appeared in other books and web sites without my permission (I worked for the Sebring race organizers and had sent them prints for their promotional use. These prints became part of the Alec Ulmann archives, which were sold after his death.) I thought that if others were using my photos, perhaps I should do something as well."
And So He Did.
"Since I owned an advertising agency, I knew how to do page layout and Photoshop and I started scanning some of the photos and putting them into order." Adding some words, he then put together a prototype book, and printed about fifty copies, and sent them to friends. Good market research.
"The response I received – especially from people who weren't race fans – encouraged me to expand the book. I added more photos and the story of the race started to emerge. Someone recommended I get the recollections of others who were there so I sent copies of the Xerox book to as many drivers, crew members and others as I could find."
How to Get Mario's Attention
Mario Andretti, like many of us, is busier in retirement than he was while still racing. He is booked solid for the next four years. But one way to get a driver’s attention, on or off the track, is to make a mistake. Most are very particular about posterity. "I sent a letter and a copy of the book to the only address I could find for Andretti– his fan club in Nazareth. Two days later, Mario called me on the phone, telling me there was so much wrong with what I had written up to that point, that he didn't know where to begin!."
Hurst spent a lot of the time in the pits. Here, Andretti is telling Merzario to watch out for
But at least he got his attention.
"Luckily, I had my tape recorder handy and I just got him talking. His memory after 35 years was astounding. He could tell you lap times to a hundredth of a second. He remembered the exact sequence of events at the end of the race and helped me correct several inaccuracies that I had."
Gurney was a different matter. "I had been a Dan Gurney fan since the early 60s. I had written him letters back then and sent models of his cars to him. I was one of the Charter Members of the Eagle Club. I sent him a letter along with a copy of the book requesting 15 minutes of his time for a phone interview. After about three months, I was finally able to interview him and get his recollections." Noteworthy is that Gurney had kept the fan mail correspondence—they were still on file in Gurney’s office after forty years!
Hurst self published. It is a high quality hardback book, and a big investment. "I did approach some of the publishers (I won't say which) but was told that this was a ‘ballroom book,’ in other words all the people that would be interested in this book would fit into a ballroom. It was my wife who told me I had to publish it myself if they wouldn't. I was hesitant but now I'm glad that I did. It's turned out that this is I pretty big ballroom!"
Books a million. Hurst stands by the shipment of 12 Hours of Sebring 1970.
12 Hours of Sebring 1970 is more poetry than prose in it’s form, layout and sense of timing, but Hurst admits it just happened that way. "But I do think the book developed a certain rhythm as it started to come together. I always wanted to make it a photo essay, not the definitive historical book on the race. For this reason, I tried to keep the copy concise and have the copy comments expand on the photographs."
A Unique Perspective
This may not happen again. But we hope it will, and that Hurst will have more boxes full of photos to publish. "I also think it's interesting that, as far as I know, this is the only book that tells the story of one race from the eyes of one photographer. I think this makes for an intriguing format, especially when you have such a great race to document."
Yes, you can order your copy from Harry Hurst directly, at