1 Revson Mcqueen 1970 Sebring
Peter Revson and Steve McQueen stand together after the 1970 running of the 12 Hours of Sebring. (Bob Gates Collection photo)

An Epic Sebring Run For Revson & McQueen

The 1970 12 Hours of Sebring is considered one of the best races in the extensive history of the famed event.

In the 11th hour, Mario Andretti jumped into a teammate’s Ferrari 512S and raced to a 22-second victory.

The narrow margin of victory after 12 pounding hours on the rough, concrete, military runways that comprised Sebring’s course was attention-grabbing. Even more so was the performance of the second-place team and how it inspired Andretti to his epic run.

Driving a Porsche 908/2 was 1960s film icon, the “King of Cool,” Steve McQueen and promising American racer Peter Revson.

McQueen’s movies “The Great Escape,” “The Thomas Crown Affair” and “Bullitt” remain classics. His passion for racing was genuine. McQueen was talented and competed in sports cars, formula cars and motorcycles beginning in the early 1960s.

But when he arrived at Sebring, his left foot was broken in six places from a crash during a motorcycle race just two weeks before. To help alleviate the pain, the team fashioned a supportive leather and metal boot.

But no amount of fine-tuning perfected the device and it was obvious the majority of the driving would fall to Revson.

Peter Jeffery Revlon Revson was an heir to the Revlon cosmetics firm and suffered much needling from his peers because of that connection. McQueen even sent him a note once asking him for a good deal on lipstick.

But Revson wasn’t directly connected to the Revlon money and struggled his way to the top like most drivers. His early racing was in Europe and he traveled from race to race in a beat-up van, sleeping in it at night.

He made his way to the top with talent, tenacity and perseverance.

By Sebring, he’d run two Indianapolis 500s, winning co-rookie-of-the-year honors in 1969 by racing his Brabham from last tofifth. He won the pole at Indy in 1971 and was one of the top-rated drivers in the world prior to his death in 1974.

Revson responded admirably to the Sebring challenge by driving more than eight hours against a field of luminaries that included Andretti, Dan Gurney, Jacky Ickx, Jo Siffert and Pedro Rodriguez.

But as the clock wound down, a rapid series of events transpired that improved the team’s fortunes drastically.

The factory Porsches began failing, moving McQueen/Revson up to first in class and second overall. Suddenly, the leading Ferrari of Andretti/Merzario, 12 laps out in front, rolled into the pits with gearbox problems.

Incredibly, with less than an hour to run, McQueen and Revson were the overall leaders. 

But the drama hadn’t concluded.

Ferrari team manager Mauro Forghieri believed that his second-place Vaccarella/Giunti Ferrari 512 could overtake the smaller Porsche with its huge, 5-liter engine. And he thought Andretti was the one who could make it happen.

Initially, Andretti wasn’t receptive to the idea. “When Forghieri first asked me, I was very lukewarm,” recalled Andretti. “The car was pretty far back and I knew I wasn’t going to fit in it. I was ready to get out of there.”

But then, Andretti was freshly motivated.

“I was tired of hearing the guy on the PA talk about Steve McQueen. He kept going on and on about how McQueen was going to win,” Andretti explained. “Poor Revson drove his tail off, and even at his best McQueen was well off Revson’s pace. He was doing a phenomenal job, but never got mentioned. They wanted to give Steve more credit than he deserved. That motivated me. I said to myself, ‘To hell with it. I’m going to get in this thing.’”

Andretti jumped in the Ferrari. He slid around in the seat and struggled to reach the pedals but turned in a typical Andretti performance to steal the victory from McQueen/Revson and Porsche.

“It was a satisfying win, but a lot of credit should go to Revson for the job he did in second,” Andretti said. “I think Revson deserved all the credit for keeping it so competitive. He had to be so focused. I know I was spent and he drove I don’t know how many hours more than me. An incredible drive.” 

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