Breslauer In Old Media Center Mid 90s 04012021

Torch Bearer of Sebring’s Rich History, Ken Breslauer Retiring

Track’s Longtime Media Director Shares Memories with Contributor

By Holly Cain

DAYTONA BEACH, Fla. – Ken Breslauer started attending the Twelve Hours of Sebring races as a teenager – making the two-and-a-half-hour drive north from his home along the Atlantic Ocean in Delray Beach, Florida, to the remote race course in the midst of Central Florida’s cattle land and citrus groves.

Kenbreslauer Fan In 80s 04012021
Breslauer, Sebring fan in 1980s

The historic nature of the event and the unique setting appealed to Breslauer, who had no idea when he first started attending the Sebring races that he would go on to serve as media director of the legendary track for 35 years – a position he retired from following last month’s 69th running of the Mobil 1 Twelve Hours of Sebring Presented by Advance Auto Parts.

It was more passion than employment for Breslauer, who left a fulltime reporting job at the Pensacola News-Journal covering high school sports and area auto races, to take the position at Sebring International Raceway. He had always been interested in the historic background of the race locale at the former World War II airfield as well as the lore of the legendary race itself.

Ultimately, the pairing was a boost for Breslauer’s career and to Sebring’s storied history.

While the race always earned international acclaim and hosted the biggest names in the sport – from Phil Hill and Mario Andretti to Tom Kristensen and Hurley Haywood – Breslauer, 64, quickly discovered there was a lot of modernizing to do when it came to the media and the way the annual event was covered.

For many years – until a massive modern makeover – the media center was a crammed space over the front straightaway garages. The work “ledge” along the windowsill included a great track view, but the small workspace was barely deep enough for a laptop computer. There were no interview rooms for reporters and drivers. You either found a driver on pit road for a quote or tried to record audio during a busy and boisterous postrace press conference – everyone crammed in the small room.

Usually there wasn’t enough space for the teams’ public relations specialists to fit among the reporters – which at times felt like mostly foreign news outlets, the range of languages endearingly unique to the location. It was the “Woodstock of auto racing,” as Breslauer lovingly refers.

He still chuckles at one particular interaction early in his term – decades ago – with legendary motorsports reporter, the late Chris Economaki.

“It’s one of the funniest memories I have from that first year, 1986. I was the media director and Chris Economaki was at the race, and he insisted on having a manual typewriter,” Breslauer recalled. “In ’86, everybody had switched to those Tandy TRS 80s (small mobile computers) that you hooked up to a modem. I just assumed everybody would have that, but Chris was like, ‘No, I’ve got to have a manual typewriter.’

“I didn’t even know where to find one. I found an old IBM Selective laying around and brought it up, and Chris just looks at me and goes, ‘That’s an electric typewriter. I want a manual typewriter,'” Breslauer said, perfectly imitating Economaki’s distinctive voice.

“I managed to find one and he was happy, but it just shows the little crises you have to deal with in that position. It also shows you how much things have changed.”

It was an early lesson among many that Breslauer would learn. Fortunately for reporters, the sport and the millions of sports car racing fans around the world, Breslauer would establish himself not only adept at dealing with personalities but also show a deep passion for chronicling the event’s history. He realized the need to do so immediately, a little surprised that such a storied race lacked a historical database.

Breslauer, Ralph Deshon, First Sebring Race Winner 04012021
Breslauer (right) with Ralph Deshon, first Sebring Race Winner

“One thing I started doing was documenting the history,” Breslauer said. “There was really nothing solid written about the track. There was never any media guide, any record book. You could find stuff here and there, but I started compiling all of the results and accumulating photos, and I eventually put together a couple books about it. Nobody had really done that before, and it was just a lot of fun to get all that information together.

“When I started, the race had already been going for 35 years, so there was a lot of history to document and to chronicle for people.

“I started that (Sebring media guide) in 1986 when I started there. I sort of emulated the media guide that the Indy 500 did. I think people appreciated that because there was nothing really written that documented the history of the race, so that made it a lot more user-friendly, if you will.”

Breslauer’s portion of Sebring history spanned the GTP days of Toyota, Nissan, Jaguar and Porsche prototypes to the World Sports Cars infancy through maturity and now the Daytona Prototype internationals that star as the IMSA WeatherTech SportsCar Championship marquee class.

Drivers in Breslauer’s three-decade span included legends from Geoff Brabham and Wayne Taylor to Haywood and Kristensen to Scott Pruett and Allan McNish.

“In 2002, we had the 50th anniversary race and one of the things I did was invite back all the former winning drivers, and that was just such an honor to do that,” Breslauer said.

“Dan Gurney and Jim Hall, Bob Akin and Sterling Moss and Phil Hill. Fortunately, a lot of those guys were still around and we got them all together at the same time. It was just amazing. I think we had 28 former winners and found 25 of the former winning cars. It was just a super experience to deal with the past winning drivers.

“Everybody was just so flattered to be asked back and they had a blast. It was just a great time and just shows you how much the race means to the drivers. As much as it is a hassle to go to Sebring, to win at Sebring is just so important. It means so much to people.”

Before the race on March 20, Breslauer was recognized for his decades of important work and extreme dedication to the track and its legacy, and IMSA President John Doonan presented him with a Rolex watch.

Retiring Sebring PR Ken Breslauer receives a Rolex Daytona watch from John Doonan

Breslauer also fittingly received notes and well wishes from some of the drivers who competed at Sebring during his long tenure. Kristensen, the race’s all-time winningest driver, sent Breslauer a signed copy of his new book, wishing him all the best.

“I will tell you what’s great about my position, I’ve met so many great people in the media and drivers,” Breslauer said. “I got an email from none other than Tom Kristensen. He’s Mr. Le Mans and Mr. Sebring, and he sent me his new book. He’s such a great guy and there’s an example, winning Sebring six times means so much to him.

“I remember when we had the WEC (race) in 2019 and the drivers would tell me, they come to Sebring and instead of being isolated from the fans and having these perfect circuits, they come here and the fans have total access to them. And they love it. They feel the atmosphere, it’s so different to them.

“And then they go out on the track and with all the bumps and challenges, they love it. They really, really appreciate the character of Sebring. You can joke about the bumps, but it really sets it apart, makes it a test for drivers. And they love the place.”

Breslauer admitted it’s hard to pick a time, a relationship, even an era to designate “the best” of his time at the track. He genuinely and fully appreciates it all.

“I think just helping document and maintain the histories and traditions of the race (is most important),” he said. “I think we’re really lucky to have a great staff and Wayne Estes is so appreciative of the history and understands that’s what Sebring is all about. The tradition.

“I feel, if nothing else, I helped document and preserve the history of it for future fans and so forth. That’s important to me. Not just the racing history, but the military history of the facility. I’m proud I was able to do that.”

Next March – for the first time since Ronald Reagan was president of the United States – Breslauer will drive up from South Florida for race week as a fan. It will be a journey of mixed feelings. He is so proud to have been trackside for some of the greatest races in the track’s history. He’s met his heroes and made long-lasting friendships. He guided and guarded one of racing’s most significant events. He should be proud.

Breslauer has written two must-have “books of record” on the Sebring Twelve Hour, and as he winds up his official obligations, he says he will keep busy working on another book. And next year’s Twelve Hours of Sebring?

“I’m going to be in Green Park,” Breslauer says without hesitation.

“I will be a spectator and I’ve really missed that. I want to be able to enjoy the race. IMSA is looking so good for the future, it’s really going to be a fun time and I’m going to enjoy it for a while.”

No one deserves that more.