I was dead wrong. When I first heard rumors of a potential F1 venue in Texas, I guffawed.* Where are they going to find the money to build a track in the middle of a deep recession? How can they build a world-class track in such a short amount of time? Who is even going to go to Texas to see a bunch of foreigners race? I was dead wrong. The track was amazing, the fans were all there, and the race was fantastic.
We landed in San Antonio, about an hour away from Austin, on Saturday. Airfare was a bit cheaper and hotels still had vacancies. Our Dodge Dart SXT rental was a great little compact people-hauler. We spent Saturday evening/night/early morning in Austin’s Sixth Street district, which was closed to traffic for the F1 FanFest event. People roamed around bars, food stands, and team exhibits while listening to competing live bands. Red Bull, Lotus, and McLaren all had their cars on display. Also on display was a fleet of classic American convertible muscle cars that were to be used for the drivers’ parade just before the race.
When we were walking back to our car, David Coulthard walked past us on the sidewalk.
Me: Dude, that was David Coulthard!
My buddy: Yeah, did you see his smokin’ hot date?
Me: Huh? He was with someone?
After getting only three hours of sleep, we woke up Sunday morning. The media anticipated the mother of all traffic jams for the race. Only a few narrow roads connected Austin to the track. Hundreds of shuttles (tour buses, school buses, you name it) were commandeered to transport attendees from downtown to the track. We arrived relatively quickly.
The volunteers and paid staff at the track were very friendly and even more helpful. The track and facilities were impressive.
My buddy and I sat at the end of, and the top of, the already infamous Turn 1. It is 133 feet above the start-finish line and sharply curves to the left.
This being Texas, security was provided by the National Guard, driving these Humvees.
This is our view from our seats, looking down and to the left.
This is the first corner on the first lap. Fortunately/unfortunately, there were no crashes.
Though I am not a Ferrari fan, I rooted for Fernando Alonso, who was in second place in the points. He finished third, ensuring a shootout with Sebastian Vettel at the last race of the season in Brazil.
The race was attended by a veritable who’s who of North America. Rick Perry,** outgoing Mexican president Calderon, Ron Howard, Ken Block, Gordon Ramsay, and that McDreamy guy were all in attendance. On the way back to our shuttle, we spotted Matt “How you doin'” LeBlanc.
The race will be well-attended indefinitely. Its location (and the presence of current Sauber driver and future McLaren pilot Sergio Perez) drew A LOT of Mexican fans. Whether F1 will gain prominence here is doubtful. The local newswoman called Sebastian Vettel “Sebastian Kettle”. In the sports section of USA Today on Monday, the F1 race was buried on the last page of the second sports section. NASCAR was on the cover.
And what’s a great car event without a little carspotting? This Bentley Turbo RT Mulliner (just one of 39 in LHD form) was the coolest car I saw. The hood/bonnet vents sealed the deal for me. Second coolest car I saw– a RAUH Welt Catalina Porsche with a spoiler the size of a twin-sized bed.
My only complaint concerned the merchandising. There were not enough points of sale and the lines were long and slow. They were even using those old manual credit card imprint doodads. You know, the kind you slide and makes that clunk-clunk sound. Without a shredder nearby, I walked around for two days with a carbon imprint of my entire credit card number in my pocket. Very retro, in a not-so-good way.
Images source: Copyright 2012 Hooniverse/Jim Yu
* I have never used that word before, ever.
** When Governor Rick “Oops” Perry met Red Bull Racing principal Christian Horner, he saw Horner’s uniform and the Pepe Jeans logo on it. Thinking that was his name, he called Horner “Pepe”.