Thanks to my father, I was indeed fortunate to be given the opportunity to go to my first Formula 1 race in person. I’ve been a huge F1 racing fan for many years. I love it so much I even wrote a young adult novel about the sport. What made this event special was that the Grand Prix race was held at a brand new racing circuit called, The Circuit of the Americas. It was built specifically for Formula 1 cars, a first for North America. The circuit was raised from the ground up during most of 2012, then polished up just in time for the Formula 1 race weekend on November 16th-18th of this year. The following is my first-person account of the race weekend. Hope you enjoy it.
So here’s my problem. Due to unforseen circumstances, I can’t drive down to Austin, Texas with my father on Friday of race weekend like we planned. So I whip up another plan. Dad drives down to Austin and grabs our room in Temple, Texas while I work in Tulsa, Oklahoma. Now Saturday is when things might get a little tricky…
Qualifying for the US Formula 1 Grand Prix begins at Noon and I want to be there. So I book a one-way flight on Southwest from Tulsa to Austin early Saturday Morning with a plane change in Dallas. According to the schedule, I have 35 minutes to make my connection to Austin. Yikes! Once I clear that hurdle, I have to grab a taxi at the airport and take it straight to the racing circuit and hope I get there before Noon. So to park my butt in the stands on time, everything must go perfectly.
Air travel. Perfect?
Yeah, I’m screwed.
Early Saturday morning. I park my car in Tulsa, go to the gate, scarf down coffee and a muffin, and get on the plane. We leave on time. We get to Dallas. EARLY. It takes me only ten minutes to find my connecting gate. The flight leaves on-time and gets me to Austin EARLY. Are you kidding me? This is America and airlines don’t run like this. But what do they say about looking a gifted horse in the mouth? Maybe the taxi ride will be a fiasco.
I find the taxi lanes. No lines. I grab a taxi and it takes me way out in the boonies. I have no idea where we’re going. But the police roadblocks and luxury charter buses tell me I’m heading to the right place. My taxi pulls into this massive expanse of white dirt and rocks with lines of taxis lining up to drop passengers off. There’s a F1 racing circuit out here? I give my driver a credit card, but his wireless card reader has a tough time getting a connection way out here. Great. Good thing I brought cash. I pay him. The time? 11am. Wow. I can’t believe I made it.
I’m now walking up this wide and rocky dirt path. Trees and shrubs all around me, a very Texas landscape. I don’t see a track. But I hear one. Loud engines whining at full-power and screeching over the trees. The sounds moving from one side to the other. Excitement pumps into my veins because there’s only one type of race car that makes THAT particular sound.
I then see a tall viewing tower over the trees and the brush. We walk around a bend and a large all-metal sign stretches over the walk way. The Circuit of the Americas. Cool sign. Still, I don’t see the track yet. More walking.
And more walking.
And more…you get the idea.
Finally I come to an area with cement. A large parking lot full of limos and shuttle busses that the important people get to use, not us rank and file fans. Then…we come to the circuit.
The big Circuit of the Americas tower.
Large grandstands. And the big black pole with the fastest 12 drivers, their name and position number listed.
I am here. Right where I need to be.
And so are thousands of people. Many, many thousands of people. And they all speak so many different languages and dialects. Australian and British accents. New Yorker Bronx accents. Texan drawls. Russian. Spanish. Arabic. French. Japanese. It’s truly a melting pot of the world, jammed together in just a few square miles of Texas.
Now to find my seats. I called Dad at the airport, but I only got his voice mail. Didn’t hear back so I assume I’ll find him at our grandstand seats. To get to our side of the circuit, I have to cross two bridges over the race track. The first one is stuffed with people and moving at a snail’s pace. They covered the sides of the bridge so people won’t stop to look at the race track. But still, it’s slow going. Now I go through bridge number two and its slow-moving also. Great. I travel all this way with no problems, get to the track an hour before Qualifying. And I’m going to miss it because I’m stuck on a stupid bridge OVER THE RACETRACK. Finally, I break free of the bridge and a voice says, “Doug! Doug!” It’s my father going the opposite way toward the bridge.
Ha! Almost 80,000 people here and I find my dad by chance. This morning is still going too perfectly. Dad takes me to our seats and…wow.
We sit at Turn 5 and the view of the track is AWESOME!!! We can see the S curves in front of us.
We’re high enough on the grandstand to see way over to the other side of the track. There’s the long straightaway which has a critical turn at the end where lots of passing should be taking place. Then a couple more tight turns before the track tucks back behind the grandstands and meets back up with the Start/Finish line.
At this point I’m as giddy as a school girl. These seats are near perfect. I had a sneaking suspicion that this section would have great views of the circuit. And it does. Feels so good when you’ve been proven right.
Noon. Qualifying begins. In Formula 1, all the cars go out during a specific time session where they try to post the fastest lap times. Those making the cut, go to the next round and that’s how the starting grid for the race is formed. The first Formula 1 car screams down the track in front of us and my eardrums are splitting open. The high-shrill of the V-8 engine is unbelievably loud. Holy Skidmarks. But I don’t care because this is too awesome and no one can scrub the smile off my lips. Not even with a Brillo pad.
Luckily Dad gives me earplugs so I don’t go deaf.
Famous cars that I’ve seen hundreds of times on television now streak in front of me, but this time I see them with my own eyes. There’s Michael Schumacher! Fernando Alonzo! Lewis Hamilton! The jumbo-tron shows George Lucas in the pits! The father of Star Wars is at my Grand Prix! (BTW – Thanks for selling off the Star Wars franchise, George. Personally I think it’s a great move.)
I just look at Dad and smile. I can’t believe we are sitting here. Months ago, when we first heard that Formula 1 was coming to Austin, we both knew that we had to be there. Hell or high water. And now the dream has become real.
And we’re only halfway done.
Now it’s time for Denny’s!
We drive an hour north toward our hotel room in Temple, TX. (Austin rooms were way too expensive for that weekend) Dad and I are tired and hungry so we pick a Denny’s on the side of the road. Lucky for Dad, they have Frodo’s Pot Roast Skillet!
My dad falls in love with the dish and savours every morsel. He’s so happy that Frodo made it fresh just for him. Perfect for a man who is a real JRR Tolkien fan way before it was cool. And to top off an already fantastic first day, the waitress gives my 70-year-old father a pack of free Hobbit trading cards!
Next post…Sunday racing glory, world democracy in action, and the $10 jumbo corn dogs.