On Friday morning, I looked up at the media center television at Circuit of the Americas to see a father and son being whisked around a tiny rollercoaster whose cars were shaped like a caterpillar. I mused to myself, “I need to do that.” Former Jalop contributor Alanis King was sitting next to me in the media center and said, “So let’s do it.” Readers: We did.
The United States Grand Prix at COTA has done its fair share of evolving over the past few years. During my first race in 2014, the event was a pretty spartan affair. There were merchandise tents, sponsor tents, and some local food trucks, sure, but there was nothing to distinguish this as being a Formula One race. It was good fun, but it was also a little depressing to realize how little the track offered outside of the on-track action compared with other F1 events I’d attended in Austria, Canada, and England.
This year, there were carnival rides and incredibly cool food options. Parts of the track that had previously been inaccessible to fans had been opened up. New grandstands and pedestrian bridges were erected, and I’d heard rumors that the race was sold out as early as May.
Like, just look at this nonsense:
I didn’t get a chance to explore the whole track, but I did see Lonestar Land and Rodeo Driveway, and folks: I was upset that I didn’t have a larger stomach to eat all the food. Not only was there on-side brisket smoking, but Rodeo Driveway was serving a whole slew of foods you’d never think of as track food: duck breast wraps, éclairs, pavlovas, and more. Pair that with multiple music stages around the track and tons of carnival rides, and you’re in for a treat.
But I digress. I was all about the carnival rides.
I will hedge here that I didn’t end up riding every ride. Some, like the big rollercoaster at the track, were still under construction. Others, like the NASCAR kiddie ride, were not keen on letting a grown-ass adult take a spin. And for the ferris wheel, I made a reasonable deduction that this ferris wheel would be like every other ferris wheel I’ve been on: fun for about 15 seconds, but those 15 seconds are padded by five minutes of loading and unloading riders.
Please note: I do not remember the actual names of the rides and have instead opted for the names that Alanis King and I gave them during the weekend, which I will argue are more descriptive.
For your reference: tickets for these rides were $4 each, and each ride required a variable amount of tickets. In all, I spent $40 on 10 tickets, which was not awful considering the cost of other carnival rides I have enjoyed in recent weeks.
COTA’s karting track is awesome, but this weekend, the track had been disassembled and turned into extra parking for Lot A, the media and team lot, which did not fill up anyway. I was extremely disappointed.
COTA has made a big deal about its zip line, and it is admittedly quite neat. It stretches from the front stretch of the track up to Turn 1 and provides neat views and a bit of a thrill. However, it ranks low on my list for several reasons. First, only two people can ride it at a time, which meant it took about an hour for Alanis and I to move up the line. Second, it costs three tickets, which is too many tickets. Third, it’s not long enough to justify the wait, but this may also be because I’ve been on the Ski Apache zip tour in New Mexico, which is a Certified Event where you can reach speeds of 60 miles per hour.
A cellular data company set up a trackside booth that featured a pink plastic bull that fans could ride in exchange for providing that company with their email address (pro tip: always have a designated spam email address for these occasions). I saw it from atop the mighty Spinny Thing and told Alanis that we needed to try it. I lasted 1.6 seconds on this bull, though in my defense I will argue that it started moving well before they actually started timing me. Alanis made it eight seconds before taking a spill. We watched two other women hold on for over 30 seconds, which I pin on the fact that they were wearing shorts and had a better grip.
The caterpillar roller coaster was the last ride I rode at COTA, and it was the perfect way to end the carnival adventure. It was relaxed and had some surprising elevation changes. Alanis and I were not the only adults on this ride, but the other adults were admittedly there with their children. Nevertheless, it was delightful and chill and did not make my heart rate spike into dangerous territory. Thank you for your service, caterpillar.
Now we contrast the caterpillar with The Spinny Thing. I don’t even know how to describe this. It was a long, vertical contraption that featured a seat for two at each end, and it proceeded to spin you around in circles. But because there were people on each end, that meant you inevitably spent a long period of time at the top viciously rocking back and forth while the other folks loaded up. It was horrifying. I lost all the bobby pins in my hair. I screamed obscenities loud enough for children to hear. It was delightful and worth the price, in large part because there was no line because most people were sane enough to avoid this ride at all costs.
For a mere four dollars and literally no line, I got to enjoy my favorite-but-also-least-favorite carnival ride of them all: that big-ass tower that slowly lifts you up in the air and then drops you. I hate it so much. I also love it. For four dollars, you couldn’t find a better way to briefly experience your own death.