Every time there’s a major race in Austin, someone always questions why. Why are we going here? Why didn’t we go somewhere else that lives and breathes motorsport instead? Thus, I feel somewhat compelled to stand up for this place and say nah, we’re awesome, and you’re nuts if you haven’t been here.
Admittedly, we’re not a small idyllic hamlet like Elkhart Lake, Nürburg or Watkins Glen where the town has hosted motorsports for so long that it’s baked into the very fiber of the locals’ being. I love going to those venues, too. You feel welcomed by everyone. Everyone’s a car nut with a story, and everybody knows somebody with a track beater squirreled away in a shed somewhere. Those places are great.
However, Watkins Glen is great for many of the same reasons why I love Austin. It’s not just a place where I enjoy the track. It’s everything around the track that makes it truly awesome.
Instead of a little town that’s all about motorsport, though, you have a big city with tons of options for things to do that happens to be in one of the best locations in Texas.
Does watching racing make you want to go for a drive? Head west of town, where the topography drops off into the rocky curves of Texas’ hill country. Take a short trip around any number of farm or lakeside roads and just enjoy the curves and the scenery. We have a ludicrous number of good driving roads here. If it looks twisty and isn’t someone’s 25 mph neighborhood road with a ton of speedbumps and stop signs, chances are, it’s going to be a good drive.
Everyone has their favorites, from the close-in roads like Lime Creek to farther drives like the Three Sisters. City Park Road may be my favorite Austin-area drive because it passes by some amazing skyline views before heading right to a city park, where you can hike one of the most gorgeous trails Austin has to offer: Turkey Creek.
Want to go drive faster? We’ve got two amateur-friendly tracks — Harris Hill Road and the Driveway — within thirty minutes of Circuit of the Americas. That’s right: the same reason I praised the Nürburgring applies here. Provided there isn’t anything special going on at either venue, you can go drive on a race track after having watched other people drive on a race track. It’s the perfect cure for “I really like driving more than watching”-itis.
If karts are more your speed, the Driveway has perhaps the best maintained rental fleet in town, with arrive-and-drives a couple times a week. There’s also K1 Speed’s indoor electric karts if you’d rather stay out of the elements.
That being said, it’s being in the elements — perhaps not this weekend, but for the rest of the year — that makes Austin such a good place to be. We’ve got some amazing parks and hiking trails, particularly along Town Lake and the Colorado River. Some of the best skyline views in town are in a canoe rented from Zilker Park.
Best of all, we don’t have an off-season for racing or other outdoor activities. It doesn’t snow very often here and when it does, it usually thaws after a day and we can get back to hoonage as usual.
Even when it’s hot, we make do. I remember talking to someone with the Porsche team when the World Endurance Championship was in town who was amazed at the number of other people they saw out in the park early in the morning. We like being outside, and early and late in the day during the summer are the best times to do it.
Whenever it slips out that I live in Austin, the reaction I get from drivers and team members who’ve been here is usually, “Ohhh! I love that place!” Our local cuisine skews heavy, meaty and cheesy, but there’s a wealth of different restaurants and watering holes to choose from — many of which feature live music.
Sure, I’ve openly mocked local guides that send you to places like Franklin Barbecue (where they’ll run out extra-early this week after you stand in line for hours) or The Salt Lick (where you’ll also stand around waiting for hours on a normal weekend, much less one with both F1 and University of Texas football). Some of these are worth the wait, and some aren’t, depending on your tastes. All of them will probably be overloaded this weekend, or at the very least, may be worth calling ahead for a reservation at the fancier end of the scale.
My suggestion for the rest of us? Go off the beaten path on these busy weekends, into the neighborhoods. There’s no shortage of good, authentic taquerias sprinkled throughout the city. Same goes with burger joints and usually decent barbecue. Try some food trucks—they’re admittedly a little hipstery, but the food tends to be solid. Some local favorites like Maudie’s, Kerbey Lane and Trudy’s have multiple locations, so pick one further from downtown on these weekends if you’d prefer less of a wait.
The town may not be focused solely around motorsport, and that’s okay. More automotive-related businesses and teams have set up shop here to meet the demand, and COTA and all its shenanigans are starting to become one of many normal things that are near and dear to Austin. One of many is just fine.
Yet I still hear this argument that Austin makes no sense to have on the calendar, even from voices I respect. This argument is what I like to call “wrong.”
Admittedly, Circuit of the Americas had a bit of a rough launch. We’ve seen everything from ticket snafus to scheduling woes with amateur track days in the past, but lately, it seems as if they’ve gotten most of the kinks worked out. Track days run there pretty regularly, and professional events go smoother every year. The track’s own staff is particularly fantastic on the media side of things, often going out of their way to make sure we’ve got everything we need to do our job.
Could events be marketed to the public a little better, or could the circuit be a bit more permissive in what fans are allowed to bring and do? Maybe, but it’s unfair to say that attendance figures at some of the big destination events like F1 are a result of Austin’s location. People routinely head to venues in the middle of nowhere, and we’re in the middle of Texas, for Pete’s sake. The track is even located close to an airport that recently expanded in order to accommodate more air traffic. You can’t argue that it’s too hard to reach.
Circuit of the Americas may also be a new track, but it’s one of the better newer F1 circuits if for no other reason than it incorporates many favorite elements from other tracks. If we can’t have major international series like F1 and WEC return to some of the classic American tracks without butchering them in the name of Grade 1 upgrades, building a new one with a good mix of fast straights and fun corners is the next best thing.
Sure, Formula One in particular often is a tad difficult to work with, with nonsensical leadership who openly dislikes America and far less fan-friendly policies than many other series that visit the track. I’m also worried about how pairing this race with the Mexican Grand Prix in the same month is going to affect attendance. Already, reports are coming in of fewer Mexican visitors than in the past, and one of COTA’s biggest strengths location-wise has been its close proximity to Mexico.
Those aren’t Austin issues so much as scheduling and/or Bernie Ecclestone ones, though. If we were paired with F1’s swing through Canada instead, it’d be better for all parties involved.
If there’s ever a time for F1 in particular to come through Austin, it’s when we’ve got an American driver racing, an American team about to start racing, and the ever-present rumors of Ecclestone retiring. (That last one is unlikely, but there’s always hope. Never give up hope!)
We’re as interested in fascinating technology and impressive battles as anywhere else in the world, and it’s absolutely worth showing up to see a hoard of identical Porsche GT3 Cup cars try to cram into the same turn, F1 cars run at ridiculous speeds, or the weirdly silent wooshing noise of the Audi R18s. These are things best experienced in person.
Most of all, Austin’s a perfect place for it. This weekend may be uncomfortably moist, but it’s simply impossible to be bored for long here.
Why aren’t you here?
Photo credits: Getty Images
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