Two weeks ago I attended the Grand Prix of the Americas, at the Circuit Of The Americas in Austin, Texas. It was my first time going to Austin, my first time at the track, but not my first time attending a MotoGP race. However, this time was different. For once, I didn’t have a media credential. I didn’t have to wake up early, dart to the track, setup shop in the media room, and watch the action from a television screen 100 yards away from where it was all happening.
No. This time the computer stayed in the hotel room, and I traded my media pass for some sunscreen. This weekend, I was watching the Austin grand prix from the cheap seats, with my pals Derek Schoeberle of Suzuki, Arthur Coldwells of Ultimate Motorcycling Magazine, and Tom Montano, contributor to Cycle News, but maybe better known as the 2001 AMA Pro Thunder Champion (you’d never know it if you didn’t ask, but we made sure it was the running joke of the weekend). It’s been a while since I got to go to a race as just one of the guys. And you know what? I loved it.
Simply arriving at the track, it’s clear the local police have a routine for how to get the maximum number of vehicles in and out as quickly as possible. The same can’t be said for other races I’ve gone to – both here and abroad.
Once parked, there were countless shuttles and busses ready to drop you off at almost any vantage point around the huge facility. Again, something I can’t say for other races I’ve been to. The people were friendly and courteous, in typical Texas fashion, and gave great advice for some primo viewing spots which were all accessible with just my general admission ticket.
One particular suggestion was the grassy knoll lining the front straight. I was shocked to hear it, as no other MotoGP race I’ve been to has allowed access to the straight without some really expensive pieces of paper or an inside connection. Sure enough, for one practice session we walked right in and sat down with no issues. The “seats” were cool, but honestly, the bikes flew past so quickly we could only see them for a second or two at a time — but boy are they loud! Thankfully, we just happen to sit across from a giant screen showing the live feed of bikes running around, so all wasn’t lost.
If you’ve only seen turn one of the COTA track from TV, let me tell you, the screen doesn’t do it any justice. The incline is enormous! I later learned during the track’s construction, the elevation was built into the track, as the land was flat as a pancake beforehand. Well, Kevin Schwantz, and everyone else involved with designing the track, all I can say is: good job! (How much influence did Schwantz have? Consider the track is 3.4 miles long and has 34 garages. Coincidence?). With lots of grandstands stationed in the area, and even more grassy areas surrounding it, we decided to scout the location for a possible viewing place once the race started. Sure enough, there was plenty of room to sit, and another jumbotron. Not to mention, the elevated position gave us an expanded view of the track. COTA was quickly becoming my new favorite racing venue.
During down time, the vendor area seemed lively and well attended. Honda and Yamaha had a big presence, but even so, the smaller booths still held prominent displays and there was plenty of room to mill about and check out the scene. No standing shoulder to shoulder as I’ve experienced elsewhere. And because it sure can get hot in Texas, there were free water bottle refilling stations smartly placed, with nice and attentive faces manning the faucets. Nice touch, COTA. Ducati Island was stationed in a different area, but, as always, it was a popular attraction whether you were a Ducatisti or not. Of course, the fashion show and runway models didn’t hurt, either.
Come race day, we camped out in our spot on the turn one hill. The faint sound of music from atop the hill grabbed our attention, and when we came to, we discovered a well-stocked concession area with – get this – good food! Armed with kettle corn, some pepperoni pizza, and a cold brew, we watched a close battle in Moto3, some good action in Moto2, and Jorge Lorenzo completely botch the start in MotoGP. In hindsight, I’m glad he did — the race was a snoozefest otherwise.
And then there was the city. When I landed in Austin, there were banners and posters all over the Austin airport touting the racing events that weekend. The town and its people seemed genuinely excited. There’s plenty of lodging relatively close to the track (we were apparently staying in the same hotel as the Repsol Honda team), and downtown Austin sure is a lively place with great food and good music (and plenty of eye candy!)
While our job certainly is fun and glamorous at times, with some great perks, sometimes we lose the perspective of the guys and gals we’re writing to: you. My weekend in Austin, with none of the usual pressures of a moto-journalist covering a race weekend, brought back that perspective and recharged my batteries. Long live motorcycle racing!