I’m Not a Formula 1 Fan, but Several of My Friends and I Own It

The Formula 1 United States Grand Prix drew fans from all over the world to the grand opening of The Circuit of the Americas near Austin this weekend.

COTA Formula 1 11-16-2012 3-34-56 PM
COTA Formula 1 11-16-2012 3-34-56 PM (Photo credit: Smarter Within)

I myself wasn’t one of the drawn, but after reading and listening to friends and complaining about the Circuit of the Americas for the past couple of years, I’ve gathered enough information to comment in a semi-reliable fashion.

According to its website, CoTA is a “world-class motorsports and entertainment venue,” “designed to be the only purpose-built facility in the U.S. to host the FORMULA 1 UNITED STATES GRAND PRIX™ through 2021 and V8 SUPERCARS from 2013-2018.” It covers 375 acres and lies fifteen miles from downtown Austin.

Politicians have been patting each others’ backs all ’round, just tickled pink–or maybe green–because the track will bring money into the city and the state and will create jobs. Can’t complain about that. Money and jobs are good.

And such a Big Deal, covering months of negotiations and construction, helps drive

  • the water shortage,
  • underfunded schools,
  • rising property taxes,
  • feral hogs, and
  • how much will remain of San Antonio after Texas has seceded from the Union and all those military installations have packed up their guns and airplanes and hit the road for Iowa,

from the headlines to page 3 of the classifieds, right below Doonsbury.

I haven’t shared the politicians’ or anyone else’s enthusiasm. I’ve railed against CoTA ever since it hit the six o’clock news:

  • paving pasture- and farmland,
  • wasting fossil fuel,
  • spending state tax money to fund what should be a private venture,
  • plopping the facility down in an area with inadequate infrastructure and expecting the taxpayers to pay for repair and upkeep,
  • causing land values and property taxes to skyrocket, and
  • other objections too numerous to mention.

However, on Saturday, while the elite, who the night before had drunk gold-infused champagne at Austin’s finest hotels (I didn’t make that up) were descending from helicopters onto a former field near Elroy, our friend Millie shared with the Fifteen Minutes of Fame writing practice group some facts that tempered my pessimism. She said the CoTA will eventually

  • be open 365 days a year,
  • host concerts, charity runs, sports events, and the like,
  • create hundreds of both full-time and part-time jobs,
  • attract a million people a year,
  • pour oodles into the economy, and
  • promote research that will influence medicine, transportation, and other areas we can’t yet predict.

After listening to her reassurances, FMoF members gave Millie a round of applause and left in better spirits.

But even before Millie’s talk, all my objections had become moot. Because on Friday, I had learned that the Teacher Retirement System of Texas has invested $200 million in Formula 1, for “about a 3% stake in the global racing series.”

Circuit of the Americas Chairman Bobby Epstein said, “Now the teachers win when F1 makes money and when new dollars come into our state as a result of the Grand Prix.”

Consequently, I have become Formula 1’s biggest fan. I will say kind words about it, I will look for it in the sports pages, I may even subscribe to Sports Illustrated. Whatever I can do to promote Formula 1 racing, I will do.

I’ve already X-ed out the piece I wrote last week about a dystopian future when we run out of fossil fuel and  CoTA descends to hosting chariot races.

But there’s another however:  TRS stated, “To be clear, F1 is a completely separate company that is unrelated to Circuit of the Americas, which will host an F1 Grand Prix race near Austin in November 2012. None of the Teacher Retirement System of Texas, CVC Capital Partners, or Formula One Group has any ownership interest or business relationship with the Circuit of the Americas.”

So I’ll also continue to wail about the paved-over paradise on which my pocketbook depends.


P. S. One of my objections was that state and city tax money had funded CoTA. The CoTA website carries this note:

“NOTE: To date, State money has not been paid to the developers of Circuit of The Americas and no local community, including the City of Austin, is providing incentive funding to the developers. As is the case with the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four and other large-scale events in Texas, the Formula 1 event is eligible for expense reimbursements from the state’s Major Events Trust Fund. This reimbursement is performance-based and may be applied for after the first event in November 2012. Any state reimbursement is based on the amount of incremental tax revenue generated by event-related activity that would not have come to Texas if the event were not here.”

So I’m not sure what all the media hoop-la was about. Maybe it concerned lumping CoTA in with the Super Bowl, NCAA Final Four, “and other large-scale events in Texas.” Which, in light of the TRS investment, is from my point of view peachy-keen. Until I read this paragraph, I didn’t know the state reimburses the Superbowl and other such large events. I hope the Texas Library Association Conference gets its share.

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