Yesterday at the beautiful new Palmer Events Center in Austin, Texas, media from around the world and dignitaries such as Senator Kirk Watson, Representative Eddie Rodriguez, Austin Mayor Lee Leffingwell, and Mayor Pro Tem Mike Martinez were poised and ready. We were all expecting a big announcement from Tavo Hellmund and the Formula 1 United States team. We got quite a bit more.
Hellmund, Red McCombs, and emcee Bob Varsha of Speed TV got things rolling by introducing the new name of the track - “Circuit of the Americas”.
Hellmund elaborated on the name:
“We really started thinking about wanting to be inclusive instead of exclusive, so we thought we’re geographically positioned in the center between both coasts, between Canada, (and) Latin-Central America, and we really want this to be something that everyone is proud of…We felt like this isn’t just a Texas track or an American track. This is a track for all. So it’s our way of inviting all the Americas.”
Hellmund later ‘shifted gears’ as easily to and from beautifully articulate Spanish as he must have when flying around some of those storied European road courses in his racing days. Latin-American fans will surely appreciate his fluency.
For months, Tavo Hellmund has been promising that the new racing facility being constructed outside Austin in Elroy would be more than a place to watch race cars go fast. After the naming introduction, Hellmund, President Steve Sexton, and major investors Red McCombs and Bobby Epstein detailed a site plan that includes major initiatives in Business, Education, Entertainment, and Sports.
“We recognized early on that it had to be more than just building a sports facility. We listened carefully to the things that Senator Watson and Representative Rodriguez have been trying to do for this part of Travis County…The rest of Travis County has benefited so immensely over the last 20 years, but Southeast Travis County hasn’t. We made a commitment to ourselves that we were going to do things and build infrastructure in this facility that were not requirements for racing whatsoever. No racing contract requires you to build the things that we’re building, other than the asphalt and the garage for the racing.”
Hellmund made the point as well that the facility under construction is really more like a small city than a mere sporting complex, and is designed as an international tourist destination unto itself.
There are plans for a new 40,000 square foot Conference Center and fourteen 2-story, 3600 square foot Executive Meeting Suites with elevators, kitchens, upstairs office spaces and downstairs meeting spaces in each that can hold 60 to 75 people. Plans also allow for public spaces for events, seminars, and conventions, including a banquet hall and commercial kitchen above pit lane for seminars and receptions. Talks are reportedly ongoing to develop an unnamed hotel, potentially with related retail property.
Piquing my professional interest as a Firefighter/EMT, Fire and Rescue Training Areas are planned for the Circuit of the Americas, as well as a 5400 square foot Emergency Medical Care/Trauma Facility. An Emergency Trauma and Pre-Med Student Training Facility on non-race days this facility will feature Ambulance Service and an Outdoor Chemical Decontamination Shower
The Grand Plaza on the track side of the Boulevard is a live music and event venue with capacity of up to 35,000 people. Its scenic hilltop is situated between Turns 15-18. Could music acts be scheduled before and after high-profile races to diffuse traffic congestion? Hellmund also again dropped a hint that the larger Festival area across the Boulevard could be slated for even bigger music events down the road. To give the facility a centerpiece and help draw visitors to the track year-round on off-days, the firm of Miro Rivera Architects has been commissioned to design a 22-story tower near the center of the facility, which will house a museum in the bottom portion.
Red McCombs restated his vision of the Circuit of the Americas as a Human Performance Testing Center. Featured prominently in the discussion and promotional videos were Running & Bicycle Racing events. (On an editorial note, I believe moves like this and the creation of the music venues are brilliant, and are key to public acceptance and to burning this Circuit into our collective consciousness as a place we go for things other than motorsport).
As Bobby Epstein outlined, Circuit of the Americas has reached out to and made Education Partnerships with Del Valle Independent School District, Texas A&M University, St. Edward’s University, and Huston-Tillotson University. Notable among these is the curriculum that Del Valle ISD has created based on the AT&T Williams F1 Team’s “Race to Learn” program. In addition, Circuit of the Americas plans to create 400 “Hospitality Training Opportunities” for DVISD students. Hellmund and Epstein also hope to announce an agreement with the University of Texas very soon.
Dr. Richard Vasquez, President of the Del Valle School District Board of Trustees:
"Circuit of the Americas is almost like our district's home field…It is going to serve as a source of learning and inspiration for generations of students who attend our schools."
Hellmund indicated he had hoped to announce a deal with a major automaker that would create an on-site testing center for passenger vehicles at the facility. He stated that instead he hopes to announce a deal by the end of the summer with not one manufacturer, which has been completed, but two.
Tavo Hellmund introduced two more Texas sports celebrities - Moto GP star Ben Spies and former 500cc World Champion Kevin Schwantz, who promptly announced a 10-year contract with Moto GP to host Grands Prix in Austin at the Circuit of the Americas beginning in 2013. No date has yet been announced, and it has not yet been determined how many U.S. Moto GP races there will be at the other U.S venues - Laguna Seca and Indianapolis Motor Speedway - from 2013 forward.
The formal press conference was followed by a simple Q&A session. I did my journalistic duties, recording audio of interviews with Red McCombs, Steve Sexton, and Ben Spies, trying to make sure we had photos of all the right people, and tweeting this and that.
Fast forward to the media bus tour of the construction site in Elroy. This is where it gets weird. Long story short: I and a few other folks drove our own vehicles and got out there after the bus went up to the top of Turn 1, so it was decided that we could drive up in carloads escorted by an authorized vehicle...and I got to go first. On the outside I was happy in that “Oh look. I just found a $5 bill on the sidewalk” kind of way. On the inside, though, I was running around screaming maniacally like Jerry Lewis in, well…any of his movies.
Told you it was weird.
I took some video along the way up and down. You can all see how steeply we started climbing up the straightaway as we passed the Start/Finish Line. It got steeper and steeper, and as we stopped, still in reporter mode on the outside, I calmly said something like “Here we are at the top of Turn 1”. I had just driven in my own car before all my friends and before every F1 racer to the top of Turn 1 at the Circuit of the Americas, a turn that promises to be one of the most celebrated, analyzed, and photographed in all of motorsport for years to come. I can assure you that what I was saying on the inside was something very, very different.
Here's a couple of videos of the drive around the site: