Ever since the FIA announced that Formula One would be returning to the United States this year, I’ve been making plans to attend the race at the new track that is currently being built in Austin. I’ve signed up on their mailing list so I will know when tickets become available and have been carefully monitoring the progress of things there. An e-mail from them this week, asking me to participate in a survey for ticket pricing, got me looking into things a bit more.
I’m not coming away feeling very confident.
There’s a lot feeding into this feeling that I’ll touch on later, but the bottom line is that I don’t get the impression they really know what is going on there. That, plus I don’t think they have a good feel for how grassroots racing fans support the sport and why that is important.
If neither of those are true, the only other logical conclusion is that they are trying to create a premier event meant exclusively for wealthy Americans, rather than a racing event meant to reward the bulk of the loyal racing fans that have followed F1 for years.
Of course there are other conclusions, like maybe nobody actually works there.
When I got the survey, I started looking around at their website to try to figure out some of the logistics of our trip — where we will stay, track ingress and egress, etc. It was pretty alarming to find that the track’s website makes no mention of any onsite camping and specifically says that onsite parking will be limited only to VIP ticket holders. To give you a point of comparison, VIP tickets cost well into the thousands of dollars for the weekend.
Hotel stays are similarly atrocious. Most hotels in Austin are already completely sold out for that weekend. I did find some openings in a Holiday Inn Express for nearly $300/night.
The cost of hotels are obviously beyond the control of the track owners, but they could certainly have expected that the prices would skyrocket for the weekend. Still, it is pretty clear that the only people who have made concrete plans are those with significant financial means, paying thousands of dollars per person for tickets, and several hundreds or even thousands of dollars for hotel rooms. People with that kind of money can probably also afford to fly into Austin and take a taxi to the track. But what about the rest of us?
I’ve been to my fair share of racing events, and I can tell you that lots of the fans that support racing do so on shoestring budgets. At tracks like Miller Motorsports Park and Laguna Seca, people are coming to the track towing trailers, in cars with tents, or on motorcycles — lots and lots of motorcycles. They are camping at or near the track and eating food they’ve prepared in advance and brought with them. They are making sacrifices to get to the race because it is important to them. They don’t have a lot of money.
When World Superbike comes to Miller Motorsports Park, there are over 50,000 fans in attendance from all over the United States and even other parts of the world. MMP offers onsite camping to accommodate people who have come from a long distance for the weekend. There are all kinds of sites available including small tent sites for those on a real tight budget. At the MotoGP at Laguna Seca, there isn’t much in terms of onsite camping facilities, but the staff at Laguna Seca accommodate this by coordinating with nearby camping facilities to make it work. You can even reserve and pay for your camping spot via Laguna Seca’s website at the same time that you buy your tickets. They have shuttles that run regularly between the campsites and the track, and these shuttles do not stop until everyone has arrived where they need to go.
World Superbike and MotoGP are no fly-by-night racing series — these are world-class, prestigious, worldwide racing series with the best racers in the world. Like Formula One.
When we e-mailed the Circuit of the Americas to ask them some of these logistical questions, it took several days before we received a cryptic non-answer:
We will have shuttles going to and from the track to three different Austin locations. RV and Camping information has not been finalized yet, but I would recommend checking private camping sites or even Texas State Park facilities for a great secondary vacation while you attend the race. Allowed items (chairs, blankets etc.) will be on the website shortly after we release individual ticket information.
Let me address these individually.
“We will have shuttles going to and from the track to three different Austin locations.” Really, three? Where are they? Where in Austin exactly? Are these locations anywhere near a place we can stay?
“RV and Camping information has not been finalized yet.” Is it that hard to finalize such an essential detail?
“I would recommend checking private camping sites or even Texas State Park facilities.” Wow, do you think we didn’t already think of that? Didn’t you wonder why we haven’t already finalized on this? Maybe it is because we have no idea whether these are anywhere near the mystical three Austin locations where the shuttles are going!
“Allowed items will be on the website shortly after we release individual ticket information.” Don’t you think you should release that before? You really don’t know yet whether I can bring a folding chair or a blanket? Don’t you think that will play into my decision to purchase a ticket?
See, it seems pretty clear that they do not understand what racing fans are about. WE ARE REAL RACING FANS. We are trying to make plans on how to attend this race on a shoestring budget. We are planning on driving two solid days, camping along the way, to pitch a tent somewhere and camp in Austin for three nights while we attend the race, then driving two more days back to Utah. Thousands of fans all across America are trying to make similar plans. Sure, some of them are rich, and they are planning to fly in. They already have their tickets.
What about the rest of us? Where are we supposed to stay? Even if I wanted to stay in a hotel, how could I possibly know how much to spend and where to stay when I have no idea how I’m to get to the track and I have no idea how much the regular ticket prices will be?
The performance of the Circuit of the Americas staff thusfar in this regard has been pretty disappointing. They need to spend less time talking about how amazing they are and doing the whole marketing-spin thing, and spend more time actually figuring out the logistics that will allow racing fans to make plans in a timely fashion. If they don’t get this worked out, they run the risk of alienating the fans that support the sport. That’ll make for a long and expensive 10-year contract without the support of Formula One’s grassroots fans.
As things stand right now, even if they released tickets to the general public today, and even if they were priced within my price range, I’d be hard-pressed to buy one. I’m not likely to buy one until I feel pretty confident that I’m going to be able to use it, and until I can formulate a workable plan I won’t have that confidence. Here’s hoping the staff at the Circuit of the Americas, if they have one, gets this stuff worked out soon. Otherwise, me and likely thousands of others like me will be foregoing the 2012 USGP.
I don’t know about you but I sure can’t put a finger on what’s up with James Stewart lately.
(If you don’t know what I’m talking about, you probably can’t put a finger on it either.)
Sometime last year, JGR Motocross, an up-and-coming non-factory race team, did what seemed impossible: They signed one of the top title contenders, James Stewart, away from all the other factory teams. Expectations were certainly of the highest sort. Stewart is a multi-time Supercross and Motocross champion, and JGR was looking to establish themselves as a premier team by bringing Stewart on board to win a title.
This despite Stewart’s Supercross record last year where he crashed more often in main events than not.
Now a year later, both Stewart and JGR are clearly disappointed in the results they’ve had. Just a couple of days ago it was announced that JGR had released Stewart from his multi-year contract, as I expected. Today Yoshimura Suzuki announced a multi-year deal with Stewart as a Suzuki rider, also as I expected (but not as I would have done in their place).
Everyone’s wondering, which Stewart is going to show up for the Motocross season? Will it be the former champion, one of only two people to win ever single moto for the entire season? Or will it be the Stewart of late, unable to run at the pace of the top guys and usually crashing himself into oblivion?
Regular readers of this blog know that I’m not exactly a fan of James Stewart. I think he’s a spoiled brat, unmotivated, selfish, and a poor sport. But he’s also incredibly talented and fast. I sure would like to think that a couple of years of pounding himself into the dirt instead of standing on the podium might have helped him grow out of the police-officer-impersonating, superior-to-everyone-else, reality-tv, whiny-crybaby phase. Maybe this time the deal wasn’t all about the money, but instead about being on a historic team with a great bike that needs a great rider, just for the love of the sport.
Could we really have a new James Stewart that races because he loves to race, one who competes in every race in every season, wins some of the time, but is a great sport all the time? I’d sure take it.