Is it time for another anti-COTA story yet?

You can accuse me of not being sensitive to Austin civic leaders or taxpayers in the state of Texas but if I never read another hatchet piece calling into question and slating the Circuit of the Americas (COTA) as a private entity fleecing the public as it slides into a death spiral of insolvency, it will be too soon.

It seems that this is becoming a real cottage industry—the art of trying to divine the P&L of COTA, determining its financial viability and attempting to debunk claimed economic impact for Austin and the state of Texas. It’s one bandwagon I’ve tried hard not jump on.

A Source told me…

It seems like every few months someone sends me yet another link to a blog or news outlet where a blogger/journalist really “has the scoop” on what’s happening at COTA and how it is not only in the waning moments of financial viability but it is dragging the folks of Texas down with them via the Major Events Trust Fund (METF) that is tapped in order to bring Formula 1 to the circuit.

I find that when 100,000 people are happy with some product or service, the media and mobocracy of social media clamors for that one malcontent voice of dissension. Fair enough, everyone is entitled to his or her opinions and so I offer mine from the other 100,000+ people that have found the last three years of F1 and COTA a true delight. I’ll also go farther than that and suggest that every American motor sport fan should get behind COTA and support the facility regardless if their favorite series races there or not.

With over 200 days booked for events in 2015, COTA has become a major location for Formula 1, Moto GP, WEC and IMSA (USC) racing among many others as well as entertainment. It is an FIA grade 1 track and the facilities, from a fan as well as media person standpoint, are top shelf. There aren’t many tracks where you can buy a general admission ticket and see eight or nine turns on a road course—my personal favorite is the turn 10 location where you can see the esses in all their glory.

When I attended the first F1 race there, a very well-known member of the British press told me that the circuit and facilities were unrivaled and they should know having attend just about every race around the globe.

COTA fans C600

Grade 1…and that matters

Of all the Herman Tilke designed tracks, COTA is one of his best and when asked, every driver says they love racing at this circuit—it’s one of their favorites. The track layout is divergent to his typical design and the undulation of the terrain adds a real element of going somewhere.

There is nothing wrong with Laguna Seca, Sonoma, Watkins Glen, Sebring, Road America, Road Atlanta and many others—except that none of them are FIA-certified Grade 1 tracks that can host an F1 race so there is that little snag when comparing COTA to any other great racing venue in the US. This is why I feel that racing fans in the US should consider giving the next “COTA is Dead” article a miss and go straight to the circuit for some fun racing and entertainment.

I’m not sure I’ve seen a municipality berate a local attraction quite like some voices printed in the Austin paper, The Statesman, as I would have thought civic leaders would want to do all they could to promote the circuit and events in order to increase tourism and the health of their community via sales tax receipts alone.

Gaining sales tax receipts must pale in comparison to their angst over taxpayer funds being used to help secure this venue’s star attraction, Formula 1. Is the issue that the tax revenue generated isn’t flowing in to the right coffers for some leaders in Austin or the METF money is flowing out of the wrong coffers? Who really knows what constitutes this punishingly keen eye of discontent and watchdog like hawkishness that delivers a bi-monthly hit piece on America’s nicest circuit?

What also has me somewhat stumped is the hundreds of thousands who have visited the circuit for events and yet remained relatively silent in their support or praise of the circuit—assuming they had a wonderful experience. Sure, there are niggles and some have had less-than-savory experiences but I can say that of my trips to the Indianapolis Motor Speedway, Road Atlanta and Daytona (you should see their media center food…whew!).

Hamilton Lewis win USGP C600

It ‘ain’t NASCAR, bud

The one circuit that can pass FIA grading, host any kind of motor sport in the world and do it all on a track worthy of the name, “Americas” in it is really something all American racing fans should get behind. In my opinion it doesn’t matter if NASCAR races there or not. This isn’t about NASCAR, it’s about motor sport in America and a rising tide raises all ships.

You may be an ardent NASCAR fan and I applaud your love of motor sport but surely you can see that American motor sport is something we should all support. I love that NASCAR is a big industry ripe with fans and well-attended races although I have never attended one nor do I follow the sport other than in an orbital fashion.

Would the owners of NASCAR-attended circuits be excited to support COTA? Maybe not but who cares? The fans are the customers, not other track owners. Fans are the people who ensure that US motor sport is alive and well. I would be the first to defend a NASCAR race or track even though I attend none of their events because I know US racing is bigger than my narrow, niche interest in it.

I love Formula 1, WEC and IMSA as well as Moto GP and they all race at COTA. They, to me, represent the pinnacle of motor sport excellence and transcend the borders of the US. America has a rich history in road racing that is as old as any NASCAR nostalgia and I shudder to think that NASCAR fans would not be happy that the cars that race at Le Mans also race in America. They may not care about that series or follow it but surely they would be supportive that it is here and other Americans and international fans attend the races?

I understand the argument that if taxpayers are helping fund a private enterprise, then the economic benefit should be present but I think a constant flow of negative articles denigrating and insinuating some specious intent on COTA’s part is base behavior. In my opinion, all stakeholders, including civic leaders, state administrators, COTA ownership, racing series organizations and fans alike should be working to build COTA’s event calendar and success instead of continually trying to tear it down for the haughty ability to say, “I told you so”.

Audi COTA WEC c600

Track Economics

In the end, track economics have to work. I can say that in the three years that I have attended, the experience was terrific and I couldn’t be happier that the US has an FIA grade 1 circuit in which to race. The investment and risk taken was significant and the support the METF provided was equally significant. I understand that point but should we not be supporting our own US motor sport community to ensure that the METF is a successful investment and that the risk and investment of the owners is successful as well?

I am no fan of ham-fisted articles quoting numbers from other blogs and stories intent of proving some malice on COTA’s part in fleecing Americans. It is a private venture trying to be profitable at providing world class racing at a world-class venue for world-class motor sport fans in a world-class city.

If the Texas Motor Speedway has any issues with COTA’s presence, then they need to get over it. They have NASCAR and they need to understand that road racing fans typically don’t like rovals so in my mind, there is little competition between them. If NASCAR wants to race on a road course, then I say the series should work with both tracks to really put on a great event for NASCAR fans.

I say back-to-back races where they run Friday night at COTA and Sunday at TMS for the Texas Special in which NASCAR takes over the state of Texas and puts on a real showcase for the fans making lodging packages, entertainment and an entire weekend of fun for their fan base.

In the end, we need COTA. If COTA would disappear, so would F1 in the US and many other series would struggle to find an FIA grade circuit to handle the kinds of road racing they offer. I don’t know who did or said what to whom but could we all just get over the past and move on with US racing?

USGP grid girls austin cota c600


Ooooh…edgy, better RT that!

Remember the next time you’re re-tweeting and sharing those doomsday articles about COTA that you’re playing into the negativity that left us bereft of F1 for years as well as the Le Mans (WEC) racing series. Austin should be elated that a private enterprise invested this much in their community and should be helping to make this a success. You can’t shake a stick without Austin telling you about SxSW but when it comes to COTA, well then it’s just not “weird” enough I guess…I find that odd.

I get it, you like the edgy nature of a naysayer article but for the love of motor sport, just stop it. Stop being a heavy-handed malcontent and start supporting American racing. You can start by attending the Pirelli World Challenge—which is a terrific and rapidly growing series in America—in March.

Don’t like the cut of COTA’s jib? Fine, then don’t go but spare us the continual onslaught of financial assumptions, guesswork and hit pieces wrapped in taxpayer justice because the rest of us are trying to be a part of the solution and support American motor sport in general and Austin, Texas in particular.

We have a rich history in motor sport and the talent to compete on the world stage and a right to win via a facility as nice at COTA so let’s start acting our age and support American racing. Shhhh…the adults are talking.

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COTA is a horrible horrible place where money talks and poor people walk.. Executives are ALL from out of State. Not one single person who’s “running” COTA is actually from Texas.. So why would they care about what happens to us.

Paul KieferJr